How to claim compensation from your university
This step-by-step guide will equip you with the knowledge, tools and courage to complain about poor service and receive compensation from your uni.
University tuition fees have been spreading their wings and sh*tting on the unsuspecting heads of students since 1998.
If we're now forced to spend £9,000 a year to attend university (soon to be £9,000+ now that the tuition fee cap is to be lifted in 2017), then as paying customers do we not have the right to expect higher standards when it comes to the education service we receive?
With student complaints and successful compensation claims breaking new records, it seems some of us are becoming more demanding (or maybe there's just more to complain about these days!).
We would encourage any student who's been dished a rough deal from their university to speak up, stomp their feet and, err…clap their hands?
Seriously though, if your university aren't doing their job properly and you have a strong personal case – let them know about it.
10 steps to making a successful complaint
Wise up on your uni's complaints policy
Every university has a different way of dealing with student appeals and complaints, so the first thing is to read through your own university’s internal policy.
You should be able to find it online pretty easily, try Googling something like “X university complaints policy” (bet you weren't expecting that one!).
For example, The University of Manchester outlines their procedure here by way of a flow chart. If you can't find your university's policy online, speak to student services.
Know what you're complaining about
The next step is to have a clear idea of exactly what your complaint concerns. This might sound obvious, but taking a bit of time to narrow your complaint down into a few brief key points will work wonders. You'll need to be specific but concise, and have good examples and evidence against the university.
Technically speaking, you can make a formal complaint or appeal about anything that's got your back up and over which the university has some control. However, only go down this road if you're 100% serious and feel that other students could benefit from changes being made, otherwise you're just wasting their time and yours.
Some of the most popular reasons for legitimate or successful complaints relate to:
• Poor facilities and learning resources
• Student accommodation
• Cancellation of university courses
• Cancellation of timetabled tutoring
• Discrimination or harassment
• Cheating or plagiarism allegations
• Marking of degree assessments.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to individual circumstance. Just make sure you believe in your case and that you're able to back it up.
Check the CMA's Rights for Students
Credit: Michael Fleshmann – Flickr
Since March 2015, the CMA (Consumer and Marketing Authority) have started regulating how universities comply with consumer law.
They provided a document with some rules and regulations for unis to follow, so it's worth checking if your complaint is in breach of any of these (if it is, you've got a good case!).
The CMA have warned universities across the UK that many are in breach of basic consumer laws, and have advised unis to pull their socks up or face legal action.
Know what you want
What do you actually want to get out of this process? Do you simply want somebody to recognise that they've behaved irresponsibly and apologise? Or are you seeking a tuition fee discount or cash settlement?
It's important to consider this, as the process could turn out to be quite time-consuming. Put together some clear demands that you believe would compensate you fairly.
If you're asking for monetary compensation, then it must be reasonable, realistic and justifiable. There are no guarantees, but if you don't ask…
Collect the evidence
You'll need to present a convincing case against the relevant parties (eg. tutor or department, the university itself) by gathering some credible evidence.
For example, any emails or written direct communication you've had, photographs or videos of incidences (if appropriate) and statements from witnesses or professionals (eg. doctor).
Use your resources
You don't have to go it alone, there are people whose job it is to help you out!
Start with your student union. Get hold of student advisors, representatives, councillors and anybody else with valuable experience when it comes to knowing about the university's complaints system.
Perhaps your parents might be able to help, or you know some law students who are ace at presenting cases. Then of course, you've the WWW at your disposal.
Submit your formal complaint
Credit: ARU Students' Union
Now you've done your homework and have all bases covered, it's time to write up your complaint following the set procedure.
Despite how tempting it may be, refrain from getting too personal. Try to stay calm and rational– this will actually work in your favour in the long run.
Concentrate on providing specific concrete examples of where you think you've been treated unfairly to allow an assessment to take place.
Receive Completion of Procedures Letter
As you might expect, these things can take time to be resolved. However, the university has an obligation to send you a ‘Completion of Procedures' letter as quickly as possible. This essentially outlines the issues they've identified and their final decision.
You should hear confirmation that they've received your complaint within a week, but it may take a month or two to hear a decision. It's also worth knowing that some universities will try to wangle out of getting to this stage, so that it's difficult to take your case to the OIA if you're dissatisfied with the outcome.
Which takes us to the next stage….
If necessary, take it to the OIA
Hopefully you're satisfied with the response you get from your university, but if you feel that you haven't achieved the outcome you deserve in your situation, take your case to the OIA.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA for short) is the independent body tasked with reviewing student complaints. They don’t cover everything however – you can't go to them with cases about admission, academic judgement, student employment or any complaint which has or is currently going through court.
The OIA can only look at your complaint once you've first gone through the internal complaints procedure of your university and have a ‘Complaints of Procedures' (COP) letter in your hand.
You have three months from the date on the letter to file a complaint here. They will ensure that your case is looked at objectively and will look carefully at decisions and explanations made by the university.
Note: in exceptional cases they will look at complaints where the university hasn't got back to you within the 90 days after your initial complaint.
Submit your OIA complaint
Download and fill in a complaints form. Be clear on why you dispute the university's decision and what your expectations are.
Send it off with all relevant evidence and paperwork used for the university complaints procedure, and don't forget to include your COP letter.
The OIA will either agree with the university or force them to review their decision. If the case is serious and you're still not satisfied with the outcome, you'll need to seek proper legal advice and potentially take it to court independently. The Citizens Advice Bureau should be your first port of call in this instance.
Over to you!
Follow these steps and all your justifiable claims should bare fruit. Just make sure you don't dilly dally about – it's important to get your complaint in ASAP, otherwise you're also open to scrutiny! For more tips read our general complaints guide.
Many undergrads feel uneasy challenging their lecturers or their university, but it's your right. Voicing valid concerns and holding them accountable will also ultimately help to improve the experience of future students, too.
The OIA has claimed that the amount of complaints they’ve processed has decreased in recent years, despite the rise of student complaints and compensation in general. This suggests that universities are putting more effort into settling complaints in-house (or that universities are up to dirty tricks, but we hope it's the former).
Complained to your uni and have an experience to share? Or are you having trouble processing a complaint? As always, let us know in the comments below or contact us directly for advice!