We want to offer our students the best possible service. It is College policy to handle complaints as part of the overall strategy to satisfy the needs of people using College services. Any expression of dissatisfaction will be treated as a complaint and dealt with accordingly. Please see the summary leaflet Making a Complaint to the College which is available through the link.
1 Complaints should be handled:
2 Staff should endeavour to:
a) be courteous to the complainant
b) respond positively
c) offer constructive solutions
3 Formal written complaints should be:
b) acknowledged within 3 working days
c) notified to Senior Management
4 The complaints procedure should be:
a) publicly displayed
b) monitored regularly
c) reviewed and evaluated periodically
South Lanarkshire College’s complaints handling procedure (CHP) has been developed with reference to the model procedure published by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). The definitions, principles, timescales and information contained in this complaints handling procedure (CHP) have been based on and/or adapted from the SPSO guidance. Our complaints handling procedure seeks to conduct thorough, impartial and fair investigations of complaints so that we can make evidence-based decisions on the facts of a case.
South Lanarkshire College’s aim is get things right first time and therefore we value student comments and suggestions. We have devised an extensive range of customer consultation and feedback mechanisms to help us improve our levels of service. However, we do recognise that, on occasion, our service may fall short of expectations and we also value any complaints we receive.
We recognise that the fewer people who are involved in responding to a complaint and the quicker a response is given, the lower the cost of that complaint in terms of resources and redress and the higher the level of satisfaction for the student.
This CHP will be made available via the College website, staff Web Portal, student VLE, and in hard copy and alternative formats on request. The College CHP will inform students of their right to appeal to the SPSO.
South Lanarkshire College will produce a leaflet How to Complain which explains the College’s CHP procedures to students and informs them of their right of appeal to the SPSO. This leaflet will also be made available on the College website, at Reception, in the Advice Centre and in alternative formats on request.
This complaints handling procedure will help us do our job better, improve relationships with our customers and enhance the College’s reputation. It will also help us keep students and other customers at the heart of what we do.
Principal & Chief Executive
A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more members of the public about an organisation’s action or lack of action, or about the standard of service provided by the College or on its behalf. A complaint may involve more than one college service or be about someone working on our behalf, such as a contractor.
A complaint may relate to, for example
- a failure to provide a service
- an inadequate quality or standard of service
- the admissions process
- the disciplinary process
- a request for a service or for information which we have not actioned or answered
- our policies
- wrong information about academic programmes or our services
- the quality and availability of facilities and learning resources
- accessibility of our buildings or services
- the behaviour of a member of staff or contractor
- a student’s behaviour
- treatment by or attitude of a member of staff or contractor
- disagreement with a decision where you cannot use another procedure (such as an appeal) to resolve the matter
- our failure to follow the proper administrative process.
A complaint is not:
- a routine first-time request for a service
- a request for information or an explanation of policy or practice
- a disagreement with an academic judgement
- a disagreement with a decision where a right of appeal exists, for example assessment / bursary / disciplinary appeals
- a claim for compensation from the College
- issues that are in court or have already been heard by a court or tribunal
- a grievance by a member of staff
- a request for information under the Data Protection or Freedom of Information Acts
- an attempt to have the College reopen or reconsider a complaint we have concluded or given our final decision on.
The following principles underpin South Lanarkshire College’s complaints handling procedure to ensure that it is effective:
User focused: it puts the student at the heart of the procedure whilst managing occasional difficult behaviour.
Accessible: it is clearly communicated, easily understood and available to all:
- Anyone who receives, requests or is affected by College services can make a complaint. If they are unable or reluctant to make a complaint on their own, third party complaints will be accepted as long as the complainant has given their personal consent.
- The College will support individuals or organisations wishing to make a complaint about an aspect of its service; this may include internal support from for example Student Services or the Student Association or outside support from for example an advocacy service.
Quick and simple: it has as few steps as necessary within an agreed and transparent timeframe.
Objective and transparent: it is evidence-based and driven by facts, not assumptions.
Impartial, independent and accountable.
Fair, proportionate and consistent: it treats complainants equally, striking a balance between the need for consistency and the individual circumstances of each complaint.
