Making a complaint

This resource explains how to complain if you receive poor or inadequate service.

It’s usually best to try to resolve complaints informally. If this is not possible, then use internal complaints procedures. If you’re still not satisfied with the result of your complaint, you can take it to an external organisation. 



Tips to remember

Internal complaints

Further education

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA)


Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)

Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans

Local Government Departments

Jobcentre Plus

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman


The Equality Act (2010)

Useful Publications and advice

Useful Organisations


Tips to remember

Try to resolve the problem informally by talking to relevant people in your college, university or workplace, for example, your tutor, the disability advisers, your adviser or supervisor. If this is not possible, ask for a copy of the complaints process.

Make sure you are clear about the stages you have to go through in the complaints procedure and the timescale for each stage.

Be clear and brief. Avoid writing really long letters. Make the complaint letter easy to read by using numbered lists and headings to highlight the key issues.

Keep a written record of your experience, including names of people you have dealt with and the dates of events.

Collect evidence such as emails or written communication, photographs or videos of incidents or statements from witnesses or other professionals such as GP or consultant.

Make photocopies of all relevant documents and any information that you send in support of your complaint.

Be clear about what you hope to achieve by complaining, for example the discrimination to stop, an apology, a change in a policy, staff training in discrimination issues or money for financial losses or compensation.

If you need advice about your complaint, there are a number of organisations you can contact, depending on the nature of your complaint.

  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS)
  • Disability Law Service
  • Community Legal Service Direct, in England and Wales
  • Scottish Legal Aid Board, in Scotland
  • A solicitor.

You might find it useful to use an advocate to act on your behalf. An advocate can liaise with the relevant body or institution and may be able to represent you if you take an appeal to court. Some advocates will charge a fee but others are free of charge.

  • Some disability organisations offer advocacy services.
  • Sometimes, getting your local MP involved can add strength to your case.
  • If you’re a young person you could ask your careers adviser to help you make a complaint. 
  • In the case of a complaint about an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) you can discuss reaching an agreement with a mediator. If you decide to go to a mediator, the local authority has to take part in this.
  • You can access support from your local Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS). 



Internal complaints

It’s usually best to try to resolve complaints informally first. This will be much quicker and more straightforward than following a formal process. If you’re thinking about making a complaint you should speak to the disability adviser or additional learning support (ALS) coordinator at your institution or another person such as:

  • your tutor or supervisor
  • your subject tutor, or
  • the Students’ Union representative, such as the Welfare Adviser or Disabled Students’ Representative.

These people should be able to help you resolve your complaint informally. If this is not possible, they can tell you about the internal complaints procedure and give you information on other organisations that may be able to help.

You can also find out about the internal complaints procedure from your student handbook, the college or university website or directly from the college or university. They must make the complaints procedure available to you in your preferred format.

It may also be helpful to put your complaint in a letter to:

  • the principal, if you’re studying a further education (FE) course
  • the manager, if you’re studying at a private training college
  • the head of department or the chancellor of the university, if you’re studying a higher education (HE) course.

When you make a complaint, the institution must let you know they have received your complaint by a certain time specified in the complaints procedure.

If you are still not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint you can take it to the:

Local Authority (LA) - The LA has the responsibility to consider decisions made in relation to EHC needs assessments.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) can deal with complaints about any post-16 training provider, college or employer funded by them. This includes providers delivering apprenticeships. A copy of the procedure for handling complaints is available on the website at:

The ESFA will not usually investigate complaints until the internal complaints procedure has been exhausted with the education provider.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) - if you’re studying a higher education course.

External organisations do not normally consider complaints unless you have been through the internal complaints procedure.



Further education

England: The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funds young learners between 16 and 19 years old, learners on apprenticeships and those in adult education. For young people with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, funding for providers will come through both the ESFA and the local authority.

Wales: Welsh Government 

Scotland: Scottish Funding Council

Northern Ireland: Department of Education

Colleges must follow the guidelines of these agencies and make sure they are meeting the needs of disabled learners.

