Formal Complaint

Stages of Complaint


This article is for informal Complaints and is intended as a helpful guide that should be read alongside Students Complaints Procedure, for related processes see Informal Complaints, Complaint Review, Issues with Students, Dealing with Housemates, Issues with Placements or Mediation


Complaints are an opportunity for you to raise any dissatisfaction with a university service or course of study. You should submit a formal complaint as soon as practically possible but no later than 3 months from when the matter that you wish to complain about happened and normally within 5 working days of an outcome if you have raised concerns informally with staff.

You may wish to speak with a Sunderland Students’ Union advisor who can explore the process and alternative options with you.

You should not be disadvantaged by making a complaint in good faith.
The University welcomes the opportunity to correct mistakes, clarify misunderstandings, and to respond positively and constructively to any dissatisfaction.

Alternative solutions
Where ever possible you should try to raise concerns informally to see if it can be resolved quickly. Some issues are best addressed through other processes or mechanisms, see ‘what issues can I raise’ to check if you are looking at the right process for you. 

At any point you can ask for Mediation to take place. Mediation is a method of conflict resolution where a trained mediator works with all parties involved finding a solution. 

Who can make a complaint?
Complaints can be made by any students studying at the University of Sunderland, including;

  • Group complaints,
    • Which should have one or two nominated students for the university to liaise with on behalf of the group, and
    • Which should enclose a list of names, student registration numbers and signatures of all students complaining
    • Or alternatively on course related matters students could raise concerns via the course representative structures.
  • Complaints from students on a leave of absence

However complaints cannot be made

  • on behalf of students by Staff of the University or Partner Colleges
  • by a third party on behalf of a student except in exceptional cases where full written consent if provided from the student or where the student is incapacitated and unable to give consent

Issues considered through a formal complaint
Before making a complaint, you should have exhausted informal actions to resolve the issue, or it should be of such seriousness that informal complaints are not appropriate. Broadly, complaints might be regarding;

  • harassment by staff
  • a service delivered by the University
  • your course or issues happening on the course you are studying.

Issues considered by other processes

  • Complaints about the Students’ Union
  • Complaints about other students should be considered under the Student Disciplinary Regulations
  • Safeguarding issues relating to children and/or vulnerable adults
  • Academic decisions/performance which should be considered under the appeal process. Although if there is a complaint about the service you received that has an impact on the appeal you may wish to submit both (in such instances the complaint outcome will inform the Appeal)
  • Matters relating to fitness to practice
  • Complaints regarding a third party, which should be considered by the third party’s own complaints procedure. third parties include placements, partner colleges, and government organisations such as the home office or student finance England.

If you have attempted to resolve the matter informally and remain dissatisfied you can downloaded a complaint form and try drafting your claim. You don’t need to get it perfect straight away- it is normally easier to correct/delete/add points from a rough draft than it is to try it write it perfect the first time.

When writting your complaint;

  • act professionally; avoid being personal, using offensive language or acting in an inappropriate way- this is particularly important for students whose courses are professional regulated.
  • be constructive; if you want to achieve an outcome, this is best achieved when you are approaching the university (or anyone) in a constructive way.
  • Be firm and polite not aggressive or rude
  • Provide any evidence if needed and appropriate

Speak to Sunderland Students’ Union advisor to help you review your drafts to see what you could do to strengthen your claim.

  • Be concise; this doesn’t mean it has to be short, just avoid covering a point several times and keep the phrasing simple
  • Try not to be emotive in your language; it is important the reader can see the facts of your case. Emotional tangents do not add any factual points to your complaint and is likely to make your complaint longer than it needs to be. It is however fine to talk about, from a factual point of view, any emotional impact the situation has had on you or continues to have on you.
  • Find ways to break up information into bite sized chunks with bullet points, timelines, shorter paragraphs, headers etc
  • Use a short summative introduction which describes the main point(s) you are making in your complaint before going into details

Preparing evidence
Provide anything which evidences your claims and may also evidence the impact an issue has had on you. Evidence that is from an independent source, from a professional individual or service, is more likely to help you your claim.

Evidence between complaints will vary widely as each complaint will require evidence specific to the claims you are making- you may wish to speak with an advisor to discuss what evidence might be appropriate for your complaint.

Evidence you may wish to consider

  • Copies or weblinks to policies or procedures or written materials published by the university which demonstrates any lack of service you feel you have received
  • Witness statements by anyone who witnessed any alleged incidences
  • Copies of correspondence such as emails or letters
  • GP letter or other medical letters from specialist medical staff if you are claiming the circumstance had a medical impact on you
  • Letters from your tutors or other staff
  • Letters from professionals; solicitors, counsellors, social workers
  • Legal Paperwork
  • Police documentation

False evidence for complaints or complaints that are malicious, vexatious or frivolous is an offence under both academic and disciplinary regulations and may lead to expulsion from the University.

When to submit
You should submit your complaint form as soon as reasonable possible and within 3 months of the matter which you are complaining about occurring. If you are posting the complaint form and evidence, you should allow enough time for the postal service to deliver the complaint.

The University will not accept a late complaint unless you can demonstrate very good cause for not meeting the deadlines, supported by evidence.

Where to send your claim
The complaint form can be submitted either to University of Sunderland, Student Casework, Level 1, The Gateway Building, City Campus, Chester Road, Sunderland, SR1 3SD, or you can email your complaint and evidence digitally to

Confidential information
Any evidence submitted as part of the complaint will be made available to both the you and those members of staff who need to see it in order for the complaint to be considered. In some cases a duty to breach confidentiality may exist, typically where necessary to do so for the safety of you or of other people.

If there is any aspect of your complaint or evidence which you feel must remain confidential you must discuss this with the Investigating Officer when you first meet. The University cannot guarantee that this will be possible. In cases where some information is restricted, due to a request for confidentiality, the University may not be able to ensure that full consideration is given to each case.

The University may not be able to disclose outcomes about actions taken in respect of staff due to their obligations in respect of confidentiality in employment matters.

Timescales for complaint regarding harassment by staff
You will receive a response from the Dean of Faculty or Director of Service as quickly as possible but no longer than 10 working days after you have made a formal complaint.

Timescales for complaints regarding your course or a service delivered by the university
initially you should receive an acknowledgement from the Student Casework Manager who will forward your complaint to the relevant Dean or Director. There is no specific timescale within the complaints procedure regarding how long the university will take to acknowledge your complaint. However typically you might expect to see a response within 10 working days.

Following the acknowledgement you should hear back within a further 5 working days, either to be offered an early resolution (if possible) or to inform you of any appointed investigating officer.

Once the investigation has concluded you should receive a written response as soon as possible but no later than 30 working days after the university acknowledged the complaint.

Meeting with the investigating officer
If assigned an Investigating officer they will usually wish to discuss your complaint with you to ensure they have a fully understand of the complaint you are making and you are welcome to bring a member of the university community such as an Students’ Union advisor or another student, for support.

Reasonable adjustments
The University will make reasonable adjustments at any stage of the proceedings to accommodate your needs should you have any disability or health condition (or other protected characteristics).

Make sure you inform the investigating officer of any adjustments you would like in place; particularly should you meet to discuss the complaint.

Taking legal action
if you start legal action against the University, any complaint will be paused until those proceedings are complete. Legal actions may also rule out opportunities for you to approach the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA); speak to an advisor for more details.

If you remain dissatisfied with the response to your formal complaint and wish to take the matter further with a Complaint Review within 10 working days of the response to your formal complaint.

You may also wish to speak with an advisor to see if there is another process more appropriate or if your expectations during this process were reasonable. 

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2019
Next review due: 31/08/2020