Completion of Procedures Letter

Guidance

1. Introduction

Where appropriate, and for ease of reference, we use the term ‘provider’ throughout this guidance to include all members of the OIA Scheme, unless the context specifies otherwise.

The following guidance is to explain to users of the Scheme how and when providers should issue Completion of Procedures Letters. This guidance supersedes previous OIA guidance about Completion of Procedures Letters, and should be read in conjunction with the Rules of the OIA Scheme, and the Guidance Note on Eligibility and the Rules.

The OIA must receive a student’s Complaint Form within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter. For example, if the Completion of Procedures Letter is dated 1 September 2015, the letter must be received by 1 September 2016.

This guidance cannot deal with all the queries that arise about issuing Completion of Procedures Letters. If you have a query that is not answered by this guidance, or by other information on our website, please contact our Casework Support Team on 0118 959 9813 or e-mail enquiries@oiahe.org.uk.

Where appropriate, and for ease of reference, we use the term ‘provider’ throughout this guidance to include all members of the OIA Scheme, unless the context specifies otherwise.

You can also download the guidance as a pdf.

We issued an update to OIA Points of Contacts on 19 May 2016 via a newsletter.

2. What is the purpose of issuing a Completion of Procedures Letter?

Under the OIA Scheme Rules a provider must issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to a student promptly, and not later than 28 days after any of its internal processes have been completed. The definition of “internal complaints procedures” in our Rules includes procedures concerning student complaints, academic appeals, disciplinary matters, fitness to practise, fitness to study and breaches of codes of conduct and regulations. However this is not an exhaustive list. The basic principle is that, if the student has no further avenues to pursue in relation to the issue s/he is raising, then a Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued.

The issue of a Completion of Procedures Letter serves the following main purposes:

  • It fixes the date when the student completes the provider’s internal complaints procedures;
  • It clarifies the issues considered by the provider under those procedures;
  • It establishes the timescale for bringing a complaint to the OIA;
  • It advises the student of the possibility of bringing a complaint to the OIA.

3. When should a Completion of Procedures Letter be issued?

A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued at the end of internal procedures, when there are no matters outstanding . (If applicable, please read our guidance which sets out the principles which we will apply where a complaint/appeal involves more than one provider).

Our Scheme Rules define “internal complaints procedures” as “those complaints and appeals procedures of a Member HE Provider which concern students and for the avoidance of doubt, include, but not by way of limitation, procedures concerning student complaints, academic appeals, disciplinary matters, fitness to practise, fitness to study, and breaches of codes of conduct and regulations”.

This means that providers should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at the conclusion of complaints, academic appeals, disciplinary, fitness to practise procedures, fitness to study procedures, harassment and bullying procedures: in fact, at any point where the student has reached the end of the line and there are no further steps which he or she can take internally.

Occasionally a student may complain about a matter for which the provider has no published procedures. In such cases, the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter, explaining how it has dealt with the complaint.

(i) Complaint or appeal not upheld

The Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued automatically after the completion of internal processes, that is, when the provider issues its final decision.

(ii) Complaint upheld or partly upheld

If the complaint or appeal is upheld, or partly upheld, the provider should tell the student that s/he can ask for a Completion of Procedures Letter if s/he remains dissatisfied. The provider may set a deadline of not less than one month for the student to make this request. If the student requests a Completion of Procedures Letter within the deadline specified by the provider, a Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued automatically. If the student makes a request after the deadline has passed, then the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter which states the date upon which the final decision was reached on the complaint or appeal. The time for bringing the complaint to the OIA will normally run from that date, rather than the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter.

(iii) Complaints that are about more than one issue

Students should not be required to follow two sets of procedures from the same provider to obtain a Completion of Procedures Letter. For example, if a student has a complaint about how the final stage of the provider’s appeals procedure was handled, including complaints about delay, s/he should not then be required to make a complaint under the provider’s complaints procedure before being issued with a Completion of Procedures Letter.

