How do I claim compensation from my university?

Judge's gavel

This article was updated by the Great British Mag team on 17 June 2021.

If the standards at your university aren’t satisfactory, you may be eligible for financial compensation. For example, if your university’s professors and staff have been striking and you’ve missed class time or you think it’s affected your grades, you might be able to claim back some of your university fees.

Our step-by-step guide will tell you everything you need to know about claiming compensation from your university. We’ll also talk about making complaints related to learning disruption caused by coronavirus.

What can I claim compensation for?

Technically, you can claim compensation for anything you think breaches the contract you signed with your university or your rights as a student. Some examples include:

  • Inadequate facilities or learning resources
  • Poor student accommodation
  • Cancellation of university courses, tutoring, lectures and contact hours
  • Changes to course content or structure
  • Discrimination or harassment
  • Cheating or plagiarism allegations

A step-by-step guide

Before escalating your grievance into a formal complaint, often the best course of action is to try to resolve the issue informally with a representative of your university. If this isn’t productive or doesn’t give you the resolution you wanted, you could think about escalating it into a formal complaint.

If you’re unsure about exactly how to do this, the best advice is to read through your university’s guideline on making official student complaints. For example, the London School of Economics (LSE) sets out a comprehensive guide on making a formal claim for compensation, as well as attaching the form you need to fill out.

Essentially, you need to prove (with evidence) that there has been a breach of contract by providing a summary of your complaint. This will include details of the incident that had led you to complain, where it happened, when it happened, the parties involved, why you deem compensation appropriate and how (if applicable) relevant parties tried to resolve it.

For example, if the staff at your university have conducted strikes and you’ve missed class time, you should record the dates and note down whether the university has attempted to reschedule lessons to make up for the industrial action. If not, this could be grounds for compensation.

Where to find advice on filing a formal complaint

There is help available to you if you’re unsure about how to go about filing a formal complaint to receive compensation. One of the best places to start is to contact your university’s student union. Student advisors at the union will have knowledge about exactly what to do in this situation and will be able to guide you effectively.

In addition to this, it’s worth checking in with the Consumer and Marketing Authority (CMA), which helps regulate how universities comply with consumer law. Check if your intended complaint is on a list of their examples of breaches of contracts.

Completion of Procedures letter

Once you file your formal complaint, you should receive a Completion of Procedures letter. Depending on your university, this could take up to two months, but it’s usually less.

This letter should outline the details surrounding your complaint to the university, the final decision taken by the university and the reasons for that decision.

Take it further

If you’re not happy with the resolution from your university in your Completion of Procedures letter, you can take the matter even further and submit it to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (also known as the OIA) if you live in England or Wales (for Scotland, use the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and for Northern Ireland, use the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman). To submit your complaint to these independent bodies, you must already have a Completion of Procedures letter and it must be dated within one year.

This independent body has the power to review unresolved cases and make recommendations to universities (that they have to follow) to right any wrongs. This can include making them offer compensation.

When you submit your formal complaint to these independent bodies, you must clearly explain why you dispute your university’s decision and what your expectations are.

Can I claim compensation due to coronavirus disruption?

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted universities in lots of ways, with the majority of students seeing their lectures and seminars move online. This has led many to question whether they’re entitled to compensation or refunds on the course fees. 

Although the teaching process has changed significantly and face-to-face time with tutors has been impacted, it’s far from a given that you’ll be entitled to any kind of financial reimbursement. 

The government were quick to specify last summer, when the outbreak was still relatively new, that full university fees would still apply so long as new virtual teaching methods were up to standard. Universities made it a priority to keep lessons running and move teaching online as seamlessly as possible, to minimise the impact on learning. But how well each institution pulled this off has varied. 

If you think the quality of your education has been impacted or deviates significantly from what you were promised by the university and that you’ve been put at an educational disadvantage as a result, there may be grounds to submit a claim. 

How can I claim for lost learning during the pandemic?

To do this, your first port of call should be your university. Have a look on its website to see if they have published a policy on Covid-19-related refunds and compensation – many have. This should give you an idea of what they will need to see evidence of, as well as what constitutes an eligible coronavirus-related claim.

Then, it’s important to collect as much relevant information as possible to demonstrate exactly how your university learning has been negatively impacted during the pandemic. Be sure to record things like classes that were cancelled, deviation from the planned course content, and extra costs you’ve incurred due to the new teaching process. Be as detailed and thorough as possible. 

If you don’t receive the response you wanted from the university and, after taking their argument into consideration, still believe you could be entitled to some form of reimbursement, it’s time to take your claim to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

It’s worth reading some of the OIA’s previous coronavirus case summaries on its website. You can see which claims had positive results and which were rejected, which might help to inform your own application.

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