Guidance for staff dealing with a student complaint

Guidance to help you consider complaints raised by students (informally or formally) in line with the Student Complaints Procedure.

Who considers informal complaints 

Faculties, schools and divisions that provide services to students must inform students clearly about who to contact in the first instance if they have a complaint. 

If a student wishes to raise an informal complaint about:

If a student raises a complaint with you, you should explain that you are not able to take forward the complaint on their behalf and that you will refer it appropriately. You can encourage the student to seek advice from Bristol SU Academic Service to take forward their complaint.

Deadlines for submitting complaints 

Students must raise a complaint within 30 days of the matter they want to complain about, unless there is good reason for not doing so. 

If a student raises a concern informally within the 30 day time period, they can raise a formal complaint later if they do so within 30 days of:

  • the matter they are complaining about happening 


  • failing to receive an acknowledgement of their informal complaint within 21 days of raising it 


  • receiving a response to their informal concern either that advises them to raise a formal complaint, or to raise a formal complaint if they are dissatisfied with the proposed resolution. 

Where a current student is raising a concern about a sexual assault or other potentially criminal behaviour they should be referred immediately to the Student Resolution Service (SRS) ( irrespective of the time limits involved.

Late complaints

If a concern is raised outside the 30-day period you should refer the student to the Late Complaint Form, asking them to complete it and send it to setting out the reason for the delay. 

Where complaints are raised marginally outside of the 30-day period, you can use your judgement to accept the complaint without referring the student to the Late Complaint form. 

Things to consider when complaints narrowly miss the 30-day deadline: 

  • If the concern is about the acceptable behaviour of a current registered student you should contact the SRS ( for advice. 
  • If the concern is about the acceptable behaviour of a member of staff you should contact the Student Complaints and Mediation Manager (SCMM) for advice. 
  • If a student has a Study Support Plan in place it may be that it is appropriate to adjust the time period for bringing a complaint in line with any reasonable adjustments set out in the plan. 
  • If you are aware of any other issues that might impact on a student’s ability to bring a complaint within time (such as wellbeing or other health issues) you may decide it is appropriate to accept their complaint. 

In all cases, remind students that support is offered through Student Wellbeing: 

Request wellbeing support 

If you have any concerns you can get advice from the Secretary’s Office ( or from the SCMM (

Resolving informal complaints 

Aim to acknowledge receipt of the informal complaint within 7 days explaining what steps you are taking to consider and/or resolve it. 

Where possible, seek to resolve any informal complaint within 21 days of receipt. You may wish to meet with the student to discuss their complaint to clarify the nature of their concerns and how the student wants to resolve the complaint. 

It is your responsibility to deal with complaints consistently. 

Consider whether the complaint raised is the result of a misunderstanding. It may be that the student needs further information about the matter raised. 

Consider any student or staff wellbeing issues – both for the person raising the complaint and any person who has been named. Student support is offered through Student Wellbeing. Remind the student what is on offer and how to access support. Staff support is accessed through the Employee Assistance Programme

If an informal complaint cannot be resolved within 21 days you should: 

  • give the student an anticipated time period in which you expect the concern to be resolved, and the name of the person dealing with their complaint, if it is not you 


Types of complaints that might not be resolved informally 

  • If a complaint is about the behaviour of a current registered student, contact the Student Resolution Service ( for advice. 
  • If a complaint is about the behaviour of a staff member, contact the SCMM (
  • If a complaint is about the decision of an academic body or the student is seeking an academic outcome to a concern, it must be handled in accordance with the academic appeals procedure. Encourage the student to contact the Bristol SU Academic Advice for further information. 
  • If a concern relates to teaching or supervision and is not capable of prompt resolution, you are not expected to be able to resolve the concern without investigation. The student should be asked to fill in a Complaint Form and send it to
  • If the nature of a complaint warrants an investigation or where multiple concerns relating to different areas of the University have been raised, ask the student to complete a complaint form as above. 