(iv) Complaints about events that took place more than three years ago

Where a student makes a complaint about substantive matters which happened more than three years ago, a Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued setting out a brief history of the complaint. If the provider has reviewed the complaint within the last three years, it should mention this in the letter. The OIA will decide whether the complaint can be considered under the Rules of the Scheme.

(v) Complaints about events that took place before the provider became a member of the OIA Scheme

Where a student makes a complaint about substantive matters some or all of which happened before the provider became a member of the OIA Scheme, a Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued setting out a brief history of the complaint, including the date upon which the provider became a member. The OIA will decide whether any part of the complaint can be considered under the Rules of the Scheme.

Completion of Procedures Letters should not be issued while there are still outstanding matters under the same procedure for the provider to consider, for example, where it is awaiting reconsideration of the student’s results by an examination board following a successful appeal.

4. How long does the provider have to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter?

The provider should issue the Completion of Procedures Letter automatically after the completion of the internal processes if the complaint or appeal is not upheld.

Our Scheme Rules say that the Completion of Procedures Letter must be issued “promptly”, and “not more than 28 days after the internal complaints procedures have been exhausted” (Rule 4.3).

 

5. Should a provider issue a Completion of Procedures Letter if it has upheld or partly upheld the student’s complaint or appeal?

If the complaint or appeal is upheld or partly upheld, then the provider should tell the student that he or she can ask for a Completion of Procedures Letter if he or she remains dissatisfied, and should issue the Completion of Procedures Letter automatically if the student then requests one.

6. What if the student’s complaint is not eligible under the OIA’s Rules?

A provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter even if it considers that the complaint is not eligible under our Rules; for example, because it considers that the complaint relates to academic judgment, or that the student has not been materially affected as a student. This is because it is for the OIA to determine eligibility under the Scheme. However, it is helpful if the provider explains in the Completion of Procedures Letter why it thinks the complaint may not be eligible, whilst making it clear that the decision is the OIA’s.

Completion of Procedures Letters should still be issued where the student is no longer registered at the provider as the OIA Scheme covers current and former students. The provider should comment if it considers the complaint to be time-barred or otherwise outside the OIA’s jurisdiction.

 

7. If the provider is no longer a ‘Qualifying Institution’ for the purposes of the OIA Scheme, should it still issue a Completion of Procedures Letter?

Providers who cease to be “Qualifying Institutions” will continue to be OIA members for a period of 12 months after that event. Therefore, in that 12 month period, they should issue Completion of Procedures Letters in relation to complaints or appeals about acts or omissions which occurred during the academic year in which they ceased to be a Qualifying Institution.

Example: a provider ceases to be a Qualifying Institution in July 2015 when it ceases to provide any courses designated for student support funding. In September 2015, a HE student complains about the service she received during the 2014/15 academic year. In October 2015, the provider notifies the student that it has not upheld her complaint. The provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to the student since it is within 12 months after the provider ceased to be a Qualifying Institution and the complaint relates to matters which occurred in the academic year in which it ceased to be a Qualifying Institution.

 

8. What if the provider has made an offer to the student in an attempt to settle the complaint?

If the student accepts the offer then a Completion of Procedures Letter may be issued confirming the settlement, if the student requests one. It is very unlikely that the OIA would agree to intervene in such circumstances. However each complaint will be considered on its merits.

If the student rejects the offer, or has not responded by the date the offer expires (or within a reasonable period if no date for acceptance has been given), a Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued. This should include a summary of the settlement proposals. (If they were made on a without prejudice basis this should be brought to our attention.) The Completion of Procedures Letter should state whether or not the provider is willing to keep the offer open while the OIA considers the complaint.