Seeks early resolution: it aims to resolve complaints at the earliest opportunity, to the student’s satisfaction wherever possible and appropriate.
Delivers improvement: it is driven by the search for continuous improvement of our services to students.
The complaints process provides two opportunities to resolve complaints internally: frontline resolution and investigation.
1 FRONTLINE RESOLUTION
A complaint can be made in writing, in person, by telephone, by email or by having someone complain on their behalf. Frontline resolution must always be considered, regardless of how the complaint has been received.
1.1 Frontline Issues
The types of issue we will try to resolve at the frontline are non-complex / non-contentious issues including the following:
- A service that should have been provided and has not been provided
- A service that has not been provided to an appropriate standard
- A request for a service that has not been answered / actioned
- A complaint that a member of staff was rude or unhelpful
- A staff member who failed to attend a scheduled appointment
1.2 Key Actions for Frontline Staff
You should explain that we value complaints and may use the information when we review service standards in future.
Frontline staff receiving a complaint will consider four key questions:
- What is the complaint?
- What does the student wish to achieve by complaining?
- Can I achieve this, or provide an explanation as to why not?
- If I can’t resolve this, to whom can I refer the complaint for frontline resolution?
- Listen carefully and take notes if required. It is important to be clear about the exact nature of the complaint and you may need to ask supplementary questions to get a full picture.
- Acknowledge the concerns being expressed.
- At the outset, clarify the desired outcome. They may not be clear in their own mind and you may have to probe further.
- Achieve the desired outcome, if it is possible for you to do so.
- If appropriate, give an apology verbally or in writing.
- Provide an explanation why the problem occurred and what will be done to prevent this happening in future. If you respond face to face, by telephone or email you do not need to write to them.
- Record the complaint in the complaints log
- Keep a full and accurate record of the decision you have reached and passed to the customer.
1.3 Staff involved in complaint resolution
All staff who could potentially be the first point of contact for anyone wishing to make a complaint are considered to be frontline and will be trained and empowered to offer an on-the-spot apology, explanation or other action to try to immediately resolve any complaint relevant to their area of service. All complaints will be recorded in the relevant complaints log.
In the event that a member of staff is unable to deal with a particular complaint, they will signpost the student and/or the complaint to the appropriate person for frontline resolution.
Wherever possible, the member(s) of staff who are the subject of a complaint will not handle or respond to the complaint, nor will frontline staff that may have a clear conflict of interest in the matter. In this case, the complaint should be handed to a first line manager within the department or faculty for resolution.
1.4 Timescale for Frontline Resolution
The aim for frontline resolution is to provide a quick, informed response without the need for detailed investigation. Immediate resolution, face to face or on the telephone will be achieved within a short period of time; normally immediately or within 24 hours in the majority of instances.
If it is necessary to obtain information from other departments, the timescale extends to no more than 5 working days before a response is given.
In exceptional circumstances, and with authorisation from a senior manager, frontline staff may negotiate an extension of a further 5 working days with the student if the extension will increase the possibility of the complaint being resolved at the frontline stage. The student must be informed about the reasons for the delay and when they can expect a response.
All attempts to resolve a complaint at this stage must take no longer than 10 working days from the date you receive the complaint.
2 COMPLAINTS REQUIRING INVESTIGATION
Any complaints which go to the investigation stage must be notified to the Senior Management Team by the investigator. The investigator will complete a complaint report. If you are escalating a previously closed complaint from the frontline stage, you should reopen the complaint on the complaints record system.
The investigator will aim to resolve the complaint by either meeting the student’s expectations or, where this is not appropriate, providing a full explanation of the College’s position. The investigator will establish all the facts relevant to the complaint, ensuring that the information gathered is accurate and complete. All points raised by the student and agreed at the start of the investigation will be fully investigated and considered in the final response.
The investigator will provide a full, objective and proportionate response that represents the College’s definitive position and outlines any action that will be taken and when. Any decision / response made at this stage will be endorsed by the Principal or other member of the Senior Management Team.
Account will be taken of any specific needs of the complainant and the response will be made in a manner which is acceptable to the complainant.