In England, if you have not been able to resolve your complaint with your college or training provider you can contact the ESFA. This includes learning providers delivering apprenticeships.  A copy of the ESFA procedures for handling complaints is available on the website at:



The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA)

The OIA is an independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales. The service is free to students.

Before the OIA can look at your complaint you will need to have exhausted the internal complaints procedure at your university. At the completion of the complaints procedure the course provider will give you a Completion of Procedures letter which you will need for the OIA to consider your complaint. The letter should set out the matters that have been considered, the providers final decision and the deadline for bringing the complaint to the OIA.  Only in exceptional circumstances will the OIA look at a complaint where the internal complaints procedure has not been completed, for example where a provider has unduly delayed progressing the complaint or issuing a Completion of Procedures letter. You will need to explain why you do not have a Completion of Procedures letter. You can make a complaint to the OIA if you:

  • are, or have been, registered as a student at a university in England and Wales on the OIA list which is available on their website
  • are studying at another institution and one of the universities on the OIA list awards the qualification.

The type of complaints the OIA will consider include:

  • any final decision of the higher education institution
  • a service provided by the higher education institution
  • teaching provision and facilities
  • student accommodation
  • research supervision
  • discrimination - race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious belief
  • bullying and harassment
  • placements
  • maladministration, procedural irregularities, unfair practices
  • disciplinary matters, including plagiarism
  • fitness to practise processes

A copy of the Complaint Form is sent to the higher education institution and the OIA will ask them to send their comments on the complaint and any other information they think is needed to review the complaint. The information sent by the higher education institution will also be shared with you and you will be able to comment on it. 

The OIA will not consider complaints about:

  • a matter of academic judgement
  • a matter that is or has been the subject of court proceedings
  • a student employment matter
  • admission to a higher education institution
  • A matter that has already been considered by another alternative dispute resolution body.

If you want the OIA to consider your complaint you must submit the complaint via an Online portal MyOIA or by downloading the OIA Complaint Form from the OIA website and sending it to them. It must be received within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures letter.

Once the OIA receives the complaint they will check to see if it is something they can deal with and has been received within the set timescale.

The OIA may be able to issue a complaint outcome at this stage or:

  • Decide the complaint needs to be allocated to another case-handler for further review
  • Try to settle or mediate the complaint
  • Ask the university or you for more information
  • Contact you to discuss their complaint and whether the desired outcome is achievable

A case-handler is assigned if it is decided that the complaint needs to be reviewed further. The review looks at whether the provider has properly applied regulation and followed it procedures, whether the procedures were reasonable and whether the providers decision is reasonable.  

The case-handler will decide if your complaint is justified, party justified or not justified. The decision is explained in a Complaint Outcome.

If it is completely or partly justified the OIA will make recommendations. You and the provider will be given an opportunity to comment on the practicality of the recommendations. Following this, the OIA will either:

  • confirm the recommendations and close the complaint
  • amend or make new recommendations or
  • continue with the review.

The university is expected to comply with the formal decision and any recommendations. The recommendations aim to put things right for you and, where appropriate, to improve procedures or processes. You can read the guidance on remedies here

If you take a complaint of disability discrimination to the OIA then the time limit for taking legal action may be extended. However, it’s best to take legal advice before suspending any action. In considering issues relating to discrimination the OIA does not investigate or make legal findings in the same way as a court. However, the OIA will refer to law and guidance on discrimination to form an opinion as to good practice and decide whether the university has acted fairly.

For more information about taking a complaint to the OIA, contact the OIA directly.

In Scotland you can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)




Internal exams
If you did not get the right exam arrangements or the disability-related support that was set out in your needs assessment, you can make a complaint to the institution. For more information go to the internal complaints section.

