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Advice Service Terms and Conditions

Sunderland Students’ unions Terms and Conditions is a framework of documents comprising of our; 

  • Advice Directive.
  • Fair Access for All.
  • Privacy Notice and Confidentiality Policy.
  • Advice Steering Group Terms of Reference.
  • Conflict of Interest Procedure.
  • Safeguarding Procedure.
  • Handling Criminal Issues Policy.
  • Referrals and Signposting Guidance.
  • Quality Assurance Policy.
  • Contingency and Continuity Guidance.

Additional sources of information and useful documents for you includes our Union wide

These Terms and Conditions are intended to:

  • Help student clients to better understand their rights.
  • Give caseworker staff a structure to their activity.
  • Define the role of the Advice Steering Group.
  • Assure our broader stakeholders, including our University and our Board, that we operate in an ethical, legal and high quality way.

Our Advice is Free, Independent, Impartial and Confidential
We are able to be independent as the service is delivered not by the university and we (Sunderland Students’ Union) are an independent and registered charity; so we always and only have your best interests in mind.

We are able to be impartial because we don’t judge any student who asks for advice and nothing about the case will stop us acting in their best interest.

Empowering Students: How we deliver Advice
We seek to empower students; by offering expertise in university policy and procedure, and select housing and wellbeing issues.

We never tell you what to do, instead we explore options with you, so that you are in a position to make informed and considered decisions that you feel is in your own best interest. 

We do not undertake any writing, completion of forms/documentation/responses to allegations. We understand that ultimately it is your voice that needs to be heard. We will help enhance and strengthen your claims, by giving you the benefit of our experience and expertise and by giving guidance, opinion and feedback on any writing, completion of forms/documentation/responses you would like us to review.

Who can access our services 
We support, and will provide advice to:

  • Students currently registered at the University of Sunderland, including London campus.
  • Collaborative partnership college students whose course is designated as a University of Sunderland programme.
  • Prospective students of the University of Sunderland who have a conditional or unconditional offer of a place at the University.
  • Recent students of the University of Sunderland, whose case has continued past their enrolment.

If resources permit, we’ll also provide advice for:

  • Prospective students who do not have a confirmed offer of a place at the University of Sunderland.
  • Concerned relatives and friends of students who seek advice on behalf of the student, when the student can’t contact us themselves (if, for example, they’re in hospital). We’ll inform the caller that it would be preferable to speak to the student if possible and that without direct contact there may be limits on the accuracy of the advice given. Any agreement to offer advice to a concerned third party must comply with Sunderland Students’ Union’s Data Protection Policy and be authorised by letter or email by the student.
  • Sunderland Students’ Union staff.

Any other person, not fitting into the above groups, will be signposted to an appropriate alternative agency.

Areas of Advice we cover
Academic Policies and Procedures, including but not limited to:

  • Academic Appeals.
  • Complaints.
  • Academic Misconduct.
  • Fitness to Practise.
  • Extenuating Circumstances.
  • Disciplinary.

Housing issues short of legal action and guidance, including but not limited to:

  • Disrepair.
  • Landlord and Tenant Rights.
  • Tenancy Deposits.
  • Issues with student housemates.

Staff and Officer Responsibilities
Sunderland Students’ Union’s President (Education) and President (Wellbeing) are politically responsible for the advice service. They are the democratically elected Officers who lead the development of the service and are accountable to students for the provision of high quality and impactful advice. They don’t ever know any details about a students’ case as they are not professional caseworkers.

Eleanor Farrington, Deputy Chief Executive (Member Support), has lead responsibility for the assurance of high quality advice and lead responsibility for safeguarding and Prevent.

Jawanza Ipyana (Student Advisor) supports students through advice casework and supports the Deputy Chief Executive in developing the advice service.

Vicki White (Wellbeing Senior Officer), support students through coaching and the SU Buddies Scheme.

Accessing appointments
You can book an appointment via our website or https://ussuadvice.simplybook.it/ 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Availability is shown in real time meaning you never need to wait for our team to confirm the appointment time is yours. This also means you can book appointments wherever you have internet access.

Sunderland Students’ Union also offer telephone appointments as an alternative to face to face appointments at the Sunderland City Campus and St Peter’s Campus. This options is to help accommodate for our members who are studying remotely or based at London Campus or are currently away from Sunderland.