The final response will tell the complainant about their right to complain to the SPSO should they be dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint within 12 months of becoming aware of the issue which gave rise to the complaint.
2.1 Types of Issue Requiring Investigation
The types of issue which will require investigation include the following:
- Frontline resolution was attempted, but the student remains dissatisfied and requests an investigation
- The student refuses to engage with the frontline resolution process
- The issues raised are complex and will require detailed investigation
- The complaint relates to issues that have been identified as serious, high risk or high profile involving:
- death or terminal illness
- a claim of discrimination with due regard to the protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010
- a child, young person or vulnerable adult**
- an allegation of significant harm or abuse or where there is a suspicion that someone may suffer significant harm**
- serious service failure eg major delays or repeated failures to provide a service
- significant and ongoing press interest
- a potentially significant risk to the college’s operations
* A complaint based on discrimination against an individual or group falling within one of the following protected characteristics should be notified to the Depute Principal: age, disability, race, religion or belief, gender reassignment, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy or maternity. The Depute Principal will assign the investigator in these cases.
** A complaint involving a child, young person or vulnerable adult should be handled in line with the College’s Safeguarding Policy and referred immediately to the College Child Protection Officer (Head of Student Services).
2.2 Key Actions for Staff Investigating a Complaint
Staff involved in investigating a complaint will also be aiming to get it right first time. The investigator will provide the student with their name and contact details as a single point of contact as soon as possible after the decision has been made to investigate the complaint.
The Investigator is responsible for undertaking a thorough but proportionate investigation: establishing what information is required; gathering that information; ensuring the information gathered is of a suitable quality and accuracy; preparing a full and informed written report and response. The Investigator should seek to establish:
- what specifically is the student’s complaint?
- what does the student want to achieve by complaining?
- are their expectations realistic and achievable?
- what should have happened?
- what did happen?
- what was the cause of any identified failings?
- what can be done to rectify any failings?
It may be that the student expects more than the College can provide and if so, this must be made clear to them as soon as possible.
The investigator should clarify any extra information that will be required to investigate the complaint and record the details in the complaints log. The record should also show that all case notes / papers from the frontline stage have been handed over to the investigator.
The investigator will give due regard to information that may be confidential, sensitive, restricted or covered by data protection legislation, with consent to access / share information being obtained where appropriate.
2.3 Staff Investigating a Complaint
Wherever possible, the investigator will not have been involved in the issues of the complaint.
The member of staff appointed to investigate the complaint will be independent and will have a thorough understanding of College CHP and a reasonable knowledge of the procedures of the department or function they are investigating. As such, they will normally be a member of the College Management Team or the Curriculum/Operational Management Team. They will be trained in how to plan and conduct investigations, including how to obtain and analyse evidence. They will have the authority and support of senior management to resolve complaints within pre-determined boundaries.
2.4 Timescale if Investigation is Required
Complaints requiring investigation will be acknowledged within 3 working days.
A full written response should be provided within 20 working days.
If the complaint is complex, or where there are clear and justifiable reasons for extending the timescale, senior management will set time limits on any extended investigation as long as the student agrees. The student must be kept updated of the reason for the delay and the revised timescale. If they do not agree to an extension but it is unavoidable and reasonable, then senior management must consider and confirm any extension. Each case must be judged on its merits. Reasons for an extension might include the following:
- Essential accounts or statements, crucial to establishing the circumstances of the case are needed from staff, customers or others but they cannot help because of long-term sickness or leave.
- You cannot obtain further essential information within normal timescales but have a reasonable expectation of doing so if an extension were to be granted.
- Operations are disrupted by unforeseen or unavoidable events eg industrial action or severe weather.
- The customer has agreed to mediation as a potential route to resolution.
If, in special circumstances, the investigation has to be suspended for any reason, the decision to suspend for a defined period will be formally recorded.
3 ANONYMOUS COMPLAINTS
All complaints are treated seriously and will be considered further, wherever it is proper to do so. Generally, an anonymous complaint will be given consideration if it gives enough information for us to make further enquiries. Failing this, it may not be pursued further. A decision not to pursue an anonymous complaint must be authorised by the responsible senior manager.