External exams
Sometimes exams, such as A levels, are set by an external examination awarding body, for example, AQA, Edexcel or City and Guilds. If you have a complaint about the exams you took, you should first make an appeal through your school or college to the relevant examination awarding body. If this does not resolve the situation, you can make an appeal directly to the awarding body.

Professional or trade qualifications
Sometimes professional or trade organisations such as the Law Society, the General Medical Council, or CORGI, design qualifications that test people’s ability to meet the competencies needed for that profession. If you have a complaint about the professional exams you took, you should first make an appeal through your institution to the professional or trade organisation awarding the qualification. If this does not resolve the situation, you can make an appeal directly to the organisation.



Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)

If you think that your DSA needs assessment report does not address all your disability-related study needs, you can contact the assessment centre and ask them how to appeal. If they are unable to re-assess you or are not willing to change the assessment report, you can ask your Student Finance company for further advice.

If you are unhappy about the services provided by your supplier, at first instance you should raise your complaint with them. If you are unable to resolve the matter with the supplier, you should contact your Student Finance company for advice.

If you are unhappy about the way in which your Student Finance company has administered the DSA then you can follow their complaints procedure. Complaints about the Student Loan Company (SLC) can sometimes be settled quickly and easily by telephoning them and speaking to one of their advisers. If the adviser is unable to resolve your complaint, you can follow the formal complaints procedure. You can make a formal complaint by telephone, post, an email to or by completing the form available on the SLC website. You should quote your Customer Reference Number in all correspondence. For security reasons, do not include any bank details in your email.

The SLC will acknowledge receipt of your complaint within 5 working days. You will be assigned a Customer Relations Officer to investigate. You can expect a detailed response within 20 working days. If you are still unhappy with the outcome of your complaint, you can ask for your complaint to be referred to an Independent Assessor. Independent Assessors carry out an impartial review of the appeal/complaint and can make recommendations which SLC will implement unless instructed not to do so by Ministers.  You can find out more about making a complaint to the Student Loans Company here:

If your complaint is about your college or university’s implementation of your DSAs you should follow the institution’s internal complaints procedure. See page 3 for more information.



Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans

The main options for resolving problems if you are unhappy with your Education, Health and Care Plan are:

  • Appeal against the decision or follow the formal complaints process
  • Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. For more see below.
  • Mediation

Mediation is a voluntary process which you can use if you cannot reach an agreement with your local authority. Parents and young people must consider mediation services prior to lodging a formal appeal to a First-tier Tribunal. This does not mean you can’t appeal unless you have gone through the mediation process, only that you have considered it as a possible way of resolving your issue. After doing so you will be issued with a certificate that allows you to go straight to a Tribunal or voluntarily opt to take part in mediation.

  • Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal

This is a formal hearing process, the decisions from which are legally binding. Appeals to Tribunals have to be lodged within 2 months of the local authority’s decision being appealed or one month from receiving the certificate following mediation. You can complain about:

  • Refusal to agree to assess for a EHC Plan
  • Having assessed, refusal to issue a formal plan
  • Description of special education needs
  • Description of or level of appropriate services or provision needed
  • Refusal to reassess, or to amend or replace elements of a plan when requested
  • Decision to end a formal plan
  • Named school, college or educational institution
  • Fact that no school has been names or that only a type has been named

You do not have to consider mediation prior to lodging an appeal in the last two points above.



Local Government Departments

Social Services
You can make a complaint to your local authority, if they have agreed to fund your personal care needs while you are studying but you think your needs are not being met or you are unhappy with the service you are getting. Each local authority in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will have its own complaints procedure and you can get a copy of their complaints policy and procedures by contacting the local authority direct.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is a free, independent and impartial service that investigates complaints against local authorities, all adult social care providers and some other organisations providing local public services. You must first complain to the organisation involved and if the complaint remains unresolved, the LGSCO can investigate your complaint.  The Ombudsman looks at the process by which the local authority decisions were made and whether there has been a service failure.

