Informal 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 Formal Complaints, Complaint Review, Issues with Students, Dealing with Housemates, Issues with Placements or Mediation


Informal complaints are the first step in the University’s complaint procedure, and should be enacted wherever possible before making a formal complaint.

Complaints are an opportunity for you to raise any dissatisfaction with a university service or course of study. You should submit a complaint as soon as practically possible but no later than 3 months from when the matter that you wish to complain about happened.

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
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 complaint
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.

Who to raise concerns to
You can raise a complaint with relevant staff who work in the area the issue arose. This could be raised in person, via phone or in writing including email.

When to raise concerns
You should raise your concerns as soon as reasonable possible and within 3 months of the matter which you are complaining about occurring.

Tips to raising concerns
When raising a complaint try to ensure you;

  • 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
  • Be calm and concise
  • Provide any evidence if needed and appropriate

Speak to Sunderland Students’ Union advisor if you want to chat about how best to raise a concern informally.

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.

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.

Approaches staff might take towards a complaint
Staff may use many different ways to approach a situation to provide a considered and swift resolution where possible. Staff may

  • meet you face to face
  • provide you with further information or explanation
  • launch an investigation to provide you with a response
  • suggest solutions
  • suggest mediation

There is no prescribed timescale for staff to conclude an informal complaint. However informal complaints should be considered more speedily than formal complaints; which can take up to 35 working days.

Meeting with staff
If you meet with staff to explore the complaint, you do not usually need anyone with you, however if you feel it would make you more comfortable you have the right to bring a member of the university community such as another student, for support.

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 concerns and wish to take the matter further with a formal complaint this should be done within 5 working days of the response to your concerns.

You may also wish to speak with an advisor to see if there is another process more appropriate. .

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