Complaints Resolution Procedure

Document Number000898
Date Approved26 May 2009
Date Last Amended9 July 2011
    

1.0 Context

This procedure supports the Complaints Resolution Policy and Complaints Resolution Guidelines  and must be read in conjunction with those documents.

2.0 Definitions

In the context of this document:

complainant means the person making the complaint;

complaint is the informal or formal expression of a concern in regard to some aspect of the conduct of University operations services, staff, students, or people associated with the university or using university facilities, where the complainant’s interests have been, or appear to have been, adversely and unjustifiably impacted by such conduct, and the complainant wishes to seek redress. Complaints may be based on disputes, mismanagement and misconduct:

disputes means differences relating to: student admissions, assessment, exclusion of students, effectiveness of procedures, or concerns raised by staff or students;

misconduct (including research misconduct) means unethical behaviour; plagiarism; soft marking; conflict of interest; favouritism; improper discrimination; fraud; bribery; bullying behaviour; dishonesty (including fabrication of data, falsification of data, misleading ascription of authorship); ongoing verbal abuse or harassment;

mismanagement means unreasonable decisions; inconsistent application of policy; wrong advice leading to disadvantage; procedural unfairness; failure to provide rights; failing to consider relevant matters; and negligence.

Faculty and Division Complaints Officer means a staff member who is appointed to (i) advise on and assist  with the resolution of informal complaints; or (ii) receive formal complaints in writing or document the formal complaint; and (iii) notify the formal complaint to the University Complaints Manager;

formal complaint means a concern which has not been resolved informally, and which is then set out in writing, and forwarded to the University Complaints Manager;

informal complaint means a concern, dissatisfaction, or frustration which can be resolved informally and without the need for further action;

public interest disclosure means a confidential disclosure of corrupt conduct, maladministration, substantial waste of public money or contravention of the Government Information (Public Access) (GIPA) Act 2009 by the University or its staff, which is subject to the protections provide by the Protected Disclosures Act 1994 (NSW);

respondent means the person who is the subject of the complaint;

University Complaints Manager (or their nominee) means the staff member who has overall responsibility to manage and respond to both internal and external complaints; to oversee the University’s complaints system; and to identify and investigate systematic problems that may give rise to complaints, and recommend organisational improvements.

3.0 Procedure

This procedure sets out the four stages for dealing with a complaint. It is essential that a complainant, or any person affected by a complaint, refer to the Complaints Resolution Guidelines for further detail and advice on their rights and obligations in this process.

3.1  Stage 1 - Informal complaint

Many problems can be resolved informally, either by a direct approach to the person or group whose actions have given rise to the complaint, or indirectly by other means.

A direct approach may be made face to face or by phone, but can also be by email or in writing. Direct, open, and cooperative dialogue can often lead to a better understanding of the problem, and a quick and satisfactory resolution. The complainant should keep notes of the actions that he/she takes, and be aware that the principles of confidentiality apply to him/her, as well as the other participant.

If a complainant is not comfortable making a direct approach, an informal complaint may be made indirectly, through the following means:

  1. Staff or students may approach a Complaints Officer. Every Faculty and Division in the University has at least one designated Complaints Officer to deal with complaints, suggestions, inquiries, recommendations or requests for action. The Complaints Officer will provide advice and assistance to the complainant to enable them to resolve the complaint.  A list of Complaint Officers is available at: http://www.newcastle.edu.au/service/complaints/;
  2. Students at Callaghan campus also have the option to approach the Dean of Students, NUSA, or NUPSA. Students at Ourimbah campus also have the option to approach the Deputy Dean of Students, or Campus Central;
  3. For equity related complaints, the Equity and Diversity Unit can offer advice on policy and appropriate support mechanisms;
  4. People who are not staff or students of the University can approach the University Complaints Manager to make an informal (or formal) complaint, if the situation has arisen in the course of their dealings with the University;

The Complaints Officer receiving an informal complaint will take reasonable and prompt action to assist the complainant to resolve the complaint. If resolution cannot be achieved, the complainant will be provided with information on the alternative complaint resolution methods available, and the complaint or complainant will be referred to the University Complaints Manager.

