The Data Protection Act 1998 protects the rights of individuals by setting out certain rules as to what organisations can and cannot do with information about people. The Act ensures that personal data is only used in a way that is fair to the person that the information is about. Further information about the Act can be found on the Information Commissioner's website.
In the course of our work, the OIA handles a large amount of personal data. We are committed to treating this information according to the terms of the Data Protection Act. This Policy outlines our data processing practices. If you have any queries or concerns about the way in which we handle personal data, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What personal data does the OIA have?
Most of the personal data we have is about the students who have complained to us. We collect some information from all complainants, such as their name and address, and the course which they were studying. The other information we have about each complainant will depend on their individual complaint. For example, if a complaint concerns a claim for mitigating circumstances, we might have information about the complainant's medical condition.
We have some personal data about other people who are indirectly involved in a student's complaint. For example, we might have information about other students on the same course, or about a university tutor. The OIA must respect the privacy of all individuals. We operate a transparent Scheme; everything which the university provides to us is usually sent to the complainant, and vice versa. We ask universities and complainants not to provide us with information about other people that cannot be given to the other party. For example, we require that universities anonymise minutes of Exam Boards which refer to other students. We ask complainants not to send us any information about other people if the other person does not want it to be seen by us or by the university. If one party provides information which cannot be given to the other party we will not usually be able to use it in making our decision about the complaint. However, there may be exceptional circumstances where we can use information not shared with both parties, for example, information relating to a criminal investigation.
We also have limited personal data about other individuals, including people making enquiries about the Scheme, people using our website, members of the Board of Directors, members of OIA staff and applicants for jobs at the OIA.
How do we collect personal data?
Most of the personal data we have is provided to us by the person it is about or by the university they are complaining about. When a student brings a complaint to us they sign a statement agreeing that we may use their personal data. The statement says that we will share the information they provide to us with the university they are complaining about, and with other parties relevant to the complaint. It also says that we may seek other personal information from the university.
Most of the personal data we have is in writing. However, we may also have audio recordings which contain personal data, if these are sent to us by the complainant or the university. We also record telephone calls for training and service quality purposes.
In addition to information provided to us directly about a complaint, we collect some information about individuals from their visits to our website and other sites accessible from our website. For example, we collect information from people who sign up to receive our e-newsletter and who participate in our online discussion boards. We also collect information about the steps people take on the Complaints Wizard and the e-mail forms, and from people giving us feedback or completing profile forms. We also monitor customer traffic patterns and site use which enables us to improve the service we provide.
Whilst you do not need to allow your browser to accept cookies in order to browse much of our web site or to access many of our pages, you must have cookies enabled if you wish use the interactive Complaint Form.
Most browsers allow you to turn off the cookie function. If you want to know how to do this please look at the help menu on your browser. This may restrict the online services you can use on our website.
What do we use personal data for?
We use the personal information provided by the complainant, or their representative, and the university to:
- decide whether the complaint is Eligible under our Rules
- investigate the complaint
- make a decision about the complaint
- compile statistics about our Scheme. Any statistics or other results of activity to monitor the Scheme will be anonymised, and will not identify individuals.
We publish reports about our Scheme from time to time which contain anonymised case studies. The OIA will not intentionally publish any information which identifies an individual complainant.
We like to hear the views of people who use our Scheme and our website to help us monitor and improve our service. From time to time, we may use an individual's contact details to ask for feedback. We may do this on our website, or we may contact individuals by post, e-mail, telephone or fax to ask your opinions. You can ask us not to contact you to ask you for this feedback. We do not publish information which identifies the comments which an individual has made.
We will access the information recorded through the Access to Complaints Wizard and Complaint Form to help us improve our service and to make our communications more relevant.
How long will personal data be kept for?
We will usually keep a paper file about a complaint for twelve months after a Formal Decision has been issued, or the complaint has otherwise been closed. This file contains all the documentation provided to us by a complainant or by the university; information which is sent to us electronically is printed and put on the paper file. We may keep limited information about complaints and the use of our website for a longer period on an electronic database. This is kept to help us monitor the Scheme and for training purposes.
We will keep a copy of the final decision about every complaint for a longer period. These are kept for training purposes and to monitor the kinds of complaints we have received and the outcomes of complaints.
We will usually keep information about applicants for jobs at the OIA for six months.
Sharing personal data
Your information may be processed by all employees within the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. We will share the information provided to us about a complaint with the university complained about, for the purpose of reviewing the complaint. We will share your information with a third party appointed by the OIA to carry out research into student satisfaction about complaints. This will only occur after the complaint is closed but if you object to this, you should let us know. If you complete an Online Complaint Form, we may use your information for OIA website support through a third party. We will not pass this information on to any other party and do not make any decisions about your complaint. If you object to this, should complete a hard copy of the complaint form. We will not pass personal information to anyone else without your consent, except where we are required or permitted to do so by law.
Right of access to personal data
An individual has the right to ask the OIA what personal data we hold about them, and to ask for a copy of that information. This is called making a Data Protection Subject Access Request. Usually, if we have investigated a complaint, then the complainant will already have seen all of the information which the OIA has. This is because we will normally provide the complainant with copies of the information sent to us by the university.
If you would like to make a request for access to your personal data, you must write to us at: Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, Second Floor, Abbey Gate, 57-75 Kings Road, Reading RG1 3AB or send an e-mail to email@example.com. It is helpful if you can describe the information that you would like access to. Please note that we will charge a £10 fee to answer your request.