Common examples of service failure are:

  • delay
  • poor communication
  • poor record keeping
  • failure to take action
  • failure to follow procedures or the law
  • giving out misleading information
  • failure to investigate

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans. This includes delays in assessing a young person and issuing an EHC plan, failing to implement provision set out in a plan or carry out an annual review.  The Ombudsman is concerned with process, not merits of decisions which have been properly taken. The Ombudsman does not investigate matters which can be appealed to the Tribunal, such as a decision to not carry out an EHC assessment. You can complain online, by phone or by post. For more information see:

If you live in Scotland, you should contact the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. If you live in Wales, you should contact the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. If you live in Northern Ireland, you should contact Northern Ireland Ombudsman.



Jobcentre Plus

Before you make a complaint ask your local office for written information on standards and level of service you can expect when dealing with Jobcentre Plus. It should also explain how you can make a complaint.

You should explain what has happened, how this has affected you and what you want to happen to put things right. Jobcentre Plus usually try to resolve the complaint over the phone or deal with your complaint within 15 days.

If you are unhappy with the response, you can ask for your complaint to go to a senior manager and be looked at by the DWP Complaints Team who will contact you by telephone to talk about the complaint and agree how to investigate it. Your complaint should be dealt with within 15 days.

If you have been through all the complaints stages and remain unsatisfied with the response you can ask the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) to look at your complaint. You must contact them within six months of getting the final response from the DWP.  

If you are on a Jobcentre Plus scheme such as Work Programme or Work Choice, you should make a complaint to the provider. If you are not satisfied with their final response you can ask the ICE to investigate.  



Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

This is a free independent and impartial service that investigates complaints about government departments, agencies and some public bodies. The Ombudsman can look into complaints about NHS organisations such as GP’s, dentists or NHS hospitals. The Ombudsman can also look into complaints about service from government departments such as Jobcentre Plus. 

You should always try to settle your complaint with the department or agency involved. However, if this is not possible, you can ask your MP to send your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can look at your complaint if there has been injustice or hardship because an organisation has not acted properly or fairly or has given you a poor service and not put things right.

The Ombudsman can also work jointly with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in suitable cases where complaints may come under the legal control of more than one Ombudsman.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman helpline can tell you more about the service.




If you have been discriminated against at work or when you applied for a job you should raise the issue by contacting the HR or personnel department. If this doesn’t work you can write a formal letter of complaint to your employer.

Disability Rights UK has some template complaint letters on its Right to Participate project pages at

Before taking a current or former employer to an employment tribunal, you must first attempt what is termed ‘early conciliation’. Early conciliation is a service delivered by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), a publicly funded but independent organisation. Engaging early conciliation can reduce the stress and anxiety caused by taking a claim to a tribunal. If engaged within its own time limit (also three months less one day), early conciliation extends the time period for taking action via an employment tribunal if you need to take it that far.

If you are still not satisfied with your employer’s response, you should contact the Employment Tribunal Service.



The Equality Act (2010)

As well as supporting the rights of disabled students by giving greater legal protection against discrimination, the Equality Act emphasises the legal duty on education providers, employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments so disabled people can take part in education, use services and work.

You can find out more about the Equality Act from Disability Rights UK’s factsheet Understanding the Equality Act: information for disabled studentsThis covers both education and employment. You have the right to be treated fairly and anyone who discriminates against you is breaking the law.

Disability Rights UK has an introductory animation on the Equality Act at

Education provider

If you have been discriminated against you can take legal action. To do this you must make your claim in County Court within six months less one day of the date when alleged discrimination took place. If you take your case to the OIA you may be allowed longer to take your claim to court but you should seek legal advice about this first.


Examining bodies have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to examinations so that they are accessible to disabled students. Examining bodies must follow the Code of Practice published by the EHRC and the regulations and guidance set by the Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCQ) or Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which should be in line with the Code.

However with general qualifications such as A-Levels, the regulator (for example Ofqual) might determine that part of the qualification should not be subject to a reasonable adjustment. This is designed to protect the ‘integrity of the qualification.’ In doing this the regulator must consult with organisations representing disabled people and publish their reasoning.

