The customer is still the boss. Interview with the new Tesco Chief Customer Officer

Regular followers of this blog know that I have quite a history with Tesco. From predicting Philp Clarke’s demise, taking the company to court (and winning), meeting Dave Lewis the group CEO and his executive team, continuing to criticise various initiatives such as fake farms and interviewing Dave Lewis (Group CEO and Matt Davies (UK CEO) in a filmed exclusive last year.

So, not being one to miss an opportunity, when Alessandra Bellini joined Tesco on 1 March 2017 to become their Chief Customer Officer I requested an interview!

So who is Alessandra Bellini and what is she responsible for?

Alessandra Bellini is the new Chief Customer Officer at Tesco, reporting to Dave Lewis, and putting the customer at the heart of everything that Tesco does.

Prior to joining Tesco, Alessandra worked at Unilever for over 20 years, latterly as the Vice President for the Food Category in North America and Food General Manager for the USA. She has a track record in growing global and local brands as well as a passion for developing her people. An international executive, Italian-born, Alessandra has held executive-level roles in markets including Italy and Central and Eastern Europe. (Tesco press release).

Alessandra is responsible for everything customer related and believes that it a fantastic opportunity to work for a company with 460,000 employees. She is very pleasant and personable and I’m not sure whether she thought I’d give her a hard grilling or not! To be fair, she’s only been there a little over two months, so I wasn’t too mean!

What does she want to achieve?
I ask her what she wants to achieve in the first, third and fifth years of her role (bearing in mind that her predecessors have never lasted more than a couple of years!) Alessandra says that she’s not letting me know the specific targets for every day, next month or years, but she will be focussing on building the Tesco brand so that it becomes strong again as it used to be. It’s important to her to regain customers’ trust with a sustainable vision for the long term. That’s the headline. She is quite clear that it’s not a finite process to serve customers better. She wants to continue to talk to customers and listen to those who care, like me, she adds! Oh good, I think, another Tesco person to whom I can complain! 🙂

What are her biggest challenges?
She is quite candid explaining that she feels she has two very different ones. Firstly an internal one, a steep learning curve to understand the current issues, while at the same time looking towards the future. Secondly, the biggest external one is regaining customers’ trust. She feels that Tesco has started this process strongly, the recent results presentation shows that the Tesco brand is the most improved in the last year and that quality has improved.

Alessandra talks about how Tesco is simplifying offers and price and continues to do so more and more regularly. She acknowledges that the path is not smooth and that she has a long journey in front of her but that she tries to read comments from customers on a daily basis as part of gaining ideas.

Her main priority is to earn trust. “I would like to earn trust, being honest in activities and communications with customers. The challenge is to do this in an interesting and engaging way with them. It’s super important to listen to new ideas which is a challenge for any company, particularly ours, given its size”.

It is of course Dave Lewis’ mantra, to listen (after all, before he even started he told me to keep complaining as it was the only way they would improve!) and for Tesco to behave its way better, so it comes as no surprise that he has chosen someone for this role who echoes his aspirations for the company.

Are big changes coming too quickly for customers?
It has been reported that Dave Lewis has made, and continues to make, a lot of cuts which affect the customer, such as stacking shelves in the evening rather than overnight, and cuts to some 24 hour stores. Customers have reported to me that they have found some changes annoying, for example one cited changes to home delivery in her area. I asked Alessandra how she thought these changes will affect customers’ perception of Tesco service and convenience?

She starts by saying that Matt Davies, UK CEO is more informed to answer this question! But says that everything they do is with customers in mind to simplify the trip. There are lots of changes to try and simplify things and to be able to focus on customers more, with better support for staff to help everyone through new systems. She tries to assure me that the changes have been shown to make improvements and that they take a view then learn and are always learning.  She is excited by a company this size, decisively listening and learning new ways.

There are, of course, cuts in some areas and whether they are all driven by improvements for the customer remains to be seen and perhaps I’ll have to challenge Matt Davies a little more?!