Resolving formal complaints 

Formal complaints are raised with the SCMM who will refer the complaint to the appropriate person to review at the Local Stage of the Student Complaints Procedure

The University uses the overall time period set out in the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education OIA(HE) Good Practice framework for the consideration of formal student complaints. 

Normally, time period for considering a formal complaint is: 

  • 30 days from receipt of the complaint form for the Local Stage decision maker to issue their decision 
  • 90 days in total, from receipt of the Complaint Form to the conclusion of the University Stage of the Student Complaints Procedure

Where a student is not responding to any requests, you can remind the student that your aim is to resolve the Local Stage complaint within 30 days and that you need their cooperation to do so. 

Receiving a formal complaint for consideration 

If the SCMM refers a complaint to you for review at the Local Stage of the Student Complaints process, they will send you the complaint form and any accompanying documents from the student and from staff members who considered the matter informally. 

You will be asked to make a decision at the Local Stage i.e. consider whether you are able to resolve all or part of the complaint, and to do so within 30 days of receipt of the complaint form and accompanying documents. 

The aim of the Local Stage is to seek to resolve the complaint. Proposing a resolution does not necessarily mean that you consider that the complaint should be upheld in whole or in part, only that you are offering a solution to the issues raised. 

If the complaint was raised outside the 30-day time period, the SCMM will confirm that it has been accepted.

Your responsibilities 

Consider if the complaint has been raised in time. Issues relating to time will normally have been resolved before you are asked to consider a complaint at the Local Stage, but if you have any queries relating to this, raise them with the SCMM. 

Ensure that you have all the information you need. In some cases, you may be able to resolve the complaint on the documents provided, but in most you will need to investigate

Consider whether the complaint is clear. It may be helpful either to write to the student seeking clarification on specific points or to meet with the student (and any representative) to ensure that you understand the complaint raised. 

At any stage of the procedure it is the responsibility of the person dealing with the complaint to keep the student informed of the progress of the complaint. 

You should first write to the student to confirm that you have received their complaint and that you will be considering at the Local Stage of the Student Complaints Procedure. You should confirm when they can expect to hear from you next. 

When a complaint may take longer for good reason, such as absence of staff, delay in a response from a student to a query, complexity of the matter etc., it is important to: 

  • explain any delay to the student 
  • tell them about any investigation that you are carrying out 
  • confirm the overall time that you believe that you will need to consider their complaint 
  • apologise where appropriate 

Investigating a student complaint 

How you should investigate a complaint will depend upon the matters being investigated and the information available at the start of the information gathering exercise. Below are some suggestions of how you might investigate, but you must use your own judgement based on the nature of the complaint. If you would like further advice, contact the Secretary’s Office ( 

Before starting an investigation 

Make sure that you understand all parts of the complaint, and if you do not, then contact the student with a summary of your understanding and ask them to confirm whether you have understood correctly. Once you have this confirmation you can proceed with the investigation. 

During an investigation 

Speak to anyone you think can provide relevant additional information, including the student, faculty, school or division. Take notes and confirm with each person in writing via email that you have understood their account correctly. This includes information given orally, which is considered as evidence. 

It is important to keep these records because if a student is dissatisfied with an outcome at the Local Stage, you will be asked to supply a note of (or exchange of emails) confirming any oral evidence on which you relied together with any additional information supplied by the school, faculty or division to make your decision. The student is entitled to see this information at the University Stage of the Student Complaints Procedure. 

Identify which University policies or procedures may be relevant to the complaint raised. 

Consider what other documentation may assist with your investigation and where it could be obtained from.  

Refer to any relevant guidance including the OIA(HE) guidance “Putting Things right”

Making your decision 

Once you have collated and considered all the relevant information, you can make your decision and send a Local Stage decision letter to the student. 

Your letter should include: 

  • a summary of the complaint with reference to all the component parts 
  • the evidence you collected, highlighting any undisputed factual matters 
  • your findings, with a clear explanation of your reasoning 
  • any proposed resolution. If you cannot propose a resolution, you should state this clearly 
  • an explanation of the next steps for the student, whether or not you have proposed a resolution. This should include instructions on how the student can refer the complaint to the University Stage. 