 

9. When have internal complaints procedures been exhausted?

In most cases it will be clear that the provider has made its final decision and that its internal procedures have been completed. However, there are some circumstances where this is less clear. We set out some examples below and indicate whether Completion of Procedures Letters should be issued. (See section 13 which sets out the principles which we will apply where a complaint/appeal involves more than one provider).

a) A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued when the provider makes a decision that there are no grounds for the complaint / appeal to be escalated to the next stage of its procedures

b) A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued when a student initiates, or attempts to escalate, a complaint or appeal outside the provider’s time limits

The Letter should explain why the complaint or appeal is out of time and refer to the relevant regulations. (If the student then complains to the OIA, our review would normally be restricted to considering whether the provider’s decision to reject the matter as out of time is reasonable and in accordance with its procedures. If we find a complaint to be Justified in these circumstances, the likely outcome would be that we would send the case back to the provider.)

c) It is not normally necessary to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter if a student does not escalate his/her complaint or appeal to the next stage

Where a student requests a Completion of Procedures Letter because s/he wants to bring the matter to the OIA without having engaged with the provider’s procedures, and the provider considers that the internal complaints procedures have not been exhausted, it should respond promptly to the student, setting out clearly the next steps s/he can take to progress the complaint, and any deadlines that apply. It should not issue a Completion of Procedures letter since internal procedures have not been exhausted.

If the student requests a Completion of Procedures Letter and he or she is out of time to progress the complaint or appeal, then the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter explaining that the student has not completed the internal processes, but that he or she is now too late to do so, and so there is no further internal avenue available.

If a student submits a complaint to the OIA without a Completion of Procedures Letter, we will ask the provider to explain whether or not its internal processes are complete. If there are no further steps for the student to take internally, then we may ask the provider to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter setting out what has happened, or we may suggest that we treat the provider’s last decision letter as a Completion of Procedures Letter.

Some providers’ regulations only allow a complaint or appeal to escalate to the final stage on narrow grounds such as procedural irregularity. In those cases, the provider’s decision letter should explain to the student that there is a final stage, and should explain clearly the grounds upon which the student can progress to the final stage. It should also explain that if the student does not have grounds to proceed, then he or she can ask for a Completion of Procedures Letter within a set period of time (not less than one month). The Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued on request: there is no need to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter automatically.

If the student makes a request after the deadline has past, then the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter which states the date upon which the final decision was reached on the complaint or appeal. The time for bringing the complaint to the OIA will normally run from that date, rather than the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter.

d) A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued when the provider reaches a final decision which results in the exclusion or suspension of a student under any of its procedures, including disciplinary procedures

e) A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued when the provider reaches a final decision which results in a student being removed from student accommodation

f) A Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued where a student makes both a complaint and an appeal about the same or related issues

The provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter in respect of each procedure, cross-referencing as appropriate. The student should be reminded that the 12 month time limit applies to both cases. We may decide to suspend our consideration of the first case in order to review both cases together.

 

10. What if a student complains to the OIA without completing the provider’s internal processes or raises issues not included in the Completion of Procedures Letter?

Under our Scheme Rules we have the discretion to take on a complaint where we consider there is good reason to do so, even where a Completion of Procedures Letter has not been issued.

We might exercise our discretion to accept a complaint where:

  • There has been undue delay on the part of the provider in progressing the complaint, and there appears to be no prospect for early resolution;
  • The provider has unreasonably refused to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter;
  • The student has failed to escalate the complaint or appeal in time and the provider has issued a Completion of Procedures Letter saying that they are now out of time to do so. In those circumstances we would consider whether the provider has acted reasonably in deciding that the student is out of time;
  • The student raises issues in their Complaint Form to the OIA which were not covered by the Completion of Procedures Letter and we consider that it would be expedient to deal with those secondary issues at the same time as the primary issues raised with the provider.

The OIA will not normally consider a complaint which arises from information or evidence that the student has obtained after the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter, or if no letter has been issued, more than 28 days after the student ceased to be student.

 

11. Is there a set format for a Completion of Procedures Letter?

Our Scheme Rules say that the Completion of Procedures Letter must be issued in accordance with guidance published by the OIA from time to time. You can view a template for Completion of Procedures Letters on our website.

There is a separate template Completion of Procedures Letter for use where the student was studying for a qualification awarded by an external awarding body such as Pearson (Edexcel). Further information about our approach to handling complaints from students on this type of course can be found in section 13 (point 3) and on our website.

  • The Completion of Procedures Letter should be headed as such, so it is clear to the student that s/he has completed internal procedures.