As Alessandra is adamant that she is all about making changes and improvements for the customer, I ask her if there has been anything specific in which she has been involved? She tells me that she worked on the finishing touches of the Tesco health campaign Helpful Little Swaps.  This includes the reformulation of their own brand, offering fruit and healthy alternatives, as well as free blood pressure and cholesterol tests. The little steps are apparently coming from observing colleagues and customers. There’s still more to come and more work to be undertaken to make it more visible. (I have already fed back that if Tesco wants to show me healthier alternatives to my usual choices, it needs to be better for online shopping. I want to be able to click on my items and say “show me a better alternative”. Watch this space, particularly as Alessandra insists that Tesco will be ensuring that healthier alternatives will not be more expensive).

 

She is particularly proud of the basket comparison of products and their healthier alternatives and urges me to go into store and look.

 

Of particular interest to me though is that she touched upon assisting people with disabilities, improving accessible toilets and recognising that not all disabilities are visible. (Interesting comment on that Tesco post showing there’s a long way to go). I return to disabilities later in the interview.

Empowering customers
When I interviewed Dave last autumn I gave him a complaint/question from my Mum! Living on her own she doesn’t want to buy a huge bag of oranges, she wants to buy just a few, so why can’t she? Now, Dave answered that he wanted to work towards customers feeling empowered to do things like open up a bag of oranges and buy one when no single ones available. So! Has this happened I ask?

Alessandra agrees with my Mum. Clearly Alessandra is a sensible woman! She explains that they are working with store managers to accommodate customers. For example in convenience and express stores people are able to buy one apple or a loose banana as they walk to work etc. and that it is less likely in bigger stores because they are more for family shops. But, I argue, the bigger the number of customers overall the more single people will be shopping there too! They still need to do their weekly shop, they just don’t need loads of oranges! She agrees and insists that they are leaving it to local store managers to do what is right for their customers.

It looks like they have moved away from empowering customers to feel comfortable in breaking a bag of fruit when single ones aren’t available and empowering store managers instead. And I have to say my Mum is still complaining that she has to buy a big bag of potatoes for roasting/mashing and that vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli (often pointlessly packaged) are too big. So, more work needed in this area, thank you. Tesco may need to do more to try to get feedback from customers who don’t usually interact with them. That’s always a challenge and I don’t think many companies understand that. I do, a lot.

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities
Having already touched upon this area, I was keen to find out more and ask what Tesco currently does to ensure access to all services for everyone, including those with disabilities and what Tesco is going to do to improve in this area?

Alessandra is keen to tell me that she believes every customer has the right to shop with Tesco. Tesco is working in partnership with a disability organisation and forum in improving aspects of the shopping experience and becoming smarter. For example, it is currently experimenting with special trolleys for disabled children and has already been running the quiet shop times for children with autism and is now developing slow lanes for people with dementia. Visual Impairment Audio Mapping – Tesco is trialling in Reading Extra (in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs) this month, the second phase of audio mapping in stores, where customers who have a severe visual impairment will be able to “listen” their way round the stores. The trial works like google maps on an audio basis where the stores and products are mapped and customers can be guided round the shop by it, allowing for greater independence. An industry first so will be interesting to see who it develops. Stories are coming from colleagues but she is aware that they need to do more and be better with sensitivity in this area.

Those BOGOFs and other “special” offers
I show Alessandra a screenshot:
Complaining Cow challenges Tesco on pricing 
Whilst a lot of BOGOF items have gone, here’s an example of something that’s still confusing:  Which is cheaper? Cathedral City Lighter at £2.00 for 350g (£5.72/kg) or Tesco Lighter at £2.00 for 250g (£8.00/kg) when the “two for £3.00” option is used the price per kg is not given on the shelf. So the maths to work out which is cheaper is to divide price by weight in kg to get price per kg. So, using normal prices:

£2.00/0.350 gives £5.72/kg (Cathedral City) and £2.00/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £8.00/kg. Using the “special offer”: Two for £3.00 means the price for one is £1.50 So: £1.50/0.350 (Cathedral City) gives £4.29/kg or £1.50/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £6.00/kg. That’s what you want to be doing when out shopping, huh?