When booking online you are required to agree to Sunderland Students’ Union’s Advice terms and conditions of the service we offer, as such we will always ask you to book online and will not accept initial bookings from a new client or regarding a new issue over the phone, in person, or via email.

Fair allocation of time and resources
Sunderland Students’ Union has thousands of members, therefore in order to ensure fair access for all we may put restrictions in place regarding the amount of time and resources that can be allocated to a single case.

Restrictions in your access to our service or termination/withdrawal of support can arise from 

  • Excessive appointment bookings 
  • Excessive email communications 
  • Circumventing the booking system to speak with an advisor 
  • Excessive requests to review documentation 
  • Missed and inappropriate appointments 
  • Inappropriate requests

 

Excessive appointment bookings
Sunderland Students’ Union ask that you do not book more than one standard appointment (of 30 minutes) at any given time without agreement from your Sunderland Students’ Union advisor. Multiple or extended bookings made without agreement of the advisor may result in cancellation.

Excessive email communications
Sunderland Students’ Union ask that you are responsible with email communications and do not excessively email your advisor or the Students Union. In the first instance where we deem the emailing to be excessive, we will inform you of what we will consider excessive moving forward. This will be based on a number of factors including service demand, reasonable adjustments and case complexity.

Circumventing the booking system to speak with an advisor
Sunderland Students’ Union operates on an appointment system and cannot guarantee that an advisor will be available should you ring the office or drop in to the office without booking an appointment; we ask that you avoid doing this where possible. We acknowledge there are times this may be appropriate but where such actions become repeated or excessive we will inform you of what we will consider excessive moving forward, based on a number of factors including service demand, reasonable adjustments and case complexity.

Excessive requests to review documentation
Sunderland Students’ Union ask that you are responsible when asking advisors to provide guidance, opinion and feedback on any completion of forms/documentation/responses you would like us to review. Submitting the same item for guidance, opinion or feedback repeatedly, particularly if there is little or no change between drafts, can become excessive. In the first instance where we deem the requests to be excessive, we will inform you of what we will consider excessive moving forward. This will be based on a number of factors including service demand, reasonable adjustments and case complexity.

Missed and inappropriate appointments
You are responsible for your appointments by attending on time and bringing any relevant information. Missed and inappropriate appointments are any appointments where:

  • you cancel an appointment less than 30 minutes prior to the schedule start time, or 
  • you are more than 15 minutes late to an appointment without notice, or 
  • you inform us of delays but there is less than 15 minutes remaining of your appointment, or 
  • you book an appointment with no new information, questions, developments in the case or additional materials for review, or 
  • you book an appointment for support when we have already informed you that we are not the appropriate service to access for the issue you are raising

Two or more missed or inappropriate appointments in the life of a case may be deemed unacceptable. In the first instance we will inform you that any further missed appointments may lead to restrictions in your access to the service or in some cases you would be withdrawn from using our service. We will consider exceptions based on a number of factors including service demand, reasonable adjustments and case complexity.

Inappropriate requests
Include but are not limited to:

  • Demands that staff undertake actions which we deem you to be able to take yourself 
  • Requests for assistance that exceeds the expertise of staff 
  • Long term support demands that require substantial staff time which could have a detrimental effect on the ability to provide an acceptable level of service to other service users

Appropriate spaces for Advice
Sunderland Students’ Union will try to help you to talk freely in a comfortable environment by conducting appointments in a private interview rooms wherever possible. Where we are unable to offer a private interview room, clients will be offered the opportunity to attend at a different time, when a private interview room will be available. We can discuss off-site appointments if this is an appropriate option. Additionally we can hold appointments via telephone if you prefer.

Reasonable adjustments
Sunderland Students’ Union will seek to make reasonable adjustments if you request them and inform us of any health issues or a disabilities. In the unlikely and unusual circumstance that we believe an adjustment is unreasonable, we will discuss this with you and explore alternative and more practical options. If you have any concerns regarding reasonable adjustments please discuss this further with us.

Please also note our Union wide Data Protection Policy (available at www.sunderlandsu.co.uk/dataprotection

Our basis for retaining information
From the moment you approach Sunderland Students’ Union for advice, there is information we may collect and retain. It is up to you to decide what you share with us. 

We collect data under the following conditions and lawful basis of GDPR.

