New OIA Rules come into force

New Scheme Rules for complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) came into force yesterday, 9 July, following a consultation process earlier in the year. 

The changes in the rules were prompted by two separate legal developments.  Firstly, to enable the OIA to become an approved provider of ADR services under the new Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015, which were made under the European Directive on Alternative Dispute Resolution, and which also came into force yesterday. 

Secondly, the OIA has amended its rules as a result of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which will, from 1 September 2015, make it a requirement for all providers of higher education with degree awarding powers or who provide one or more courses designated for student support to become members of the OIA complaints scheme.  

In addition, the OIA has taken the opportunity to make a number of updating changes to its rules in order to improve the efficiency of the scheme.

The main changes are:

  • Students now have 12 months from the date of the Completion of Procedures letter in which to bring a complaint to the OIA.  Transitional provisions mean that where a Completion of Procedures letter was issued before 9 July 2015, the previous three month time limit will still apply.
  • The OIA will issue a Complaint Outcome within 90 days of receiving the full complaint, unless it determines that the complaint is highly complex in which case it will write to the parties setting out a revised timeframe.  
  • A student who is studying on a course at one institution which is a member of the OIA scheme for an award granted by another member institution may complain to the OIA about either (or both).  The OIA will look at any contractual documents between the two institutions to determine where responsibility lies for the issue being complained about. 
  • Complaints from students about issues which occurred before a provider became a member of the scheme will not be considered, except where the OIA considers that the complaint relates to a continuous series of events or course of conduct which continued after the provider joined the scheme.  If a provider stops offering courses that are designated for student support it will remain a member of the scheme for a further 12 months in order to allow existing students to bring a complaint.
  • The OIA will no longer take into account information submitted by a student in support of a complaint which the student did not provide to the institution during the internal complaints process, unless that information could not reasonably have been obtained earlier.  
  • The OIA will no longer invite comments on a Complaint Outcome, except where recommendations are made in Justified and Partly Justified cases.  Instead, either party may apply to re-open the review if there is good reason to do so (such as new evidence or a substantive error in the Complaint Outcome).  

Universities will need to review and amend their student regulations and procedures to ensure that they comply with the new rules, in particular the new 12 month time limit.

In addition, validation and other collaboration agreements should be reviewed in order to ensure that they are clear about where responsibilities lie as between the partner institutions. The OIA has issued separate guidance which recognises that this is a difficult area, and that many student complaints will relate to matters where there is considerable overlap between the collaborating institutions.  It is proposing to treat 2015/16 as a transitional year and to work with providers to develop further guidance in the light of its experience of dealing with such complaints.

Joanna Forbes
Legal Director
Education Team
DD: 0121 214 0310
E: joanna.forbes@shma.co.uk
W: www.shma.co.uk 

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