Alessandra points out that BOGOF offers have been reduced by 24%. But this particular offer is an example of where one has to stand there at the aisle and work out what is the cheapest. Alessandra explains that the Cathedral will be cheaper but I’m not sure if she sees my point. Some people’s maths might not be as good or as speedy as hers and for most of us time is of the essence. She does, however, concur that there is more work to do here to make sure these kind of offers are made more understandable. There are also offers that suppliers make which they have to go with sometimes but I am assured that Tesco continues to work on more honest pricing.

The interview comes to an end as we’ve run over time. It’s a pity as me being me I had more questions and well, I know my Mum would have wanted me to challenge a bit more, if nothing else! Another time, another time!

 

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Preventing and complaining about nuisance calls and Ofcom’s record fine

Record fine for firm behind nearly 100 million nuisance calls
A company behind 99.5million nuisance calls has been fined a record £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Keurboom Communications Ltd, a company behind 99.5 million nuisance calls has been issued the ICO’s highest ever nuisance calls fine after more than 1,000 people complained about recorded (also known as automated – calls). £400,000

The calls, made over an 18 month period, related to a wide range of subjects including road traffic accident claims and PPI compensation. Some people received repeat calls, sometimes on the same day and during unsociable hours. The company also hid its identity, making it harder for people to complain.

Companies can only make automated marketing calls to people if they have their specific consent. Keurboom did not have consent so was in breach of the law.

Steve Eckerlsey, Head of Enforcement at the ICO said: “Keurboom showed scant regard for the rules, causing upset and distress to people unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one its 100million calls. “The unprecedented scale of its campaign and Keurboom’s failure to co-operate with our investigation has resulted in the largest fine issued by the Information Commissioner for nuisance calls.”

During the investigation, the ICO issued seven information notices ordering the company, which is registered in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, to provide information to the regulator. When it failed to comply, Keurboom Communications Ltd and its director, Gregory Rudd, were prosecuted and fined at Luton Magistrates’ Court in April 2016.

Following the ICO’s investigation, Keurboom Communications Ltd has been placed in voluntary liquidation. The ICO is committed to recovering the fine by working with the liquidator and insolvency practitioners.

The ICO’s powers will be further strengthened when the government introduces a new law allowing it to fine the company directors behind nuisance call firms. Making directors responsible will stop them avoiding fines by putting their company into liquidation.

In 2016/17, the ICO had its busiest year for nuisance calls issuing 23 companies a total of £1.923 million for nuisance marketing.

The previous record nuisance call fine was in February 2016, when the ICO fined Prodial, a lead generation company, £350,000 for making 46 million nuisance calls.

So what can you do to prevent many of these nuisance calls?
Sign up for TPS. The Telephone Preference Service. You can register both your landline
and mobile numbers. It doesn’t stop them all but it certainly reduces it. As for the ones it
doesn’t stop, report them. It is the law that companies must check names and numbers
against the TPS register so they are breaking the law if you are registered and they
contact you. Allow 28 days for it to be all registered. TPS is not able to enforce the law or
fine, but does pass the information onto the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
If you have consented to receive marketing calls then you will still get these even if you
are registered with TPS. Watch out for comparison and other sites and make sure that
box is unchecked for wanting marketing emails.

For silent and abandoned calls, (frequently caused by automated systems dropping
calls as soon as one is answered) contact Ofcom. Abandoned calls are where you hear a
recorded message and there is a standard form online to report these calls. Ofcom won’t
take action on individual complaints, however, once it gets a large number regarding
the same company it will take action. In 2013 it fined Talk Talk £750,000 for an excessive
number of silent and abandoned calls. So report these kinds of calls. The form is simple
and quick to fill out.

For unwanted marketing calls, contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In
May 2011 it was given powers to impose a fine up to £500,000 on companies who break
the rules on unsolicited texts and phone calls.