    The summary of the student’s appeal or complaint, and its outcome, may be contained in a separate document, such as a report of an appeal panel hearing, provided that this document is clearly identifiable, sets out the required information and makes it clear that the student will receive a Completion of Procedures Letter imminently. The Completion of Procedures Letter should refer to the outcome letter.

    Some providers incorporate the Completion of Procedures Letter in a letter to the student notifying him or her of the outcome of an investigation or an appeal. This is acceptable to the OIA, provided that the Completion of Procedures Letter is issued promptly.

    It is also acceptable to send the Completion of Procedures Letter by e-mail, provided that the e-mail links to the OIA’s information for students “An Introduction to the OIA for Students” on the OIA website. The electronic version of the Completion of Procedures Letter must be dated.
  • It is essential that the Completion of Procedures Letter states the date by which the student must submit his or her complaint to the OIA. The OIA Complaint Form must be received by the OIA no later than 12 months after the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter. To avoid any ambiguity, the provider’s Completion of Procedures Letter should state the date by which the OIA should receive the student’s OIA Complaint Form. So, if the Completion of Procedures Letter is dated 1 September 2015, the letter must state that the deadline is 1 September 2016.
  • Completion of Procedures Letters should explain that the OIA is an independent review scheme and not part of the provider’s review or an appeal body. It is important that the provider’s regulations are clear on the role of the OIA and in particular that it is separate to the provider’s processes.

 

12. What information should the Completion of Procedures Letter contain?

The information in the Completion of Procedures Letter helps the OIA to ensure that the complaint made to us reflects the issues the provider has considered.

The Completion of Procedures Letter should contain:

  • A summary of the complaint or appeal the student has made to the provider;
  • The title of the regulations/procedures which were applied;
  • A summary of the issues considered at the final stage of the internal complaints procedures;
  • The final decision taken by the provider;
  • The reasons for that decision;
  • Information about the role of the OIA.

Providers may also find it helpful to include a summary of issues which were raised but not pursued by the student, to identify those issues which have not completed its internal procedures.

The Completion of Procedures Letter should also draw the student’s attention to any factors of which the provider is aware which mean that it is particularly important for the student to bring the complaint promptly. Examples of such factors are:

  • The student is subject to deadlines for completing the course;
  • The course or module the student is studying is being discontinued, or the programme is in teach out;
  • The remedy the student is seeking will be impossible to implement after a certain date.

 

13. What happens on jointly delivered courses or courses leading to an award of another provider or awarding body?

In March 2017, the OIA published a section of the Good Practice Framework setting out some further guidance on handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of delivering learning opportunities with others. The guidance below will be updated to reflect that section in due course.

The following guidance sets out which provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter where more than one provider is involved in a student’s complaint. It also includes guidance on what to include in Completion of Procedures Letters issued to students who are studying for a qualification which is awarded by an awarding body which is not a member of the OIA Scheme.

Where a provider is issuing a Completion of Procedures Letter in relation to a complaint or academic appeal that has come from a student studying at another provider, it is particularly important for the Completion of Procedures Letter to refer to the regulations under which the complaint or appeal was considered, setting out clearly what the provider considered at the final stage (as well as the issues addressed by the other provider).

It is also helpful for the Completion of Procedures Letter to refer to the agreement between the providers that sets out the responsibilities of each of them. This helps us to focus our review on what the provider looked at (or should have looked at), rather than underlying issues that may be the responsibility of another provider.

1. Joint and dual awards: two or more providers collaborate to teach a programme of study leading to one joint award or dual awards

We expect the agreement between the providers to set out which provider is responsible for overseeing the complaints and appeals procedures. That provider should issue the Completion of Procedures Letter.

Example: university A and university B set up a joint medical school. Students register at one of the two universities, depending on where their studies are based. Student S is registered at university A. She submits an academic appeal to university A. university A considers the appeal, following procedures which have been agreed between the two universities. At the end of the procedure, university A issues a Completion of Procedures Letter.

Further information can be found in the annex and on our collaborative provision page.