Professional and Trade organisation that set professional exams also have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments.


You should raise the issue through your line manager or by contacting HR. If you are a member of a trade union, you can ask them for advice. Ask for a copy of your employer’s grievance procedure and follow it.

If you are unable to resolve your complaint with your employer, you can ask Acas for advice through their Early Conciliation process.

If mediation is unsuccessful, you may decide to take legal action. You can take complaints about employment to an Employment Tribunal. If you go to mediation, the time limit for taking legal action is extended. You must register these complaints within 3 months of the date the alleged discrimination took place. If you win a case at tribunal they can make a declaration of rights, award financial compensation or a recommendation for action to put right the wrong.



Useful Publications and advice

For further information on the support that is available for disabled students, please contact our Disabled Students Helpline - 0330 995 0414.

We also produce a range of education factsheets covering these subjects and frequently asked questions which you can access on our website at

Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments

A guide to the special consideration process

Published by the Joint Council for General Qualifications Website:

Access - When and how applications need to be made to City and Guilds

Published by City and Guilds


Guide to Reasonable Adjustments in Regulated Qualifications 

Published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)


Jobcentre Plus: Customer Charter

Published by Jobcentre Plus




Useful Organisations

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)


Acas aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations, they provide free initial advice on employment queries in England, Scotland and Wales

Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB)


You can search for your local CAB by town or postcode on the national website. They are also listed in local telephone directories.

Community Legal Advice

Community Legal Advice is a network of Legal Services Commission funded organisations and advice providers that provide and promote civil legal aid services. You can search for your local office at:

Disability Law Service


Free legal advice for disabled people and their carers on community care, employment, housing and welfare benefits.

Education and Skills Funding Agency


The government department in England with overall responsibility for further education. 

Employment Tribunal Service


Employment Tribunals are legal bodies that deal with employment rights disputes between employers and employees.

Equality and Human Rights Commission England, Scotland and Wales


Produces government information booklets on equality and human rights issues.

Independent Case Examiner


The role of the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) is to examine complaints made about government agencies including Jobcentre Plus and most Work Provider services.

The Law Centres Network


National network of Law Centres which can offer legal advice, casework and representation. You can find your local Centre at

Law Works


Charity working in England and Wales to connect volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay for legal advice.   

Lead Scotland


Organisation enabling disabled adults and carers to access inclusive learning opportunities in Scotland. Lead also runs an information and advice service for disabled students in Scotland.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman


Investigates complaints councils, all adult social care providers, and some other organisations providing local public services.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA)


The OIA is an independent body set to review students complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales.

Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual)


Ofqual is the official regulator of qualifications, examinations and assessments in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland. Information about how to appeal or complain about exams results is available at:

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman


Investigates complaints about government departments and the NHS in England.



A charity that provides free and independent advocacy, information and advice services to people because of disability, illness, social exclusions and other challenges who find it difficult to express their views or get the support they need. 

Public Services Ombudsman for Wales


Investigates complaints about local government and public services in Wales.

Scope helpline


The Scope helpline (0808 800 3333) provides free, independent and impartial advice and support on issues that matter to Disabled people. 

Scottish Legal Aid Board


The Board decides who can receive Legal Aid in Scotland. The helpline can give you more information about Legal Aid and help you find a Legal Aid Solicitor but cannot give legal advice.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman


Investigates complaints in Scotland about local and central government, the National Health Service and housing associations.

Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)


SAAS is the awarding authority in Scotland.

Student Loans Company


The SLC is a not-for-profit, government owned, organisation that provides loans and grants to students in universities and colleges in the UK.

Trades Union Congress (TUC)


The TUC is an umbrella organisation of trade unions in England and Wales.



Provides advocacy and involvement services so that people are heard in decisions about their health, care and wellbeing.

6 September 2023


Education Equality & Rights Participation