  • Personal information, including your name, date of birth, address, phone number and academic details.
    • Personal information is kept for contractual1 reasons in order to provide ongoing and personalised support as well as to note issues from any previous case you may have had with us. Academic details may also affect the advice given, for instance if your course is subject to a professional regulatory body. 
    • During the life of the case(s), you may disclose information, which due to legitimate interest2 is retained by us for quality assurance; to ensure the advice we are giving is accurate and proportional.
  • Special Category Data;
    Sensitive information related to your racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership, health, sexuality or sex life, offences or convictions.
    • If you inform us of health issues or a disability, Sunderland Students’ Union will seek to make reasonable adjustments. Information pertaining to health and disability may be kept to ensure Sunderland Students’ Union carries out any obligations3 of legal compliance4 with the Equality Act (2010).
    • During the life of the case(s), you may disclose special category information, which may affect the advice given. Such data will be retained in the course of our legitimate activities5, specifically in advising current or former members6, as a not-for-profit body. For example disclosure regarding health issues may result in specific and nuanced advice regarding extenuating circumstances. In such cases we also note our legitimate interest2  in quality assurance; to ensure the advice we are giving is accurate and proportional.
    • We may send feedback questionnaires (print or digital) that ask optional questions about special category data and is held anonymously and not connected to your case file. 

1. article 6 1.(b) -Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2016
2. article 6 1.(f) -Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2016
3. article 9 2.(b) -Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2016
4. article 6 1.(c) -Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2016
5. article 9 2.(d) -Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2016
6. key constitutional provisions 2.1, Memorandum and Articles of Association of University of Sunderland Students’ Union 

Right to access Data
At any time you may request a copy of your case file(s), provided that disclosure does not compromise the privacy of another party, extracted from our case management system; Advice pro. Such requests should be made to centralservices@sunderland.ac.uk

At any time you may access a copy of personal data held by simply book it, the appointment booking system, by clicking “My personal data” found at the bottom of the https://ussuadvice.simplybook.it webpage.  

The right to erasure/Automatic deletion of records
We want you to be comfortable about the data that we hold about you and we provide the facility for you to request the deletion or removal of your personal data where there is no compelling reason for its continued processing. Requests should be made to centralservices@sunderland.ac.uk.

We anonymise your data 7 years after last contact. These records are used for statistical purposes. Anonymised records will be held indefinitely. For the avoidance of doubt, anonymised records may retain academic details and details regarding processes and their outcomes (where possible and where it does not identify individuals) – however all case notes and personal data are removed. 

Data Storage and external processing
Your data is processed using external systems, Advice Pro whose privacy policy can be provided via your caseworker upon request and simply Book it who have their own privacy notice at https://simplybook.me/en/policy.

If you book appointments via the online booking system (Simply Book it), you are required to agree to our terms and conditions which encompasses this privacy statement, as well as agree to the terms and conditions for Simply Book it.

Our case files are kept on a secure electronic case recording system called AdvicePro. Any written notes or physical documents are scanned to AdvicePro at the earliest opportunity and then disposed of via confidential waste bins or shredded. We do still store Client Consent Forms in a locked filing cabinet for any client’s pre 2016. These are stored for a period of seven years from the end of the academic year in which the data is created. 

Authority to Act on your behalf
We seek your explicit authority at the point of booking online, to liaise with relevant third parties, such as the university, regarding your issue and for copies of paperwork pertaining to your case. 

There is no breach of confidentiality if you have given permission for caseworkers to contact a third party on your behalf. We’ll include a copy of our Authority to Act Form in all written communications with third parties. We’ll support you to give verbal authority to act in telephone conversations where you and the caseworker are present in the same room together.

In some cases we may need to seek specialist advice from another agency such as the National Housing Advice Service (NHAS) or a solicitor, for example, and it may be necessary to give them specific personal details, such as age or ethnic identity or gender. We will inform you of this in advance.

Confidentiality
Any information that you disclose to us will remain confidential unless a need arises to breach your confidentiality, usually if we believe that there is a significant risk of harm to you or to others as outlined in the safeguarding policy.  If the need ever arises to break confidentiality, information will only be discussed/ shared on a need to know basis and we will seek to talk to you about this first wherever possible. In exceptional circumstances, we may disclose information without your consent, where in our professional judgement, exceptional circumstances apply or it is in your best interests for us to do so.

There are some instances where we have a statutory obligation to share your data. These are instances that are set out in Acts of Parliament or by a Court of Law. They may include criminal and terrorist activity, adult and child protection concerns, conflict of interest, or if we believe there is a substantial threat to life/harm of you or another person. We may also share your data with the University of Sunderland if we believe there is a safeguarding concern involving you or a third party.