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What to do when ripped off by a hotel

Hi

If you came here from my appearance on Rip Off Britain talking about how to complain to hotels. Here’s some advice and useful links

  1. Complain at the time. This is important because there is an onus on the consumer to be reasonable as well as the trader. If the matter were to go further you will need to show that you provided the trader an opportunity to put matters right.Ask to see the manager
  2. Get evidence. Take photos, details of names of people you complained to, dates and times and any evidence you can use at a later date if you need to do so.
  3. Consumer Rights Act 2015. Know your legal rights. The key things regarding hotels here are:
    You are entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care. So if your room isn’t up to scratch or the service you receive is poor then you are entitled to redress. The percentage you should expect will depend on the level of service and how quickly they put matters right.
    The place you stay must match the description. So if the brochure/website said the room will have xyz then xyz must be in the room in good working order.
  4. The ultimate guide to complaining when eating out provides detailed information on how to complain in restaurants and cafes etc.
  5. Complain at a later date. If you feel that you didn’t get redress at the time or you were unable to complain in the time then do complain when you get home. This may be to the manager or if a chain go higher. Use ceoemail.com to find the contact details for any CEO.
  6. Complain effectively! See Top 20 Tips How to complain! for guidance on writing the perfect email/letter
  7. Complain even if hotel not in UK! All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights provides links to a variety of posts discussing how to prevent problems, successful complaints, your rights when booking and after your holiday etc.

The rest of the site provides advice, guidance, information and your rights on a wide range of issues and sectors. For more of this including templates see the Amazon bestseller How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

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13 false economies exposed & 13 ways to not fall foul!

false economiesMany if not all of us love a bargain and frequently purchase something that we think is saving us money. Now that Christmas is well and truly over and new year’s resolutions well and truly broken let’s look back at some of our false economies and how we think we are saving money, how we are not and what we can do about them!

False economies

1) The most common has got to be Gym membership! People set this up on a direct debit, especially in January! All good intentions and visits dwindle and it would be cheaper to stop the DD and pay on the times you go.

2) Similarly, people take advantage of many online opening offers such as subscriptions to magazines, email services etc. with a significant discount such as £1 for first month and then £25 for each month after and even if they cancel the DD after this month they have lost the £25 if they don’t want to keep the service.

3) Buying yearly membership cards which give you discounts on items throughout the year but you use it twice when you get it and then forget about it so the outlay was too much.

4) Impulse buying for anything that you then don’t use

5) Supermarket deals – discounts on bulk buying and having to throw away what you don’t use

6) Not complaining and gaining redress when you buy a faulty item and buying a new one

7) Only getting one estimate for services such as building works. An estimate is exactly that and the trader could then say that the job cost more. See this post for avoiding problems with builders.

8) Not switching energy suppliers on a regular basis means, that without doubt you are losing money.

9) Not reading terms and conditions in contracts such as notice periods or fees for early termination or not be aware of your legal rights around unfair contracts

10) ‘phoning customer service numbers and holding for a long time! If this is a number that costs (helplines must be free)

11) Ordering online and not checking the postage costs.

12) False economy bargains. Frequently the more expensive t shirt last twice as long as the cheap one or the more expensive batteries last three times as long as the cheaper ones

13) Sales. Buying something that is a bargain. It really is because the reduction is so huge but you never ever use it/wear it

Tips for not falling foul of the above

1) Think carefully about taking out memberships such as the gym. Work out how many times you have to go a week to make it worthwhile and keep that as a reminder on your calendar that if you haven’t gone that many times that week you are at a loss and should think about cancelling and remember to read the terms and conditions as to how much notice you have to give

2) Keep a note of when direct debits are due and cancel them before they are due

3) Work out the value of membership cards. So, for example, a Tastecard – look at what restaurants are covered, how often you have been to them in the last year and how much you are likely to save.

4) Keep an eye out for trials for things like membership cards, Restaurant offer cards for example often have three month trials for £1 but remember to cancel the direct debit if you find that you don’t use it. Remember if you have hardly used it in the three months you are even less likely to use it as time goes by.

5) Work out deals in supermarkets. Is it really cheaper to buy the big bag of apples and waste some than buying them loose. Look out for the annoyances!

6) Ensure that you know your legal rights. If an item is not as described, not fit for purpose or doesn’t last a reasonable length of time, you can insist on repair, replacement or refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 from the 1st October and Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 for purchases before then. (See Tips for complaining and How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! for all you need to know about your rights and how to complain effectively.

