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Petition Reimburse student rents for all accommodation not used during this academic year

Government needs to reimburse students who have paid for university or accommodation rented from private landlords they have not used during the Covid-19 outbreak. This is to include rent, utility bills and standing charges relating to the rented property. Students are least able to bear the losses.

More details

Higher education students for 2020-21 were advised that universities would be open for business. Tuition was to involve varying degrees of face-to-face learning. Given that learning is now exclusively online and that students are often unable to access library areas in which to do self-study, universities are far from open. Social activity is nil. Students now have no need to remain in accommodation and should be free to return home without incurring financial (rent/bill) losses going forward.

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Government responded

This response was given on 26 January 2021

Accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting rent agreements. We encourage them to ensure policies are fair. Government has made extra hardship funding available.

Whether a student is entitled to a refund or to an early release from their contract will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider.

This has been a very difficult time for students and we encourage universities and private landlords to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, clear and have the interests of students at heart. The Universities Minister wrote to providers in March 2020 and encouraged them to be fair in decisions about rent.

We recognise that in these exceptional circumstances some students may face financial hardship. The Department for Education has worked with the Office for Students to clarify that providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards hardship support. The Government is making available up to a further £20m to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students facing difficulties as a result of COVID. We are considering what more we can do to provide further support to students.

Maintenance loans are available as a contribution towards a student’s living costs while attending university. The system targets the most living cost support at those from the lowest income families, who need it most.

Maximum living costs support increased by 10.3% in cash terms for eligible new students on the lowest incomes in 2016/17 compared to the maximum support available for new starters in 2015/16 under the previous system. Further inflationary increases in living costs support have been made in each academic year since with an increase of 2.9% announced for the 2020/21 academic year and 3.1% for the 2021/22 academic year taking the support available for the lowest income students to record levels in cash terms.

Students undertaking courses that would normally require attendance on-site, but for which learning has moved either fully or partially online due to Covid-19, will qualify for living costs support in the 2020/21 academic year as they would ordinarily, provided they continue to engage with their higher education provider. This also applies when the student is prevented from attending the course physically and is required to study online due to shielding.

If students have concerns about their accommodation fees, they should first raise their concerns with their accommodation provider. If their concerns remain unresolved, and their HE provider is involved in the provision of the accommodation, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for Higher Education to consider their complaint.

If a student thinks their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: https://www.thesac.org.uk/, https://www.unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain and https://www.rla.org.uk/about/nrla-code-of-practice.shtml

Department for Education

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