Information regarding how we respond to criminal matters in regards to confidentiality is outlined in our Handling Criminal Issues Policy.

There is no breach of confidentiality for members of Sunderland Students’ Union staff who give advice, and who are named in these terms and conditions, to discuss cases or share information amongst ourselves. This is because you’re a client of Sunderland Students’ Union’s advice service, and not an individual caseworker. There may be some cases where colleagues in other advice services provide additional case support, but this will be discussed with you in advance.

How we manage unauthorised breaches of confidentiality
If a caseworker discovers an unauthorised breach of confidentiality they should inform their line manager immediately; who will seek support as to the potential consequences and the best method to mitigate them from Advice UK or the insurers. 

Unauthorised breaches of confidentiality can be accidental - letters sent to the wrong address or email address, for example, but nevertheless any such breach should still be discussed between the caseworker and line manager, who should reflect on how the breach arose and how to avoid any repetition in the future. Persistent accidental breaches of confidentiality due to carelessness or a lack of appreciation of the required standards will be potentially considered a capability issue and the matter will be addressed appropriately in line with our performance management process. 

Where confidentiality has been breached wilfully or maliciously or if a caseworker has repeatedly breached confidentiality despite previous disciplinary action a formal investigation will be carried out and disciplinary action may be required. Such breaches of confidentiality are likely to be considered gross misconduct. 

Where confidentiality is breached and a complaint ensues Sunderland Students’ Union will be in a position of conflict of interest if it continues to provide advice to the client, and must withdraw the service.

Membership
Student Advisor
Wellbeing Senior Officer 
Deputy Chief Executive (Member Support) 
Central Services Manager 
Policy and Campaigns Senior Officer 
President (Education) 
President (Wellbeing) 

Meetings 

  1. Sunderland Students’ Union’s Advice Steering  group will meeting no less than 3 times per academic year;
  2. Sunderland Students’ Union’s Advice Steering  group will hold additional meetings as and when required, where;
    1. An urgent matter arises, which would be detrimental to the situation or the Union to defer until the next scheduled meeting; or
    2. Advice Steering  group, by consensus believes there is good cause to do so.

Objectives 
Delivered directly or through delegation

  1. To drive continuous improvements to the Advice service students receive:
    1. Including digital and remote access support.
  2. To review data-led evaluation of casework and website analytics:
    1. And where appropriate share findings with Exec and Policy and Campaigns teams to information support campaign activity.
    2. And influence the development and improvement of University regulations, procedures, processes and polices through established University relationships.
  3. To co-ordinate the development of Advice-University relationships through:
    1. Improving and/or introducing referral pathways,
    2. Participation in development groups,
    3. Engagement with the personal tutor networks, and
    4. Meaningful 1 to 1 relationships with relevant university contacts.
  4. To develop, review and sustain the Advice Terms and Conditions and its implementation.

You have a right to expect that any advice you receive is independent and impartial and that any caseworker acts only in your best interests. There may be occasions in which something, in reality or in perception, could potentially influence the advice we give you. This is referred to as a conflict of interest and it means that we will be unable to advise you. Conflicts of interests are possible between you, and either an individual caseworker or the students’ union as a whole.

It is important to identify conflicts of interests clearly and as early as possible. Caseworkers will seek to understand your case in an appointment and identify potential conflicts of interest at the outset of the case. Conflicts of interest may also be identified during case supervision sessions. It is important that caseworkers reflect on potential conflicts of interest at all points during a case and should discuss questions with their line manager to identify appropriate courses of action.

Examples of when a conflict of interest may occur:

  1. 1.When advising two or more parties to a dispute - this could include advising two students who live in the same house, or a group of students who are accused of collusion. When this happens:
    • Sunderland Students’ Union’s caseworkers will act for the client who approached us first.  The second student will be sign-posted to another caseworker, if one is available, or we will refer you to another source of advice.  
    • If you state at the start of your case that another student may also be a future client, the caseworker should seek permission, in writing where possible, to disclose that they have already been consulted by you.  If permission is provided, there will be no breach of confidentiality if the caseworker explains to the other user why Sunderland Students’ Union cannot provide advice.  If permission is not given, the matter will be referred to the Deputy Chief Executive and could lead to a refusal of service.  However, if we become aware of conflict of interest because it arises during the course of a case rather than at the outset, it will not be construed as a breach on the caseworker’s part.
    • Caseworkers working for one student will try not to identify the other student.  
    • Caseworkers will not discuss the case with any other caseworker or read the case notes of the other students.
    • Where a caseworker is already supporting two users and a conflict of interest arises between these users, the caseworker may refer to their line manager one of the following options is likely:
      • One student will be referred to an alternative caseworker, if available.  Caseworkers will not discuss case details and the other student’s notes will not be read by the caseworkers.  Students will be assured that the cases will be treated confidentially and independently.
      • One or both students will be referred to a different advice service.
      • Sunderland Students’ Union will not act for either user.
  2. When advising a student who has given information that the caseworker knows or discovers to be false. This could include, for example, advising a student who says they have no earnings in a benefit case but whom the caseworker knows is in full time employment. When this happens:
    • You will be reminded to disclose all relevant information to your caseworker.
    • The caseworker will make every effort to confirm the information suspected of being false and advise you that Sunderland Students’ Union is unable to verify any information to a third party that is believed false.
    • The caseworker will advise you of any legal or procedural consequences of using false information.
    • We will ensure all verbal advice and information is confirmed in writing.
    • We reserve the right not to give advice until we can confirm that all information we use is accurate. 
    • We will not contact a third party without your permission in any event.
  3. When a case involves a staff member or elected Officer of Sunderland Students’ Union, or a close friend or relative or a caseworker.
  4. When a case is a complaint about Sunderland Students’ Union or its staff, or a member of staff who works closely with Sunderland Students’ Union, including some University of Sunderland staff.
  5. When you wish to act in a way that will damage the services we provide.

In the event of points 3, 4, or 5, arising, the caseworker will provide you with a copy of the relevant procedural information, a copy of this Conflict of Interest procedure, and signpost you to other sources of advice. The caseworker may also discuss this, if appropriate with their line manager.

If you believe that a conflict of interest has arisen and not been addressed or you are not happy with the way that Sunderland Students’ Union has addressed a conflict of interest, then you should use the unions Complaints Procedure.

The following outlines our service’s responsibilities where there are concerns that you are at risk of harming yourself of others; including how those responsibilities interact with other aspects of the service, such as confidentiality. 

Self-harm and risk of suicide 
There is no legal duty upon an Advisor to report any suspicions or direct reports of clients who declare an intention to commit suicide or self-harm. However, there are several compelling reasons why it may be necessary to do so which must be balanced against the primary need for confidentiality. 

If a situation arises where a client informs an Advisor of serious self-harm, or the intention to do so, the Advisor will: 

  • Explain to the client that they’ll discuss this with the Deputy Chief Executive and that confidentiality might be breached. The client should also be told that the issue may be reported externally. 
    • The Deputy Chief Executive will decide whether a breach is appropriate.
  • Try to find out whether the client has any dependents or intends to self-harm in a way that is hazardous to others. 
  • Treat this issue as an enquiry and provide the client with information about the range of available support for those at risk of self-harm/suicide. 
  • Seek to refer the client to the Samaritans and other specialist services for counselling support. 
  • Ask the client if there is a friend or family member who is already aware of the self-harm or someone who they feel they could trust with this knowledge. 

The Deputy Chief Executive will consider if any further actions are required on a case-by-case basis and may consult Advice UK, or the insurers.

This process allows Sunderland Students’ Union to maintain an appropriate balance between client care and confidentiality standards, as well as assuring key stakeholders that sensitive issues are being properly managed. 

Suspected Child Abuse 
Clients need to be confident that Sunderland Students’ Union’s advice service is confidential and that they can trust us not to divulge personal information to third parties unnecessarily. This enables those who have concerns about a child, or who are being abused, to feel that they can approach the service for help. There is no legal duty to report suspicions or allegations of abuse against a child. However, an Advisor may feel that it’s necessary to breach confidentiality in order to protect the client or someone else. 

While an Advisor may have reason to believe a child is at risk of abuse or is being abused they are not experts in child abuse and are not in an appropriate position to judge this. Therefore we have procedures for decision making about a breach of confidentiality when child abuse is alleged or suspected. 