7)  Get 3 quotes, a quote is was what you should pay unless additions are agreed along the way.

8) Use a variety of switching websites to ensure that you have the cheapest deal and also any other offers that are different on different websites. The importance of doing that here.

9) Read terms and conditions of contracts and factor in any early termination fees or notice periods if you are likely to change supplier early

10) Unless you need something immediately rectifying, don’t ‘phone, write which also gives you a good record and should you need to follow up, you have an email trail and don’t need to repeat yourself on the ‘phone when you have to go through it all again!

11) Check the total and any extras before you click the “buy now” button but worth noting that it is now illegal for companies to add pre ticked boxes for additional payments

12)  Bargains – stop to think before you buy them (and I should listen to my own advice!!) For example, look at the price of the batteries, if the more expensive are twice the price they should last twice as long. With things like batteries which you may go through a lot, you can do your own testing at home as to how long they last. Keep a check on items that you buy and replace and make a note of how long they last and whether bargains really are a bargain.

13) Stop to think if you really will use/wear the discounted item. (Again need to listen to my own advice, I love a bargain!) When going to shop in the sales try and make a list of the things that you would really like/need and try and stick to these. That should help keep you foccused on spending time looking for what you want so you are less distracted by other things. Also if the shop has more than one of the item you can risk walking out and spending time thinking about whether you want to go back and get it.

Got any more false economies and how not to fall foul? 

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Everything a student needs to know about complaints to colleges and universities

A guest post by Ian Valentine

Currently, there are 115 ‘alternative education provider’ institutions for Higher Education in England and Wales, in addition to publicly funded colleges and universities. Unlike traditional universities, these institutions are not publicly funded., and between them they educate 52,000 students. Over the last 10 years, the majority of these institutions have opened as profit making enterprises. As such, it is clear that education is increasingly becoming a commodity, with students as the consumers.

All publicly funded universities, and most alternative provider colleges, will be subject to oversight by a quality assurance regulator such as QAA or BAC. Publicly funded universities, and those colleges ‘designated’ for student loans funding for individual courses are subject to increasingly rigorous scrutiny by the government funding agency HEFCE. Any institution in receipt of public funding is also subject to the jurisdiction of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the university ombudsman), and is required by the Higher Education Act 2004 to be a member of the scheme.

Admissions, exclusions, discipline, the curriculum, and complaints, for compulsory education in schools are governed by statute, as set out in the Education Act 1996 and its subordinate regulations. In contrast, providers of higher education have a wide discretion with regards to how they administer and deliver their courses. This means that providers deliver university-level education through a bewildering array of different approaches, governed only by their terms and conditions and policies (often called ‘regulations’ by universities). This article will explain some of the common things that can go wrong when studying Higher Education courses, and what you can do about it.

General

1. To whom should I complain?
The first step should always be to raise a complaint in writing to your personal tutor or the responsible department. It is best to copy in the head of the college, often called the Principal or Dean. The Principal’s contact details will usually be provided on the college’s website, especially if they are required to publish their governance and organisation structure under the Freedom of Information Act. This may speed up the response to your complaint, but be aware that Principals will rarely handle a complaint themselves at the first stage. They are often the last stage of the appeal process in smaller colleges, and so they try to remain independent of initial investigations.

Do not, however tempting it may be, copy in third parties such as the regulator or your local MEP in an attempt to intimidate the provider. Doing so will just immediately put the provider on the defensive and rule out any opportunity for a positive informal resolution. Many alternative provider colleges recruit mainly by word of mouth referrals, and their reputation is very important to them. As a result, a polite but firm email or letter setting out a genuine grievance clearly and specifically (use Complaining Cow’s tips to help you) stating exactly what you want done about it, often results in a quick and positive informal resolution.

Many awarding bodies have their own complaints procedures. These bodies include Pearson, who provide Edexcel; BTEC; LCCI accredited courses; and universities which validate courses for providers that do not have their own degree awarding powers. These external procedures can usually only be used on conclusion of the provider’s internal complaints procedure. Therefore, failing an informal resolution, your next step should be to make a formal complaint and if necessary an appeal through the provider’s complaints procedure.

