1.1. This Complaints Procedure covers handling of complaints from students and student applicants of an academic and/or non-academic nature and may include general matters arising at the University or in relation to a student’s studies. A complaint is normally an expression of dissatisfaction about certain action or lack of action taken by the University or about the standard of a service provided by or on behalf of the University.
1.2. Complaints are distinct from appeals, which are normally limited to academic matters, as defined at https://www.york.ac.uk/students/support/academic/appeals/
1.3. Complaints relating to any form of harassment are usually handled in accordance with the Code of Practice on Harassment: Procedure for Students.
1.4. There are separate procedures for complaints about accommodation on campus.
1.5. There are separate procedures for staff grievances.
1.6. Student applicants may complain about the application process and/or its outcome under this procedure. On completing this procedure, applicants (as opposed to enrolled students) are not usually eligible to complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). However, they should check the position with the OIA which is independent from the University.
1.7. The University welcomes comments and suggestions from students. Students wishing to make a comment or suggestion are invited to do so informally at the point of service delivery by contacting the appropriate person (Heads of Department and Heads of Support Services are listed here).
2. General Principles
2.1. Complaints should be dealt with initially as close to their source and as informally as possible.
2.2. Frivolous, malicious and/or vexatious complaints (including within the legal sense of having no substantial chance of success) will not be accepted. If a student is found to have made a frivolous, malicious and/or vexatious complaint, this may constitute a disciplinary offence and may be dealt with under the Student Disciplinary Procedure.
2.3. Exceptionally, if the University identifies that particular urgency is shown with sufficient evidence in support, such as where an emergency situation may arise, then it may make efforts to take swift action to deal with such a complaint.
2.4. Information on procedures and sources of advice should be readily accessible in a clear and succinct form (see 2.15 below).
2.5. Any investigating officer shall be unbiased. They should not be or remain in an investigative or decision-making role if they have or subsequently find they have a conflict of interest. They should act in good faith, taking into account relevant considerations and extenuating circumstances, whilst ignoring irrelevant considerations. As far as is feasible, investigating officers should not have had significant prior involvement in matters central to the complaint.
2.6. Suitable records should be kept at each stage of the complaint, including of matters considered and any outcomes.
2.7. Individual privacy/confidentiality will be respected as far as reasonably practicable, subject to the need to facilitate a fair and proper investigation and appropriate reporting of the outcome.
2.8. Complainants are also asked to adhere to an appropriate level of confidentiality while the complaints process is in train.
2.9. The standard of proof to be applied shall be that used in civil court cases i.e. on a balance of probabilities.
2.10. Complaints should be dealt with in accordance with the University’s equality policies.
2.11. Complaints should be dealt with within a reasonable time, avoiding any undue delay. The Formal Complaints procedure and review should normally be completed within 90 days of receipt of the formal complaint.
2.12. Where a complaint has been upheld, appropriate reasonable remedial action should be offered.
2.13. The University should seek as far as reasonably possible to minimise any cost to a complainant in pursuing a complaint. Complainants are not expected to need legal representation or incur legal costs and formal rules of evidence shall not apply; legal representation at internal investigation meetings and hearings will not be permitted.
2.14. It is expected that all parties involved will act reasonably, fairly and courteously towards each other and respect the processes.
2.15. Students who are considering making a complaint may wish to seek help or guidance regarding making a complaint and to whom it should be directed, from any of the following:
For all students:
In addition, for graduate students:
Note: Departmental undergraduate/ graduate student handbooks and, for research students, the York Graduate Research School Handbook and Policy on Research Degrees may also help with any problem of a departmental or supervisory nature.
3. Submission of a complaint
3.1. Complainants should seek to bring their complaint to the attention of the University as soon as possible following the occurrence of events leading to the complaint and normally within one calendar month and in any event within one year of the occurrence of the events that are central to the complaint.
3.2. A complaint may be submitted by an individual student or by a group of students acting collectively, provided that all named individuals have signed up to it. In the case of a group complaint and in order to manage this effectively, the University shall ask the group to nominate one student to act as group representative, with whom the University shall then deal, leaving such representative to liaise with the other students and keep them informed.
3.3. Complaints by third parties (i.e. by individuals or organisations other than the actual complainant) are not normally accepted. Any rare exceptions to this rule must be agreed by the Registrar & Secretary and can normally only be agreed on the basis that the student is incapable of managing their own complaint at the time or in the near future (for example, on the basis of disability). There must be clear evidence to demonstrate that the student is incapable of handling the complaint on their own behalf. In such cases students may be supported by members of staff from the YUSU Advice & Support team or the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA).
3.4. Anonymous complaints will not normally be considered, as it should not be necessary to bring complaints in this way, particularly as this can impede any investigation and communication of the outcome. Exceptionally if the University accepts there is a compelling reason, supported by sufficient evidence, for a complaint to be brought anonymously, such a complaint may be considered.
3.5. By submitting a complaint a student should understand that the University will itself need to gather information about the matters raised, and that this information may include sensitive personal details. The University will investigate the facts and available evidence and may discuss these with appropriate people. Investigations will be managed sensitively and the information students submit will remain confidential as far as this is consistent with other parties’ right to know of any allegations and evidence against them. It might be necessary to provide the complaint to, and request information from, relevant departments in order to investigate the issues raised. If there is any aspect of a complaint or the submitted evidence that a student feels must remain confidential, the student must discuss this with the investigating officer. The University cannot guarantee that this will be possible and highlights that in cases where some information is restricted owing to a request for confidentiality, it may not be able to ensure that full consideration is afforded to each case.