When information is disclosed to the Advisor that raises suspicions or concerns about a child being abused or at risk of being abused, the Advisor will 

  • Take careful notes of what is said and must not ask any questions which seem to be "leading". 
  • Record only the facts, preferably in the language and words used by the client. 
  • Explain to the client that they’ll discuss this with the Deputy Chief Executive and that confidentiality might be breached. The client should also be told that the issue may be reported externally. 
    • The Deputy Chief Executive will decide whether a breach is appropriate.
  • Encourage the client to report the matter the local authority or the Police, the NSPCC or a specialist organisation. 
    • If the client indicates that they are willing to contact the local authority or the Police, the Advisor will offer the client a private interview room where they can call the appropriate authorities themselves. 
    • In cases where the client does not wish to contact the appropriate authorities, the Deputy Chief Executive will consider whether a breach of confidentiality is appropriate and may consult the Chief Executive or a relevant independent charity or other organisation with expertise in this area. 

We recognise that reporting any possible case of abuse will usually result in that organisation taking action. The Police and local authority both have a duty to follow up any complaint or concern expressed about a child. The NSPCC does not have a statutory responsibility to take action but has a duty under its Royal Charter. 

The Deputy Chief Executive will then consider any further actions on a case-by-case basis, but may consult Advice UK, or the insurers.

Sunderland Students’ Union must not participate in any form of ‘investigation’. 

This matter is complex and the seriousness of the nature of the issue must be balanced against the need to ensure a suitably professional standard of confidentiality. The procedure will use external professional experts when Sunderland Students’ Union may not be in possession of the full facts. This process provides security that the allegations are being correctly administered as well as demonstrating to external stakeholders that we are committed to ensuring child welfare without unnecessarily compromising confidentiality standards.

If a client may be committing a crime
A member of staff may become aware, or suspect, that a client has been involved or may become involved in a criminal activity. No criminal offence is committed by someone who fails to pass on knowledge of a crime, unless they do so for some form of reward or if the crime could be construed as an Act of Terrorism. If such a situation arises it is treated with the utmost seriousness and the Deputy Chief Executive or the Chief Executive must be consulted with immediately. Advisors must not make a decision to breach confidentiality without the support of the Deputy Chief Executive.

There may be times when immediate requests or demands for information are received from external agencies such as the Police Service. These may include the issue of a search warrant or the issue of a witness summons. Whether it is correct to release information will depend upon the circumstances of the case and whether the service is protected by legal professional privilege. The opinion of our solicitors at the time will be sought, as a matter of urgency, and these communications will not be viewed as a breach of confidentiality. 

Social Security Fraud 
Whilst advising a client it may become apparent that they have committed fraud by making or assisting fraudulent claims and/or failing to notify the relevant authority of any material changes in circumstances. Practical examples that may be presented include claiming benefits that clients aren’t eligible for, or by giving false information on an Access to Learning Fund application. The Advisor would ostensibly breach confidentiality if they informed anyone about the client committing fraud. 

The client must be informed about the possible consequences of their actions. This should be confirmed in writing by sending a letter or e-mail to the client after an interview, whether in person or not, and a record of this must be kept on the case file. 

We cannot assist a client who is committing, or has committed, fraud and then needs assistance that would involve us knowingly to allow fraud to continue. We couldn’t, for example, assist a client who has been fraudulently claiming housing benefit to make an application to the Access to Learning Fund until the housing benefit claim has stopped. We can continue to assist with other matters, however, such as academic queries. 

Several pieces of legislation convey wide and extensive powers on Social Security Inspectors to make enquiries and inspect documents including, theoretically, case files of advice services. Traditionally these powers have not been used against advice services, however, if they are used to attempt to access our advice records, then the case worker should inform the Deputy Chief Executive or the Chief Executive who will consult with Advice UK, or the insurer, and Sunderland Students’ Union’s solicitors. 

Terrorism 
If a member of staff believes that a client has given information relating to a (potential) act of terrorism they must discuss this with the Deputy Chief Executive who will consult with the Chief Executive, Sunderland Students’ Union’s solicitors and Advice UK, or our insurer.

The Terrorism Act (2000) makes it a criminal offence for a person to withhold information or fail to act without reasonable justification to disclose. It should be noted that this obligation is placed upon the individual Advisor not the Students’ Union, but an Advisor may seek to rely upon a specific defence that they were following service policies. It will be considered potential gross misconduct if any Advisor fails to consult with the Deputy Chief Executive at the earliest opportunity if they have reasonable cause.

Police visits 
Case files are not open to police inspection and there is generally no legal duty for staff to give information to the police. Police will be informed about our Confidentiality Policy and it should be explained that, under this policy, they are unable to answer any questions about clients. The Advisor’s line manager will be informed if the Police contact Sunderland Students’ Union. The Chief Executive will be informed as soon as possible if the Police contact Sunderland Students’ Union for information about a client or for any other reason.