Remember, as a provider of a service to consumers, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations the provider must make details of their complaints procedure available to you before you accept any offer from them for your course. If the qualifications are not awarded by the provider itself, e.g. through a partnership with a university, the provider must also tell you whether they or the awarding body have the main responsibility for complaints. If you applied online, they must provide you with a copy of that information in hard copy or as an email attachment before you start the course. Many providers publish their policies on their website and include a brief summary of the complaints procedure in the offer letter that they send out. If they receive public funding, they must publish this information under the Freedom of Information Act.

If the provider is not a publicly funded university or college, check to see if the provider advertises whether you can get student finance for your course. If your course is eligible for student loans funding, the provider will be subject to the OIA scheme, which can be used in some cases as a further stage of appeal from unsatisfactory responses to your complaints. The OIA Good Practice Framework requires the total formal dispute and internal appeals process to be resolved within 90 calendar days, and set outs various requirements for the fair handling of complaints, e.g. that you have a right to be accompanied by a non-lawyer friend.

If you are unable to resolve a dispute with a provider through their internal dispute procedure, the provider should issue you with a Completion of Procedures Letter, which will allow you to complain to the OIA if you remain dissatisfied. Please note, however, that the OIA does not consider matters of ‘academic judgement’ such as decisions about assessment; a degree classification; fitness to practise; research methodology; course content or outcomes; or matters arising out of admissions. Complaints must be made to the OIA within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter. If the provider has not provided a Completion of Procedures letter within 3 months, you may still be able to complain to the OIA.

2. I enrolled online, and have now changed my mind about the course. Can I get my money back?
Check the terms and conditions of your course and your offer letter. Remember, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations you need to be provided with details of your cancellation rights.

If you applied online, you will usually be entitled as a minimum to a statutory 14 calendar day cancellation period in which all pre-payments must be returned, unless you explicitly agreed to the course starting within 14 days. If you have not been provided with this information, the cancellation period is extended to 14 days after the information is provided to you if the provider gives it to you within 12 months or otherwise, a year after the date you accepted the offer. If you have a statutory cancellation right, the repayment must be made by the same method by which you paid (so vouchers or credit are not acceptable) within 14 days of you giving a clear and certain request to cancel. You do not need to use the provider’s own forms, and the request can be made verbally. However, if you make the request verbally, it is best to put it in writing to keep a record.

Finance issues

3. I paid a third-party recruitment ‘agent’ of the college for my course. The agent has gone bust without paying my money to the college, what can I do?
4. I am sponsored by my employer/have got student finance. My sponsor has not paid the provider/the Student Loans Company have refused student finance. Do I still have to pay?
Unfortunately, in many cases there is not much you can do about this. Many providers will include in their standard terms and conditions that you are jointly and severally liable with an agent, sponsor, or the Student Loans Company (SLC), for the fees. As a result, you may end up having to pay for the course twice if the sponsor or agent is unable to pay, or your student finance is refused!

Check the offer letter and terms of conditions of the college; is the term stating that you share responsibility with the agent/sponsor/SLC for the course fees obvious? If not, the term may be unfair and therefore unenforceable under the Consumer Rights Act. This is, however, a complex area of law, and legal advice should be taken before challenging the requirement to pay.

As a result, I strongly advise prospective students to only pay tuition fees directly to their course provider, and only to use agents who are paid a commission by the provider rather than those who take the money directly. You should also only apply for student finance for a course if you know you will meet the requirements and intend to attend the classes.

5. The provider has changed my course time-table/location/delivery method/core modules, so I can no longer attend the classes easily. Can I get my money back?
This will depend on both the type and extent of the changes, and the reasons for them. If it has not already done so, ask the provider to explain why the change has taken place. Check the terms and conditions or regulations of the provider; is the reason given for the change one of those stated in the these as a valid reason? If not, the provider may be in breach of contract by making the change, and for this reason the change could be deemed to be ineffective under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

A term which allows for changes of key characteristics of the course by the provider may be unfair and unenforceable under the Consumer Rights Act. Additionally, if changes are made without your consent to elements of the course set out in pre-contract information required by the Consumer Contract Regulations, such as payment arrangements, location, and method of course delivery, or they influenced you in choosing the course, the changes will be ineffective and you would be entitled to withdraw and claim a price reduction or refund accordingly. Again, this is a potentially complex and confusing area of law, and I recommend qualified legal advice is sought before challenging a change to your course.