3.7. Complaints will normally be dealt with under the Informal Complaints Procedure in the first instance.
4. Stage 1: Informal Complaints Procedure
4.1. Students who experience a problem with their course or any University service or other matter within the control of the University, should normally first raise this with a relevant member of the University’s staff involved with such service or matter, providing relevant details of the complaint and any remedy sought. Where academic studies are involved, a student’s supervisor is likely to be the appropriate first point of contact. The matter can be raised in person, by email or written correspondence, or by telephone.
4.3. If the matter cannot be resolved with the relevant member of staff, the student should raise it informally with the relevant Head of Department (list available here).
4.4. As the matter is considered, it may involve discussions, meetings, giving of more information, explanations, suggested solutions and/or giving an apology where appropriate.
4.5. Consideration may be given at this stage to possible mediation or conciliation, with a view to trying to resolve the complaint informally and as early as possible.
4.6. A response to the informal complaint will normally be given to the complainant in writing as soon as reasonably practicable by the Head of Department.
4.7. If informal investigation and consideration does not resolve the matter, a complainant may submit a formal complaint in writing to the Registrar & Secretary following the procedure set out in section 5 below.
5. Stage 2: Formal Complaints Procedure
5.1. The Formal Complaints Procedure should be used only where the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Informal Complaints Procedure or where the nature of the complaint is too serious for the Informal Complaints Procedure.
5.2. A completed formal complaint form (available below) should be sent to the Registrar & Secretary's Office in sufficient detail to enable it to be properly investigated, providing any relevant evidence and indicating any remedy sought.
5.3. The Registrar & Secretary will ensure the matter is considered as soon as reasonably practicable, with written acknowledgement of the complaint normally sent within 7 days of receipt.
5.4. If the Registrar & Secretary is unable or becomes unable to act (e.g. due to illness, annual leave or being abroad due to work commitments), another senior member of staff may be appointed to act in their place.
5.5. The Registrar & Secretary will decide whether the complaint should be investigated under the Formal Complaints procedure or whether it would be more appropriately investigated under another procedure, notifying the complainant accordingly.
5.6. The Registrar & Secretary may appoint one or more members of staff to investigate the complaint on his/her behalf and to report back, as the basis for a response. The investigator(s) should normally not have had significant previous involvement.
5.7. If the complaint relates to the Registrar & Secretary, then the formal complaint should be submitted to the Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning & Students, who will act in place of the Registrar & Secretary.
5.8. The investigator(s) may seek information from and/or interview the complainant and any other parties identified by the investigator(s) at their discretion. They may consider use of mediation or conciliation where they deem appropriate.
5.9. If a complainant is required to attend in person at any time as part of the investigation, they are entitled to be accompanied by a registered student or employee of the University or an officer of YUSU or the GSA.
5.10. Where a complainant or the subject of a complaint is accompanied, the companion is present to provide support and not to represent the complainant or subject of the complaint.
5.11. The investigation of a formal complaint should be completed within 5-6 weeks under normal circumstances. Such timescale may vary where complexities arise in the complaint or other factors. Where the timescale becomes extended, the student will be kept updated as to progress.
5.12. After completion of an investigation, the Registrar & Secretary will send a written response to the complainant, giving reasons for any decision made and brief details of how it was arrived at, together with a statement of the outcome. The response should point out the details of the next steps available to the complainant and timescale at 5.14 below
5.13. Any proposed remedy accepted by the complainant shall be in full and final settlement to resolve the complaint and should be implemented as soon as reasonably practicable.
5.14. If a complainant remains dissatisfied following the investigation, they may write to the Registrar & Secretary’s Office, requesting a review of the decision. Such requests must be submitted within 15 working days of the date of the response.
6. Stage 3: Review of Formal Complaint
6.1. Upon receipt of any request for review (see 5.14 above), a senior member of staff shall undertake a review of the formal complaint, focusing on whether appropriate procedures were followed in the investigation and whether the decision was reasonable.
6.2. The reviewer may consider further comments and information submitted by the complainant, along with any other new material or evidence produced by the subject of the complaint or identified in the course of the review.
6.3. The reviewer can, if felt justifiable, overturn the earlier outcome and substitute a new one.
6.4. On completion of the review, the Registrar & Secretary’s Office will issue a separate Completion of Procedures letter to the complainant (see 7.2 below).
6.5. The University will make efforts normally to complete the formal complaints procedure and review within 90 days. With this in mind, it will try to complete the Formal Complaints Procedure normally within 6 weeks, and any Review of a Formal Complaint normally within 6 weeks (allowing also for the student to request any review within 15 days as stated at 5.14 above). Such timescales may vary where complexities arise in the complaint or other factors. Where the timescale becomes extended, the University will keep the student updated as to progress.
7. Next steps
7.1. Following a review, if the complainant remains dissatisfied they may apply to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) to investigate the complaint, subject to its eligibility rules.
7.2. Information about submitting a complaint to the OIA is available at www.oiahe.org.uk and is also detailed in a Completion of Procedures letter (see 6.4 above) as required by the OIA. Any complaint must be lodged with the OIA within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures letter.
7.3. If the complaint is in relation to any debt or money advice service delivered by the University, a complainant may be able to refer the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/.
Effective 1 August 2016
Modified 27 Nov 2017