If a complainant is unsure who to approach, they are encouraged to approach the University Complaints Management Office for information and advice.

3.2  Stage 2 - Formal complaint

If a complaint has not been resolved at the informal stage, or is otherwise of a more serious nature, then a formal complaint should be made.

The University Complaints Manager is authorised to consider, investigate and resolve formal complaints.

A formal complaint must be submitted by the complainant, in writing, setting out the details of the complaint, including the background, the grounds of the complaint, the facts relied upon (the evidence), and the redress sought, together with all supporting documentation. All the information in support of the complaint should be provided at the beginning of the process.

On receipt of a formal complaint, the University Complaints Management Office will:

  1. register and acknowledge receipt of the complaint to the complainant within 3 working days;
  2. clarify the complainant’s issues, consulting with the complainant and other parties where necessary;
  3. consider whether the complaint requires or warrants referral due to its nature and subject, such as:
    1. is appropriately dealt with under the provisions of another University process, such as the Workplace Agreement, the Student Misconduct Rule, or other prescribed University appeals processes; or
    2. is subject to mandatory reporting to an external agency, for example where a complaint concerns potentially criminal acts; corruption; sexual misconduct; or violence which involves children.
  4. consider whether the complaint requires or warrants consultation with other offices of the University, for example the University Legal Office on matters raising questions of procedural fairness, or the lawfulness or validity of administrative actions,
  5. consider whether the complaint constitutes a protected disclosure;
  6. assess the most suitable method for dealing with the complaint, for example whether the complaint is best resolved either by discussion/negotiation, by mediation, or investigation;
  7. where investigation is appropriate, either investigate the complaint directly, or assign the investigation to an investigation officer or investigation panel;
  8. ensure that steps are taken within 10 working days to begin resolution of the complaint, and inform the complainant and the respondent about the process and the timetable for resolution;
  9. when it is not possible to resolve the complaint within the stated timeframe advise the complainant and the respondent on progress every 10 working days;
  10. inform the complainant and the respondent of the outcome and the action taken to resolve the complaint;
  11. generally, oversee and/or manage the resolution of the complaint and refer to the relevant Deputy Vice-Chancellor as necessary;

Mediation may be requested by either the complainant(s) or the respondent(s), or recommended by the University Complaints Manager.

If a party chooses not to participate in mediation or another formal process, then a recommendation concerning resolution of the complaint will be made by the University Complaints Manager

3.2.1 Investigation

Investigations will generally be conducted by the University Complaints Manager. However, where a matter is deemed to require a more substantial investigation, the University Complaints Manager, in consultation with the relevant Deputy Vice-Chancellor, may refer the complaint to an Investigative Panel or Investigation Officer, and determine the terms of reference for the investigation. Such terms of reference will be reviewed by the University Legal Office.

A suitably qualified panel , with members who have had no prior involvement in the matter, with the capacity to consider the issues and provide a recommendation, will be convened. The Chair of the Panel will be someone other than a current student or member of staff. If appropriate, other guidelines e.g. Investigation of Allegations of Research Misconduct Guidelines will be taken into account in the formation of the panel.

The University Investigative Panel, or Investigation Officer, will:

  1. receive the complaint from the University Complaints Manager, with the terms of reference;
  2. investigate the complaint within 10 working days of being convened;
  3. examine any other relevant documentation or speak to any person, including the complainant and the respondent, if necessary. (People may bring a support person to interviews with the Investigative Panel or Investigative Officer); and
  4. make a recommendation to the relevant Deputy Vice-Chancellor, through the University Complaints Manager, that the complaint has:
    1. been substantiated, and that further action is required, and recommend what that further action might be; or
    2. not been substantiated, and that no further action should be taken.
  5. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, will:
    1. receive and consider the recommendations of the Investigative Panel;
    2. advise the University Complaints Manager of the action(s) proposed; and
    3. provide a report to the University Complaints Manager when the action has been completed.

