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UoB complaints data drop, but levels still higher than in past (updated)

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

University of Bristol reported that it received 421 complaints about its students in 2022-23, down from 547 the year before. The totals include noise, waste and a few “other” issues. (Source: Report to Bristol Student Community Partnership, July 2023.)

(These figures are separate from those reported by the Noise Pages, which receives only a sample of the complaints sent to the university.)

The large drop reported by UoB mainly reflected a continuing decline in complaints during the summer months (a return to normal after the covid anomaly), as well as vigorous action by the university’s community liaison officer to tackle complaints. The annual total nevertheless remains significantly higher than before the pandemic. In the three academic years from 2016 to 2019, total complaints averaged 242 a year. (Source: Reports to Community Liaison Group meetings in those years.)

The difference, 421 versus 242, is likely to reflect several factors: (a) there were still some summer complaints in the latest total, whereas in the earlier years, summer complaints were virtually zero, (b) after 2019, figures have reflected the impact of Operation Beech, the UoB-funded police patrol, whose introduction has probably encouraged people to report noise complaints, and (c) the student population has continued to expand during the years in question.

In terms of how the university responds to complaints, on a first complaint students are usually given advice as to behaviour expectations: 920 students received advice letters. On a second complaint, the response may be a final warning: 1,174 such warnings were issued. The fact that final warnings (a second-complaint action) exceed advice letters (first complaints) suggests that in a significant number of cases, the community liaison officer skipped the advice step, possibly reflecting his assessment of the behaviour involved.

Magistrates' Court

Some 333 students received some form of sanction, presumably reflecting a further complaint after a final warning had been issued. Of these, 182 received “formal cautions”, a sanction that appears in the records only in the final quarter of the year (April to June). Of the remainder, 129 students received fines of £250 and 22 were fined £100 (the latter are believed to be for waste-related offences).

(Update, 2/10/2023.) UoB has circulated agenda papers for the 9 October BSCP meeting that answer questions I submitted in July. They relate to 23 cases the CLO says he referred to the university’s new Student Resolution Service and to a previously unknown number of appeals in which SRS overturned decisions made by the CLO.

The agenda papers say SRS returned the 23 cases to the CLO for action and he imposed fines of £250 for excessive noise and £100 for waste violations. Of the 23 cases, 11 appealed. Three appeals were dismissed; in the other 8 cases, the fines were converted to formal warnings or cautions.

A second batch of appeals related to 151 students who were also fined £250 for noise or £100 for waste. Of these, 65 appealed, resulting in 44 findings being overturned "due to flaws in the process". In a further 13 cases, fines were converted to warnings or cautions; only 8 appeals were not upheld.

It remains to be seen whether the annual report will be restated to reflect these changes in outcomes.

The community liaison officer also referred some cases outside the university system: the report says 35 were referred to Bristol Waste and 25 were referred to the council’s Neighbourhood Enforcement Team, which deals with both waste and noise.

Over the course of the year, the CLO had reported to the BSCP on developments in a handful of particularly troublesome cases in which NET issued Community Protection Notices to some students under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime & Policing Act 2014. It later came to light that two students who ignored these notices were dealt with in the magistrates’ court, but no further details have been provided.




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