If your proposed resolution includes financial compensation seek advice from the Secretary’s Office on the information that you must give to the student (and will require from the student) to be able to make any payment. 

You should also: 

  • notify the relevant people of your decision (the SCMM and the faculty, school or division involved) highlighting any actions they need to take. 
  • keep a copy of all the documents, information, emails and other evidence related to the complaint, so that these can be supplied to a Complaints Review Panel at the University Stage if required.

Complaints from third parties 

We do not currently have a complaint process to address complaints from members of the public or others. 

If you receive a complaint from a third party which does not appear to come from someone connected with a student, where the complaint is about a student or a matter which may be in the public domain, please contact the Secretary’s Office for advice on any response. It may not be appropriate to respond, particularly where any response would involve the disclosure of personal data of either a student or a member of staff. 

If you receive a complaint from a third party which looks as though it is a complaint about a service which the University has given directly to that third party, please refer it to the head of the division who provides that service. 

Complaints raised on behalf of students 

If you receive a complaint from someone on behalf of a student, for example, from a parent, relative, or close personal friend (Supporter) you should not respond to the Supporter in any way that reveals that a particular individual is a student at the University, until you have received the student’s consent. This applies even if the Supporter has copied in the student to their complaint. 

You can: 

  • respond to the Supporter explaining that you are unable to discuss any matter relating to an individual student unless that student gives their consent and explaining how the student may give their consent. Students might not know that a Supporter has raised a concern with the university. 
  • depending on the nature of the concern raised by a supporter, confirm that you have received it and that you will follow it up (but not that you will follow it up with the student). 
  • write to the student, but you must obtain their consent before responding to the Supporter. It is preferable to obtain written consent from the student (e.g. in an email). However, if the student gives oral consent, you should keep a note of the consent given and confirm this in an email back to the student. 
  • where appropriate, explain to a Supporter that they are not able to raise a complaint with the University but if the student wishes to raise a complaint they may do so. You can explain how they may do this by sending them a link to the Student Complaints Procedure and the complaint form. It is possible to do this without confirming that the student is registered with us. You can simply refer to students in general rather than the particular student. 

Students are entitled to be represented if they wish to raise a complaint and can nominate their Supporter as their representative. 

If a student confirms that they want their Supporter to represent them in making a complaint, you should explain to the student and to the Supporter the role of a representative, and emphasise that it will be important for the student to play a part in the procedure rather than leave it solely to their representative.  

If you would like any advice on responding to a student’s Supporter, contact the Secretary’s Office. 

Conflicts of interest

You should not consider an informal or formal complaint from a student if you: 

  • have any personal connection with the student or a member of their family. 
  • if the complaint raises issues involving other members of staff or students where you have a personal connection with either the student, member of staff or their families.  
  • if the complaint raises concerns about your performance or conduct or the performance or conduct of someone you have a close personal connection. 

The SCMM aims to ensure that at the Local Stage an appropriate person considers any student complaint but may not be aware of any personal connections that you have. Please notify the SCMM immediately if you consider for any reason that there may be a conflict which would mean that you should not consider the student’s complaint. 

Complainant behaviour

We will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour from those raising a complaint or from a Supporter who is raising a complaint on a student’s behalf. In accordance with the Student Complaints Procedure, if the University finds that a complainant’s behaviour is unacceptable, it will: 

  • tell the complainant in writing of this finding, and explain the reasons 
  • outline the actions to be taken, which may include not taking the complaint further. 

If the complainant wants to seek a review of the decision, they should state this in writing to the University Secretary (email within 10 days of the date of the decision. The University Secretary will confirm their decision in writing, normally within 10 days. 

If you experience unacceptable behaviour from a complainant or their supporter

Inform your Head of Faculty Administration or if you are a member of a division, inform your line manager.  

Students can understandably be emotional when raising complaints, but we do not expect you to tolerate unacceptable behaviour. 

A Head of Faculty Administration or a Division may seek advice relating to a complainant or their Supporters behaviour from: