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Resolving issues at university or FE college

Summary

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.

Remember you can contact the British Stammering Association Education helpline (link to stammering.org). Other possibilities are:

You will normally want to resolve any dispute internally. Contacting the disability officer (or similar) of the university or college is generally a good idea, to see if they can help resolve the issue. Below Procedures within the university or college.

Universities and colleges will have internal complaints procedures which can be followed, if required. There is the possibility of external appeal after that, eg to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA): see below External adjudicator.

However, it needs to be borne in mind that time limits for bringing a legal claim (below Going to court), if those routes fail, run from the time of the actual discrimination, and are not necessarily extended for internal or external complaints procedures. Time limits range from three to nine months: 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).

Procedures within the university or college

It is normally sensible to attempt to resolve disputes without resorting to legal proceedings. Contacting the disability officer (or similar) of the university or college is generally a good idea, to see if they can help resolve the issue. Your personal tutor or course tutor may also be able to help. Also see links in the 'Summary' above on helplines which may be able to offer support.

If less formal ways of resolving an issue are not successful, the university or college should have an internal complaints procedure which you can follow.

Bear in mind though that Time limits for bringing a legal claim run from the time of the discrimination, so using internal complaint procedures does not extend the 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) 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 further education (not sixth form colleges) in England can refer complaints to the Skills Funding Agency: see www.gov.uk/complainfurthereducationapprenticeship

A complaint to the OIA made within six months 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').

On complaints to the County Court, see further Services: Complaints and going to court.

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:

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:

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 2012 Technical guidance from para 15.19. However, an important point is 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.

Burden of proof

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 2012 Technical guidance from para 15.32.

Remedies

On a successful claim, the court can award compensation, including for financial loss or injury to feelings (2012 Technical guidance from para 15.38). Injunctions, or orders for postive action, are also possible. See further Services: Complaints and going to court.

Technical guidance

Chapter 15 of the 2012 Technical guidance deals with complaints and conciliation.

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Last updated 17th July 2015