If an Advisor is asked to discuss a client with the Police, provide a witness statement, or receive a summons they must immediately report the matter to their line manager. Sunderland Students’ Union will immediately seek legal advice on the matter; the default position, however, will be that the information and documents are covered by legal professional privilege as is the communications between Sunderland Students’ Union and our solicitors. As the privilege belongs to the client rather than the service, they can authorise disclosure but accurate and specific records of their consent must be kept within the case file.

Signposting
‘Signposting’ is the term we use when you contact us with a problem and the appropriate response is to indicate another source of advice. This may be because you aren’t someone we can offer advice to or the support you want is outside of our scope and abilities – for example, judicial review. This sometimes happens with existing clients who present us with an issue further to the original one that we’re supporting you with. Signposting is different to ‘referral’.

Referral
A referral is an action taken by us to seek support for you, as an established client, from an external body. This may occur because the Advisor believes that they can offer no further help because they do not have the expertise or resources to continue to ensure that your best interests are met. This may also occur where the Advisor seeks additional professional advice or opinions which they believe are necessary to continue to ensure that your best interests are met. 

When would we make a referral?
Sunderland Students’ Union will make a referral in consultation with you. We will always listen to you to identify the best referral we can make in their specific circumstances.
We will always try to signpost and refer to agencies that do not charge for their services. We will, in all appropriate circumstances, discuss with you any cost implications of using a new service provider.
We will not transfer any case records unless a formal request is made by you or by the other agency when accompanied by an acceptable form of authority.

How do we monitor the agencies we refer to?

  • The Advice Steering Group will regularly review our referral agencies and will consider:
  • Whether better relationships are needed with referral agencies.
  • Whether steps can be taken to reduce inappropriate client groups contacting the advice service.
  • Whether steps are needed to fill gaps in the advice service we provide.
  • Whether there are any gaps in local advice service provision.
  • Whether individual Advisor’s referrals should be discussed in their supervision sessions.
  • How we ensure that case files are managed appropriately.

Quality Assurance is delivery through a combination of case review, supervision, and the training and development of staff. 

Supervision 
Supervision describes the process by which Sunderland Students’ Union’s Senior Leadership Team assure the quality of the advice we give to students by supporting and scrutinising casework. Supervision is on-going training and development, focussed on advice quality. The designated lead for advice quality is the Deputy Chief Executive (Member Support).

Supervision is a monthly focussed meeting to discuss the specific details of at least three cases, the strategies chosen by the Advisor and the advice given. The priority in supervision is to ensure that Advisors are constructively challenged to defend the strategies and tactics they have decided to use to support clients.

There will also be some circumstances where, due to the specialist nature of some advice work, external colleagues may be asked to support the Deputy Chief Executive (Member Support) in assuring the quality of advice, mindful of our responsibilities to protect client confidentiality.

Training and development
Our Advisors are in a position of authority and responsibility and Sunderland Students’ Union takes its duty to ensure that they are competent very seriously. Our Advisors are valued, and we invest in their training and development on an ongoing basis.  

Every Advisor will have an annual appraisal, which is a focussed meeting with their line manager encompassing a training and development analysis, against their objectives, organisational need and their own goals. The outcomes of the meeting are reviewed six months afterwards, at the mid-point of the performance management cycle. Each Advisor also has a monthly meeting with their line manager to discuss progress against agreed objectives and to evaluate continuous professional development.

Each Advisor is a professional with a responsibility to reflect upon their own competence so that they offer excellent advice at all times. Sunderland Students’ Union will welcome any conversation about training and development but will expect Advisors to take responsibility for their own competence in partnership with the organisation.

Advisors will access much training and development that is not formal instruction; the ‘currency’ of advice is, for example, often maintained through appropriate research and networking. Sunderland Students’ Union encourages and expects all Advisors to seek diverse ranges of training and development and discuss resource needs with their line manager. 

Case review
We will also regularly review case files to ensure that:

  • We are giving high quality advice.
  • We identify any training or development needs for our Advisors.
  • We meet all of the deadlines that we need to, for clients and for internal purposes.
  • Our policies and procedures are being followed.