3.3 Stage 3 – Appeals Process

If a complainant or respondent believes that a formal complaint has not been resolved within a reasonable timeframe, or if the processes used to resolve the complaint have been defective, a request for a review of the procedures can be lodged with the Vice-Chancellor.

  1. An appeal must be lodged with the Vice Chancellor, within 25 working days of notification of the outcome of the complaint and the grounds for appeal must be clearly set out.
  2. Upon receipt of the appeal the Vice-Chancellor shall undertake a preliminary review to determine the validity of the appeal. Once determined, and within 10 days of receiving the appeal, the Vice-Chancellor may:
    1. dismiss the appeal if not valid;
    2. make a determination in relation to the appeal; or
    3. refer the appeal to an Appeal Committee.
  3. If the appeal is referred to an Appeal Committee, it will be determined by a Committee comprising:
    1. Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) as chair; and
    2. a Complaints Officer; and
    3. another member from the staff or student body as deemed appropriate by the nature of the original complaint.
  4. In considering an appeal the Committee:
    1. will obtain and consider the written letter of appeal alleging breaches of procedures; and
    2. may obtain and consider any other material that in its opinion is relevant to the process.
  5. Where the Committee finds that the procedures had not been followed, it will direct the University Complaints Manager, or alternatively a suitable officer of the University, to take further action as appropriate.

3.4  Stage 4 - Referral to outside agencies

Any person, at any time, may make a complaint to an external agency, such as the NSW Ombudsman.

Similarly, a complainant who is not satisfied with the management of their complaint may choose to pursue the matter with the NSW Ombudsman. The NSW Ombudsman website is at: http://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/complaints/index.html.

The Ombudsman will generally only act if all of the internal stages of the complaint process have been exhausted.

A complainant may otherwise choose to pursue the matter through other external agencies, such as:

Where the University or a complainant refers a complaint to an outside agency, the University may cease dealing with the complaint while the external process is under way.

4.0 Essential Supporting Documents

Complaints Resolution Policy
Complaints Resolution Guidelines

5.0 Related Documents

Academic Staff Workplace Agreement 2006
Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)
Appeal Against Final Result Procedure
Child Protection (Prohibited Employment) Act 1998
Code of Conduct 
Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth)
Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (Commonwealth)
Education Services for Overseas Students National Code
Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA)
General Staff Workplace Agreement 2006
Guidelines for the Investigation of Allegations of Research Misconduct
Health Records Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW)
Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW)
NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW)
NSW Ombudsman Complaint Handling at Universities: Best Practice Guidelines 2006
Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 (NSW)
Ombudsman Act 1974 (NSW)
Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998
Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (NSW)
Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 (NSW)
Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Commonwealth)
Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Commonwealth)
Student Misconduct Rule 
Teachers Workplace Agreement 2006
The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Commonwealth)

 

Approval AuthorityVice-Chancellor
Date Approved26 May 2009
Date Last Amended9 July 2011
Date for Review26 May 2012
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor
Policy OwnerUniversity Complaints Manager
Policy ContactUniversity Complaints Manager
Amendment History

Minor amendments to clause 2.0 and 5.0 to reflect changes from 'Protected disclosures' to 'Public Interest Disclosures', effected by Governance and Policy Unit 14 May 2012

23 August 2011 - Administrative amendments due to implementation of Student Misconduct Rule which replaced Student Discipline Rules effective 25 July 2011.

Amended by Vice-Chancellor, 9 July 2011 - Clause 3.3 amended to ensure consistency with the new Student Misconduct Rule - 000935.

Updated FOI to GIPA provisions, 28 September 2010.