2. A student is studying at a provider (the delivery provider) which is not a member of the OIA Scheme, undertaking a course of study or programme of research which leads to the grant of one of a member provider’s awards

We expect the agreement between the delivery provider and the awarding member provider to set out the relative responsibilities of each party. Arrangements will vary, but the awarding member provider would normally be responsible for the final stage in the academic appeal process. It is likely to be responsible for complaints relating to academic standards, and may also accept complaints about other issues. If the agreement is a “franchise” or “sub-contracting” arrangement, then the awarding member provider may be responsible for all aspects of course delivery.

The agreement should set out the circumstances in which a student can escalate a complaint or academic appeal to the awarding member provider for consideration as the final stage of the delivery provider’s procedures.

The awarding member provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at the conclusion of any complaint or academic appeal which it has considered.

3. A student is studying at a member provider for a qualification which is awarded by another body

The awarding body is not a member of the OIA Scheme

Students may be studying at a member provider for a qualification awarded by an external awarding body which is not a member of the OIA Scheme; for example an HNC or HND awarded by Pearson (Edexcel).

The member provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to a student on this type of course at the conclusion of any internal procedure, in the usual way. (NOTE: if the student is studying at a member provider brought into membership of the OIA Scheme by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the student must be studying on an HE Course, see Rules 2, 16, 17.14 and 17.22 of the OIA Rules).

Should the student then complain to the OIA, the OIA will determine whether the complaint relates to: (1) an act or omission of the member provider relating to the service provided which falls within the OIA’s remit; or (2) the overall quality or standards of the qualification itself. Complaints falling into category (2) will normally be forwarded by the OIA to the relevant awarding body.

Our template Completion of Procedures Letter for students studying on this type of course provides some explanatory text which should be included. Further information can also be found on our website.

The awarding body is a member of the OIA Scheme

Students may be studying at one member provider (the ‘delivery provider’) for an award made by another member provider (the ‘awarding provider’). Where both the delivery provider(s) and awarding provider(s) are members of the OIA Scheme, the student may be able to complain about acts or omissions of either or both/all of them.

The agreement between the providers will set out the obligations and responsibilities of each party, including for handling student complaints. The OIA will take a pragmatic approach in reviewing complaints involving more than one member provider and will deal with them on a case by case basis. Further information can be found in the annex and on our collaborative provision page.

14. Which member(s) of staff within a provider should issue the Completion of Procedures Letter?

Providers should have safeguards in place to ensure that Completion of Procedures Letters are issued only by authorised officers. It is not necessary to limit authorisation to the OIA Point of Contact, but the Point of Contact should ensure that Completion of Procedures Letters are issued in accordance with this Guidance.

15. Complaints referred back to the provider by the OIA

Where the OIA makes a Recommendation to the provider that it should reconsider a complaint or an appeal, the provider should issue a new Completion of Procedures Letter after it has reconsidered the matter.

16. If the provider seeks to resolve a complaint

Even after a Completion of Procedures Letter has been issued and a complaint made to the OIA, a provider may still seek to resolve the complaint by offering to reconsider the matter or proposing a settlement. Should the provider wish to do so, it should inform us as soon as possible, as we may suspend our review. It should also keep us informed of progress and the final decision.

ANNEX: More information relating to complaints involving more than one provider, all of which are members of the OIA Scheme

In March 2017, the OIA published a section of the Good Practice Framework setting out some further guidance on handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of delivering learning opportunities with others. The guidance below will be updated to reflect that section in due course.

Where both the delivery provider(s) and the awarding provider(s) are members of the OIA Scheme, the students may be able to complain about acts or omissions of either or all of them. However, a student can only complain to the OIA about a provider in respect of matters for which that provider is responsible and normally only then where the substantive events complained about took place after that provider joined the OIA Scheme. This reflects our Rule 4.1.

The agreement between the providers will set out the obligations and responsibilities of each party, including for handling student complaints, and will be our starting point in a review of a complaint which involves more than one member provider. A key issue will be ‘whose responsibility is the issue being complained about?’