Each month two case files of each Advisor will be selected at random to ensure that files are comprehensive and consistent. If case files are not of the required standard appropriate training, development or performance management will be identified and implemented. This is a separate process to supervision and focuses on managerial aspects of advice work, such as accurate recording of contact information, signatures of students on appropriate forms, and the maintenance of correspondence lists.

New Advisors
When a new colleague begins to undertake casework, Sunderland Students’ Union will ensure that they are fully competent to support students. Sunderland Students’ Union recognises that competence comes from behaviour and knowledge.

A new Advisor will:

  • Be asked to observe an experienced colleague for at least two weeks, before they undertake casework themselves.
  • Have an experienced colleague observe appointments that the new Advisor leads.
  • During this period and in all instances, cases will be discussed individually Student Advisor. For this reason, induction will focus on no more than two cases a day to allow suitable research and reflection.

Progress will be assessed by the Student Advisor in consultation with the Advisor’s line manager. Each Advisor will have a record of their training and development in their annual appraisal and entered into their human resource records. Any on-going training and development will be entered into the human resource records as they take place.

We have a responsibility to you to ensure that we are always in a position to act in your best interests and our operational activity does not affect your case. We aim to meet this responsibility by considering any unforeseen events or circumstances which may affect the advice service we provide. We plan contingencies around them, in order to ensure that we can offer you continuous and high quality support.

We will always keep you informed about the progress of your case and any developments that affect it.  We will also record any changes to your case. These are key parts of our case management policy.

Central support 
Our Central Services team manages the administration of all cases. This means that a central point of contact is Central Services who ensure that:

  • All emails to su.studentadvice@sunderland.ac.uk are read by the Student Advisor, or someone else in their absence.
  • All phone calls to 0191 515 3030 are answered and action is taken by an appropriate person.
  • All letters are received and distributed to an appropriate person.
  • All Client Consent Forms are entered into AdvicePro and stored securely.
  • All correspondence between you and ourselves are recorded.

Advisor assignment
When your case starts, we will assign you an Advisor depending on the type of advice that you want and the availability of appointments. All the notes about your case are kept securely on Advice Pro, our shared electronic case management system. 

The Deputy Chief Executive (Membership Services) is able to reassign your case to another Advisor if, because of a conflict of interest or unexpected absence or any other reason, you need support and your assigned Advisor is not available. We’ll record this change on your case notes.

In the unlikely event that no Advisor can support your case, we will help you to find another source of advice under our referral procedure.

Key dates
Key dates are deadlines that are important in order to progress your case. Key dates arise from the case itself, such as the time limits referred to above and any other time limit which if missed, could lead to an allegation of negligence against Sunderland Students’ Union. You have a responsibility to provide as much information as possible when working with the Advisor, failure to do so may limit the Advisors ability to provide accurate key dates. Key dates could include:

  • Application deadlines.
  • Expiry of a limitation period.
  • Time limits for reviews or appeals.
  • All hearing dates.

You will be informed about key dates of your case and they will be noted prominently on your case file. Your assigned Advisor is responsible for key dates being identified and met. Advisors will do this through their own diary system.

Sunderland Students’ Union understands that there are time limits for all kinds of claims, applications, appeals and steps in proceedings. Deadlines are often strict, and the consequences of missing them can be serious. Advisors are aware that many of the problems you present with will have a time limit.

Time limits usually run from the date of an event or a decision. Ideally, you will provide us with copies of any written correspondence regarding a decision so dates can be checked by the Advisor. Advisors will carefully consider what event or decision you want to take action about when calculating deadlines. If you are able to take action by yourself, the Advisor will advise you when the deadline is and how to take the necessary action within that deadline. A note of the advice given will be made on AdvicePro, including the key date identified. 

Advisors will assume that an appeal or application will have to arrive inside the deadline and will allow two days for first class post to arrive. 

If the case needs to be referred to a solicitor or specialist agency, the Advisor will ensure that the referral is made in sufficient time to enable the agency to take the necessary action within the deadline.

Contingency planning
Central Services and other members of the Advice Team have access to case notes for all Advisors, and will be able to access any information about your case for you if your Advisor is absent. In an Advisor’s absence, emails to them will be responded to with an “out of office” message stating when they will return to the office.  

In your Advisor’s absence, you can call Central Services on 0191 5153030 or email su.studentadvice@sunderland.ac.uk to request assistance from another Advisor. The Student Advisor is responsible for ensuring that planning among the Advisors keeps your case proceeding as expected.

Page last reviewed: 21/05/2019
Next review due: 31/08/2020