If an anonymous complaint contains serious allegations, it will be referred immediately to a senior manager.
If an anonymous complaint is to be pursued, it will be recorded on the complaints system in order to ensure the completeness of the complaints data and to allow appropriate corrective action to be taken.
4 COMPLAINTS INVOLVING MORE THAN ONE DEPARTMENT OR ORGANISATION
4.1 If the complaint relates to the actions of two or more College departments, the customer must be informed who will take the lead in dealing with the complaint and that they will receive only one response covering all issues raised.
4.2 If the complaint is about the service or another organisation and the College is not involved in the issue, the customer should be advised to contact the other organisation directly
4.3 If the complaint directly relates to a College service and that of another organisation for example a contractor providing a service on behalf of the College, a qualifications awarding body, a funding body or the provider of catering services the College will handle the complaint through this procedure.
Data Protection legislation and confidentiality must be considered when making any enquiries to an outside organisation about the complaint.
If the complaint is complex or where students or other interested parties have become entrenched in their position, a different approach to resolving the complaint may be required. Mediation can help both parties understand what has caused the complaint and is therefore more likely to lead to a mutually satisfactory outcome. Therefore, where appropriate, a mediation or conciliation service using suitably trained and qualified mediators should be considered.
If both parties agree to mediation, a revised timescale will need to be agreed.
UNACCEPTABLE ACTIONS BY STUDENTS
We recognise that people may be angry and upset when making a complaint and that a person may act out of character in times of trouble or distress. However, we will not accept unreasonable behaviour towards College staff. We record all incidents of unacceptable actions by complainants.
1 Unreasonable demands
A demand becomes unacceptable when it starts to (or when complying with the demand would) impact substantially on the work of the section or department. For example:
- repeatedly demanding responses within an unreasonable timescale
- insisting on seeing or speaking to a particular member of staff when that is not possible
- repeatedly changing the substance of a complaint or raising unrelated concerns
2 Unreasonable level of contact
The level of contact becomes unacceptable when the amount of time spent talking to a complainant on the telephone or responding to, reviewing and filing emails or written correspondence impacts on the work of the section or department. For example:
- a number of calls in one day or one hour
- repeated long telephone calls
- resending copies of information that has previously been submitted
- resending copies of information that is irrelevant to the complaint
3 Unreasonable use of the complaints process
It would be considered unreasonable for students to attempt to use the complaints process instead of the appropriate means of communication through for example: the Course Team Review, Bursary Appeal, Assessment Appeal or Disciplinary Appeal processes.
4 Abusive or aggressive behaviour
Behaviour or language (whether verbal or written) that may cause staff to feel afraid, threatened or abused will not be accepted. We will not accept unreasonable behaviour including violence, threats, verbal abuse, derogatory remarks and rudeness towards staff.
5 How the College will deal with unreasonable, aggressive or abusive behaviour
The threat or use of physical violence, verbal abuse or harassment towards College staff is likely to result in a termination of all direct contact with the student and incidents may be reported to the police, particularly if physical violence is used or threatened.
We will not accept any correspondence by letter, fax or electronic means, that is abusive to staff or contains allegations that lack substantive evidence. The student will be told that their language is offensive, unnecessary and unhelpful and they will be asked to stop. They will be told that we will not respond to their correspondence if the action or behaviour continues.
College staff will end telephone calls if they consider the caller aggressive, abusive or offensive. College staff have the right to make this decision, to tell the caller that their behaviour is unacceptable and to end the call if the behaviour persists. They will record and inform their line manager of the action they have taken and the reason why it was taken.
In certain circumstances we may decide to:
- limit contact to telephone calls from the student at set times / set days
- restrict contact to a nominated member of College staff
- see the student by appointment only
- restrict contact with the student to writing only
A decision to restrict contact will only be made by a senior member of College staff. The College will always make it clear in writing what action we intend to take and we will give the reason for the decision. This decision and the reasons for it will be recorded on the student’s file. Any appeal regarding restricted contact will be heard by a senior member of staff who was not involved in the decision to restrict contact. The Senior Management Team will review the status of all complainants with restricted contact arrangements on a regular basis.