Home » Education and people who stammer in Britain » University and college, including exams » Resolving issues at university or FE college

Resolving issues at university or FE college

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This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 11th August 2021.

This page covers resolving issues under the Equality Act rules on disability discrimination in higher and further education. There is a separate page on schools.

Getting help

Apart from the disability officer etc within the university, free sources of help include:

See also my page on sources of help and advice.

Resolving issues informally

You will want to resolve any dispute within the university etc if possible.

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. Sometimes involvement of the university’s disability service may actually be a requirement. A couple of articles on university disability services:

Also your personal tutor or course tutor may be able to help, and indeed to resolve the issue.

Hopefully issues will normally be resolved informally without needing the further options below.

Internal complaints procedure

If less formal ways of resolving an issue are not successful, universities and colleges have internal complaints procedures which can be followed. If those do not produce a satisfactory outcome, there is the possibility of an external appeal, eg to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA): see below External adjudicator.

Time limits for bringing a court claim run from the time of the discrimination. They will sometimes require any court claim to be put in before internal and external procedures are finished. See below Time limits.

External adjudicator

Higher education students in England and Wales can take complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (www.oiahe.org.uk), 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 (and some other types of education) in England can refer complaints to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA): see www.gov.uk/complain-further-education-apprenticeship 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. For a higher education course in a FE college, it may be possible to complain to the OIA.

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. Apart from that, referring a complaint to an external adjudicator does not extend the time limit 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.

See also Chapter 15 of the 2014 EHRC Technical guidance on further and higher education.

Going to court

Generally claims can be made to the County Court in England and Wales, or Sheriff court in Scotland (EqA s.113). However some disputes go to the employment tribunal – see below under ‘Time limits’.

On complaints to the County Court, see Services: Complaints and going to court: services>Going to court. A solicitor particularly involved in this field is Chris Fry (scomo.com).

I am not going to talk about how to run a court case. There are some resources at Complaints and going to court: services>Helpful links.

See also Chapter 15 of the 2014 EHRC Technical guidance on further and higher education.

Time limits

Time limits for making an EqA legal claim against a university or FE college 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 (above ‘External adjudicator’); and
  • the court has a general discretion to hear claims out of time if it considers it just and equitable (EHRC Technical guidance from para 15.24).

However, some claims must go to an employment tribunal. For these the time limit is generally three months (less one day) from the time of the discrimination, unless the tribunal agrees to hear the claim out of time. Claims that will or may need to go to an employment tribunal include:

Generally the start of the time limit of six months (or whatever) within which a claim must be made is the date of the unlawful act. However that date is not always obvious, and there are some particular rules. See the EHRC Technical guidance from para 15.19, though this is a difficult area and case law continues to develop.

  • That Technical guidance includes discussion of the rule that (as for employment) conduct extending over a period should be treated as done at the end of the period. This may effectively extend the time limit to include earlier acts within the period.
  • As regards when time starts running for a failure to make reasonable adjustments, see Reasonable adjustment rules: employment>Time limits. The statutory wording in EqA s.123(3)(4) on when a “failure” is treated as happening for employment claims is identical to that for County Court claims in EqA s.118(6)(7).

Apart from the three-month County Court extension in the case of OIA complaints, the court time limits are not extended for internal or external complaints procedures. Therefore a court claim may need to be brought before internal and external appeals are finished.

Asking questions

Asking questions can be very useful to help a claimant decide whether it is worth bringing a case in the first place, and if so how to formulate and present a case most effectively. It may also in some cases encourage a university etc to settle, if answering the questions makes it apparent that the organisation will have difficulty defending the case.

The formal ‘questions procedure’ has been abolished. However the Technical guidance (2014) at para 15.31 says it remains good practice for a student who thinks they may have been unlawfully discriminated against under the EqA to “seek relevant information before issuing a formal claim. This may prevent the complaint escalating to a formal claim.” It points to Government Equalities office guidance on asking questions of service providers and public authorities: Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the provision of goods and services and public functions (gov.uk), 2014.

See too Proving discrimination: Asking questions. As outlined at that link, apart from asking questions generally, there is a legal right to ask for personal data under the GDPR. Also sometimes it is possible to use a Freedom of Information Act request for non-personal data.

Victimisation

There are rules against victimisation to help protect someone from being ‘punished’ for making or being involved in a discrimination claim.

Remedies

On a successful claim, the court can award compensation, including for financial loss or injury to feelings (Technical guidance from para 15.38). Injunctions, or orders for positive action, are also possible. See further Complaints and going to court: Services>Remedies.

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