Academic issues

6. I believe the quality of teaching/academic support was poor. What can I do?
If the course delivery was objectively poor, for example, course materials were out of date, lecturers are routinely absent, etc. you may be entitled to a refund or free re-enrolment on the course under the Consumer Rights Act, as with any other consumer service. The first step, as with any complaint about a college, is to raise this through the college’s internal complaints procedures.

If you have evidence that the failings are systematic or serious, some awarding bodies such as Pearson allow you to complain directly to them without engaging with the internal complaints procedure, e.g. in cases of ‘maladministration or malpractice’ (defined as conduct affecting the process of assessments or which would have the effect of undermining trust in the college).

The OIA scheme does cover complaints about teaching, however, this is likely to be limited to poor service which can be objectively evidenced. If you just disagree with the teaching methods, teaching style, or the usefulness and application of the course content, you are unlikely to be able to seek further redress outside of the internal complaints procedure of the provider. Such matters are usually considered ‘academic judgement’, and both the OIA, awarding bodies, and the courts are therefore reluctant to intervene.

7. I disagree with my mark. What can I do?
The provider’s academic appeals policies and procedures will specify the circumstances in which you can challenge a mark. This is usually limited to evidence of bias or extenuating circumstances. The OIA and the courts are reluctant to consider challenges to marking, as again this is usually considered ‘academic judgement’.

Discrimination issues

9. I believe I have been treated differently or harassed on grounds of race/religion/gender/sexuality/age/disability. What can I do about it?
Providers should have a policy on equal opportunities, bullying and harassment, and are required to do so by the codes of regulators such as QAA and BAC. The first step is to give the college the opportunity to resolve the issue through its internal procedures. Discrimination and harassment cases are also likely to be considered to be malpractice by awarding bodies such as Pearson, and are covered by the OIA scheme.

If you are unable to resolve the issue with the provider or OIA, or as an alternative, you may also be able to bring a case against them for breach of the Equality Act 2010, as the prohibition on discrimination, harassment, or victimisation based on ‘protected characteristics’ applies to colleges providing higher education, regardless of whether or not they receive public funding. This should be a last resort, as such cases can be highly complex and expensive and should not be undertaken without qualified legal advice or representation.

10. I have a disability, and need extra support/special equipment to study. The college says it is too expensive/too difficult and that I should apply to the government for a grant instead. Can I make the college provide it for me?
Regardless of whether they receive public funding, a provider is required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent a disabled student being put at a disadvantage. However, they need only make reasonable adjustments and may be able to refuse where it is disproportionately expensive or difficult to do so. You should approach a college’s student support or student union for help with this, and take legal advice where they refuse.

The OIA can consider complaints about provision of reasonable adjustments, as it will be considered disability discrimination.

You may also be entitled to Disabled Students Allowance as an alternative if the provider is being difficult about providing support, including up to £5,358 for specialist equipment, and up to £15,978 (part time) or £21,305 (full-time) for the cost of non-medical helpers such as note-takers.

Helpful links

Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

The OIA

QAA Quality Code on complaints

BAC complaints procedure for accredited centres

About the author

Ian Valentine is a sole-practitioner lawyer, specialising in consumer disputes and the law applying to Higher Education colleges. He is also currently the in-house lawyer for a group of three privately owned Higher and Further Education colleges delivering courses validated by four different universities, and has previously worked for two years as the in-house lawyer for another major west London provider of distance learning courses.
The above does not constitute and is no substitute for detailed, informed, legal advice. However, Ian Valentine offers a range of fixed fee and hourly rate legal and advice services for students and colleges at Glitnir Law. Colleges looking to improve their complaints handling policies and resolve complaints from students effectively can also contact Glitnir Law about policy review, dispute resolution, and terms and conditions drafting services.

 

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