This page deals briefly with resolving disputes with universities and colleges on the Equality Act 2010.
It should usually be possible to resolve issues at university or college without recourse to legal rules.
If one wants support on a communication disorder, or just to talk things over, there should be people one can talk to. Examples include a university's Disability Services (it may be called something different), or one's personal tutor. Also the students union may have a 'disability officer', 'welfare officer' or the like.
Getting outside advice
An initial source of advice is the Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline (link to EHRC website).
If issues cannot be resolved informally, it may be possible to resolve an Equality Act complaint using internal procedures of the university or college. Their website or other literature should set out the complaints procedure. After exhausting internal procedures, other non-legal appeals may be available. An example is the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, also known as the 'OIA' (www.oiahe.org.uk), for higher education students in England and Wales.
Using mediation is also a possibility. (However, from the end of March 2012 the free Equalities Mediation Service is no longer available.) Some links on conciliation/mediation:
- County Court mediation (link to adrnow.org.uk)
- 'Get discrimination mediation' (link to advicenow.org.uk) - but see above on the Equalities Mediation Service.
This involves sending a form to the university or college asking relevant questions. It can help a complainant decide whether to make a complaint and how to formulate and present a case most effectively. There is more on the questions procedure, including forms and guidance, on the Home Office website.
This rule may help claimants. Basically it says that the burden of proof shifts to the university or college if the claimant makes out a prima facie case. More precisely, the claimant has to prove facts from which the court could decide, in the absence of adequate explanation, that the organisation has acted unlawfully (EqA s.136). It is still for the claimant to show that he or she has a disability.
If you wish to take a claim to court, any proceedings normally go to the County Court, or in Scotland to the Sheriff Court (EqA s.114).
However, claims within the 'work' provisions of the Equality Act, in particular against professional/trade qualifications bodies, go to an Employment Tribunal: see Exams: Universities, colleges and professional/trade bodies.
County Court (or Sheriff Court) proceedings under the Equality Act must usually be started within six months (less one day), unless the court extends the period (EqA s.118). However a time extension of a further 3 months may be available where an appeal was submitted to the OIA (above) within 6 months of the discrimination. For when the time limit starts to run, see Discrimination: When does discrimination take place?
(There was also a time extension for disputes referred by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to the Equalities Mediation Service, but that service is no longer available from end of March 2012).
In practice, few cases on higher and further education seem to go to court. A significant number may settle out of court.
Employees, agents and others involved in discrimination can be liable as well as the relevant organisation. See Who is liable.