We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Governance and Executive Support

Third Party Complaints Procedure

Version: 1.0

Approval date: 5th July 2017

Effective from: 1st October 2017

Approved by: UEC

Owner: University Secretary's Office

Download a pdf

Table of Contents

1.0 Purpose
2.0 Scope
3.0 Procedure
4.0 Roles and Responsibilities
5.0 Compliance


Complaints are rare however it is important that the University has a robust process in place which ensures that they are given full and fair consideration, and wherever possible resolved to full satisfaction of all parties. This procedure aims to provide this.


This procedure applies to complaints to the University raised by a third party such as a member of the public, funder or partner[1]. It explicitly does not apply to complaints made by students of the University or representatives acting on their behalf who have their own process, or University staff which are covered by HR policies. The University reserves the right to refer complaints to appropriate alternative processes where these exist.

For the purposes of this procedure a complaint is defined as:

“an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more individuals about the standard of service, action or lack of action by or on behalf of the Institution.

A complaint may relate to: the quality and standard of service, failure to provide a service, the quality of facilities or learning resources, treatment by or attitude of a staff member, student or contractor, inappropriate behaviour by a staff member, student or contractor, the failure of the Institution to follow an appropriate administrative process, dissatisfaction with the Institution’s policy, although it is recognised that policy is set at the discretion of the Institution.”[2]

The University will normally only investigate complaints relating to activities within the last three months unless extended at the sole discretion of the University.


The University operates a two stage complaints resolution process. Stages run consecutively except in cases where the severity of the complaint warrants immediate escalation to Stage Two. The points below summarise who should be contacted, what information needs to be provided and the timescales. Please email any queries to:

3.1. Stage One: Informal Resolution

Most complaints are straightforward and can be resolved amicably and to the full satisfaction of those involved if they are raised at an early stage.

Potential complainants should engage directly with the University individual(s) involved or with the appropriate University department or college. The complainant should provide details of the issue: context, times / dates and persons involved. In most cases a conversation with the University representative will be the best way to explore the content of the issue; written correspondence is also acceptable but the response process may be slower.

The University has a responsibility to safeguard individuals in its care and to ensure that personal information is protected in compliance with the Data Protection Act. Staff may therefore be unable to discuss details relating to specific individuals with complainants.

The majority of cases can be resolved by an explanation, apology or immediate remedial action. The University aims for a ten working day turnaround from the date of the complaint being raised. The details of the complaint, the outcome and action taken may be recorded and used for service improvement. If a complaint cannot be resolved at this stage it is escalated to Stage Two: Formal Investigation.

3.2. Stage Two: Formal Investigation

Stage Two is used for

  • complaints which cannot be resolved informally at Stage One
  • those complaints deemed by the University to be serious, complex and high risk complaints i.e. relating to illegal or illicit activities, safety / wellbeing, which have significant financial or reputational ramifications or which involve staff at Head of Department level or above (these skip stage one)

Complaints should be submitted in writing using the complaints form. The complainant completing the form should provide details relevant to the complaint. In order for investigations to be thorough and for outcomes to be communicated, the University will ordinarily expect complainants to identify themselves. The University will, exceptionally, consider anonymous complaints, however, given the need to gather further information and to be able to respond, these will generally only be considered where they are deemed by the University to be serious / high risk.

The University will investigate and respond according to the indicative timescales of 10 working days (stage 1 informal) and 30 working days (stage 2 formal). Complainants will receive notification in writing of the University’s decision and the underpinning rationale, as well as any right to appeal (normally only permitted where there is additional evidence against the decision that was not available when the complaint was made).

Full investigations will normally be led by the Head of Department, College or Service (with input from other services as needed); complaints deemed to be high risk or relating to staff at a Head of Department (or above) level will normally be handled by the University Executive or senior colleague. The investigator should normally have had no
prior involvement in the complaint.
The University has produced Guidance for Staff Handling Third Party Complaints. There may be circumstances where the complaint is more properly handled via other investigative processes e.g. research misconduct. In these cases the University reserves the right to use the appropriate process. It will continue to keep the complainant updated as to progress / outcome.

Information provided to complainants will be in compliance with the University’s data protection responsibilities; where information about an outcome involves personal data about a member of the University community, it may not be possible to provide a complainant with full details. Please refer to our privacy notice.

3.3 Appeals

Complainants who are dissatisfied with the University’s response to a Stage Two complaint may make an appeal asking the University to review its decision internally by writing to:

Third Party Appeals
Governance Support Services
University Secretary's Office
Palatine Centre
Stockton Road


The appellant should state the grounds on which they wish to appeal the decision and enclose any other information that may be useful in considering the matter further.

Appeals will normally only permitted where additional, materially relevant information is supplied that was not available when the complaint was made. Where an appeal is granted, consideration will normally be led by a senior member of the University who has had no prior involvement in the formal investigation.


4.1. Complainant

The complainant is responsible for:

  • providing full, clear and accurate information about the issue, and engaging with the University to find an effective resolution; and
  • behaving in a reasonable manner. Unreasonable behaviour includes: making vexatious complaints, harassing or otherwise behaving inappropriately towards staff, failing to cooperate with the investigation, making unreasonable levels of contact or being unreasonably persistent. Unreasonable behaviour may lead to the complaint investigation being suspended or terminated.

4.2. The University

The University is responsible for:

  • investigating the complaint in a comprehensive and open minded manner;
  • treating all those involved in the investigation (including complainant and respondent) fairly;
  • ensuring that any personal information (relating to complainant or respondent) is handled appropriately
  • keeping all those involved appropriately apprised of the investigations progress and outcome;
  • proactively using the upheld complaints to improve its working practices; and
  • acting on any areas of gross misconduct through its internal policies and processes.


The University monitors the numbers and outcomes of complaints sent to it; key information is then sent to relevant committees and University management to enable them to improve working and service practices and identify trends and areas for improvement.

[1] Where no escalation route is given in an applicable contract.