Our broad approach is summarised below:

1. Where the complaint issue is the responsibility of the delivery provider, the student should be able to come directly to the OIA once they have completed the delivery provider’s internal procedures (i.e. without first having had to go through the awarding provider’s procedures). Where we determine that the complaint is Justified or Partly Justified, we will then be able to address our recommendations directly to the delivery provider. Such an approach facilitates the aim of the OIA’s remedies which is to put the student back in to the position that they would have been in had the matters complained of not occurred.

2. If, in reviewing a complaint, we consider that the providers should have handled the matter differently, or that the wrong party has issued the Completion of Procedures Letter, we will say so in our review. For example, we may make recommendations or suggestions as to how the providers might deal with similar matters going forwards; or where the complaint is expressed to be against the awarding provider, we might treat it as being a complaint against the delivery provider. The approach that we take will depend upon the facts of the individual case. We are unlikely to determine that a complaint is Justified simply because, in our view, the student should not have had to go through the awarding provider’s procedures before coming to the OIA, provided of course that the student has not been materially disadvantaged as a result.

3. Some awarding providers may wish to be kept informed about any complaint against their delivery partners. However, that does not mean that awarding providers need to consider individual student complaints themselves. The partnership agreement between the providers may provide for information-sharing about student complaints; for example the delivery provider may be required to provide the awarding provider with a regular summary of complaints etc received.

4. In relation to complaints:

4.1. If the complaint is about service quality issues at the delivery provider (for example, pastoral provision, poor facilities), the delivery provider should consider the complaint and issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at the end of internal procedures

4.2. Generally, if the complaint is about teaching standards or other matters which the awarding provider has responsibility for under its agreement with the delivery provider, the awarding provider may wish to have some involvement in the complaint. This is because the awarding provider is likely to have some responsibility for academic standards. However, we would not expect any involvement of the awarding provider to delay the progress of the student’s complaint. For example, and following the principles of the Good Practice Framework, the awarding provider’s involvement could form the final ‘review’ stage of the ‘internal’ procedures, the ‘early resolution’ and ‘formal’ investigation stages having been conducted by the delivery provider. In that way, the student will only have had to progress through three stages of ‘internal’ procedures (at the delivery provider and awarding provider) in all.

4.3 The Completion of Procedures Letter should be issued by whichever provider takes the final decision on the complaint.

5. In relation to academic appeals:

5.1. The awarding provider will normally be responsible for the final stage of the appeal. The awarding provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter when it reaches a final decision on the appeal. Again, fFollowing the principles in the Good Practice Framework, the awarding provider’s involvement in the appeal could be at the third stage of the ‘internal’ procedures so that the student is only required to progress through three ‘internal’ stages in all.

5.2. A student may also wish to make a complaint about the way the delivery provider handled his or her academic appeal, as opposed to the outcome of the appeal. For example, the delivery provider may have delayed its consideration of the appeal so that a student has missed an opportunity to progress. Normally the OIA would expect the student to make a complaint to the delivery provider about its handling of the appeal, and the delivery provider to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter when it has considered that complaint.

6. Under some arrangements, such as a franchise or sub-contractual arrangements, the awarding provider effectively ‘owns’ the course and the students are registered students of the awarding provider and/or in Wales, the awarding provider provides normally retains overall control of the programme’s content, delivery, assessment and quality assurance arrangements. Normally the awarding provider has ultimate responsibility for considering complaints by students on the course and should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter once internal processes have been exhausted. However, the franchise or sub-contractual agreement may delegate some of this responsibility to the delivery provider and in those circumstances we may seek to apply the principles set out above

7. If the student has complaints about the awarding provider and the delivery provider arising from the same process, we will treat these as separate complaints, although we may link our reviews together. Each provider will need to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter.

The principles we apply in relation to joint provision are unchanged (see section 13 on ‘What happens on jointly delivered courses, or courses leading to an award of another provider or awarding body?’)

 

Documents

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COP Template - External Awarding Body Qualifications
For use where the student is studying for a qualification awarded by an external awarding body.

 

Archive Documents

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2011 - Completion of Procedures Letter Guidance
Previous version: Issued September 2011