In any organisation, complaints will occur from time to time and it is important that members know where to turn for help, advice and support, so that whatever the issue, it can be dealt with quickly, objectively and appropriately.
In the first instance, complaints should be directed towards the Chair of CEDU3A Executive Committee.
This may include complaints about any issue that has arisen from individual members or interest groups or complaints from an external organisation or an individual.
Depending on the nature and source of the complaint, the CEDU3A Executive Officers will make a decision as to how best to approach reaching a resolution and where necessary seek advice from the National U3A.
In dealing with complaints the CEDU3A Executive Officers will ensure that:
All actions will be documented;
Complaints will be dealt with quickly and fairly;
The CEDU3A Executive Officers will try to de-escalate the situation and settle issues without having to resort to formal action, where possible;
Confidentiality will be maintained. For more serious complaints the CEDU3A Executive Officers may need to liaise with and share information with the Third Age Trust. This will not constitute a data breach due to the U3A’s membership of and affiliation with the Trust;
Decisions made will be based on the facts and evidence gathered.
The Informal process
In most cases, it is hoped that complaints can be dealt with informally. If an issue has arisen concerning members in a group then the Group Convener may be the best person, supported by the Groups’ Coordinator if felt appropriate, to be the best person to resolve the matter.
For issues involving CEDU3A Executive Committee members it will be best for another committee member to attempt to mediate and try to find a solution.
If the complaint is from an external organisation or an individual, the CEDU3A Officers should decide who is the best person is to attempt to resolve the situation informally.
In all cases the party raising the concern should be asked if they are willing to accept an informal outcome as opposed to going through a formal process.
The person designated to handle an informal resolution – Group Convener, Groups Coordinator or a member designated by the CEDU3A Officers – will hold an informal discussion with all the people in each party concerned.
The purpose of this would be to understand the problem and hear each party’s views. The parties may decide to put their concerns or complaints in writing for the sake of clarity and may involve a friend in any discussion.
The designated person will seek to summarise the situation with both parties, be clear about any required changes to ensure it does not happen again and clear the air.
If it is felt that there is a case to answer but that nevertheless it is a minor issue, then it should be made clear to the relevant parties that there must be no repeat of the sort of actions/behaviour which led to this problem.
If that outcome is accepted by both parties, then no further action is necessary.
If it is felt that the situation warrants a more formal approach or a specific course of action e.g. exclusion from an interest group or membership of the CEDU3A, or if an external organisation or individual raising the complaint wishes to lodge a formal complaint, the matter should be referred, in writing, to the Chair of the CEDU3A Executive Committee stating that this is a formal complaint. This will include a summary of the complaint, any steps already taken to deal with the issue and any action that the parties involved consider necessary to resolve it.
The Formal Process
In the case of an issue remaining unresolved by the informal procedure or of a formal complaint, the CEDU3A Chair may contact the Third Age Trust and request support and advice from the Regional Trustee, a Trust volunteer and/or National Office staff. The CEDU3A Secretary will inform the complainant if additional support has been requested and the reasons why.
A letter or email will be sent to the complainant confirming receipt of the complaint and inviting the complainant to put their own summary of the complaint in writing giving specific dates and times – where possible.
The complainant should also be asked as to what outcome they are hoping to achieve by making the complaint, for example, whether they would be prepared to accept an apology. The letter or email to the complainant should explain that whilst their desired outcome forms part of their complaint, they need to be aware that there are no guarantees as to what the likely outcome will be.
The Chair of CEDU3A will appoint a sub-committee of three members who have not been involved in the issues to hear the complaint. The sub-committee will gather information and conduct interviews relating to the complaint, and the individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made will be informed of the basis of the formal complaint.
This will include the letter of complaint and any supporting documentation or other statements. The result of these investigations must not be disclosed to any of the CEDU3A Executive Committee not involved in the process at this stage, in order to not compromise any appeal.
The sub-committee shall arrange a formal hearing of the complaint by setting out a timetable for the date of the meeting to hear the complaint, within 14 days.
Both the complainant and the individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made shall have the right to present their case with the help of a friend or representative if so desired.
The sub-committee will then consider the matter, taking into account any mitigating circumstances and agree what action to take. This could include, for example, a change of procedures, a change of venue for a meeting or whatever outcome is deemed the most appropriate as a solution.
The sub-committee decision will be communicated in writing to both the complainant and the individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made. If the complaint has been upheld, the letter will also specify what action will be taken as a result.
Possible decisions will fall into one of five levels which should be recorded as part of the documentation of the formal process:
Level 1 : a verbal warning about future conduct by a member of the sub-committee
Level 2 : a written warning which clearly states what will happen if the situation is repeated
Level 3 : a final written warning which more serious action if the situation is repeated
Level 4 : exclusion from an interest group
Level 5 : termination of U3A membership
Right of appeal
A right of appeal should be offered to the complainant and the individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made, providing it is lodged within a 7 day period from the date of the subcommittee decision being provided to the complainant and the individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made.
The appeal needs to be lodged in the form of a written representation for the whole CEDU3A Executive Committee to consider. An appeal can be lodged either by the person who made the complaint or by the individual or individuals against whom the complaint has been made.
For the appeal, the CEDU3A Chair will convene an appeal meeting of the full CEDU3A Executive Committee and summarise the issue of the appeal.
The person making the appeal will be given the opportunity to speak and a member of the formal complaint sub-committee may exercise a right of reply.
The appeal meeting will review the decision based only on the facts included in the original hearing, taking into account any mitigating circumstances, and then make a final decision, which must be communicated in writing to the complainant and the person or persons against whom the complaint has been made.