This page covers resolving disputes under the Equality Act rules on disability discrimination in higher and further education. There is a separate page on schools.
As suggested under the next heading, the disability officer (or similar) at the university or college should often be able to help.
Apart from the university, remember you can contact the British Stammering Association helpline (link to stammering.org). Other (free) possibilities are:
- STUC (Stammerers Through University Consultancy) at www.stuc-uk.org which supports student and staff in higher education who stammer;
- Disability Rights UK runs a Disabled Students Helpline (link to disabilityrightsuk.org);
- Equality Advisory and Support Service.
See also my page on sources of help and advice.
Disability officer or others
You will normally want to resolve any dispute internally. Contacting the disability officer (or similar) of the university or college is likely to be a good idea, to get their help in resolving the issue.
Your personal tutor or course tutor may also be able to help, and see the links in the ‘Getting help’ above on helplines which may be able to offer support.
Hopefully issues will normally be resolved informally without needing the further options below.
More formal procedures
If less formal ways of resolving an issue are not successful, universities and colleges have internal complaints procedures which can be followed. If they do not produce a satisfactory outcome, there is the possibility of external appeal, eg to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA): see below External adjudicator.
Note that time limits for bringing a legal claim (below Going to court), if those routes fail, run from the time of the actual discrimination. They are not necessarily extended for internal or external complaints procedures. Time limits range from three to nine months: see below Time limits.
See also my page on sources of help and advice.
There is detailed guidance from the EHRC in Chapter 15 ‘Enforcement’ of the Technical guidance on further and higher education issued in 2012 (the ‘Technical Guidance).
Higher education students in England and Wales can take complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (www.oiahe.org.uk) which is an independent student complaint scheme. Normally internal procedures must have been exhausted before taking a complaint to the OIA.
For students in Scotland, see the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman: www.spso.org.uk.
Students in a further education college (or some other types of education) in England can refer complaints to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA): see www.gov.uk/complainfurthereducationapprenticeship and www.gov.uk/government/organisations/education-and-skills-funding-agency/about/complaints-procedure#complain-about-a-post-16-training-provider-college-or-employer-we-fund
A complaint to the OIA made within six months of the alleged discrimination gives a three month extension to the normal time limit for claiming to the County Court. Otherwise, referring a complaint to an external adjudicator does not extend the time limits for bringing a legal claim, and the six (or perhaps three) month time limit runs from the time of the discrimination. See below Time limits.
Going to court
Generally, complaints can be taken to the County Court in England and Wales, or Sheriff court in Scotland (EqA s.113). However some disputes will go to the employment tribunal (see below under ‘Time limits’).
Time limits for making a legal claim range from three to nine months.
Most claims go to the County Court (or Sheriff Court in Scotland). For these the time limit is generally six months (less one day) from the time of the discrimination. However:
- under EqA s.118 the time limit is extended to nine months if, within the six month period, the dispute is referred to to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (see above ‘External adjudicator’); and
- the court has a general discretion to hear claims out of time if it considers it just and equitable (2014 Technical guidance from para 15.24)
However, some claims will go to an employment tribunal. For these the time limit is generally three months (less one day). Claims that will or may need to go to an employment tribunal include:
- claims against professional qualifications bodies, in respect of trade/professional exams,
- some (not all) claims in relation to placements/work experience. See further Work placements related to education courses.
There are rules on when is the start of the six month (or whatever) period within which a claim must be made, ie when is the discrimination seen as having happened. See 2014 Technical guidance from para 15.19, though this is a difficult area and case law continues to develop. It is also important that the time limits do run from the time of the discrimination complained of, and are not necessarily extended by any internal or external complaints procedures.
On burden of proof, including a rule which may shift the burden of proof over to the institution, see Proving discrimination>Burden of proof. It is dealt with in the 2014 Technical guidance from para 15.32.
On a successful claim, the court can award compensation, including for financial loss or injury to feelings (2014 Technical guidance from para 15.38). Injunctions, or orders for postive action, are also possible. See further Complaints and going to court: Services.
Chapter 15 of the 2014 Technical guidance deals with complaints and conciliation.