Thousands of university students across the country are currently holed up in their first year accommodation after reports of coronavirus cases sweeping through halls.
Those in Manchester and Glasgow have been hit with restrictions, with some reporting being physically locked in their buildings.
Many stuck in lockdown want to go back home to their parents – with some even wishing to continue their university course from the comfort of their own home.
Others decided they wanted to stay at home after finding that most of their lectures would be online, rather than face to face, meaning spending thousands in rent needlessly.
However, all have signed contracts and already paid thousands for their accommodation and course, meaning it is not that simple to walk away.
To help students with their accommodation and course dilemmas during a pandemic, This is Money, with the help of Citizens Advice and other experts, reveals what students can do if they feel they are getting a rough deal.
If you are a student in halls of residence who wants to move out and end your contract. What are your rights?
Students who want to end their contract with the university and move out of halls of residence are, unfortunately, unlikely to be entitled to a refund.
However, in the spring when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.
It might be possible to put forward a ‘frustration’ argument if a student can’t access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shut down, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel to the accommodation.
This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered.
For instance, if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.
However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.
An argument that any contract is ‘frustrated’, meaning it is impossible to perform, is certainly less likely to succeed in a case where the accommodation continues to be available, but it is the tenant’s choice not to occupy it.
Amy Hughes, senior housing expert at Citizens Advice, said: ‘Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example.
‘It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.
‘It’s always worth getting in touch with your landlord and trying to negotiate. But realistically, if there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.
‘Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.
‘However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.’
If you are a student in privately rented accommodation who wants to move out and end your tenancy. What are your rights?
Generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term – and any guarantor may be pursued if you don’t pay.
Some tenancy agreements contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement where the letting is intended to be for an academic year, and the landlord is only likely to be able to re-let it for the following academic year.
If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.
This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants, or their guarantor, for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.
That said, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.
A National Union of Students spokesperson said: ‘In England, Wales and Northern Ireland students have no statutory right to unilaterally terminate a fixed-term tenancy during the fixed-term period.
‘However, universities and landlords can agree to release a student from their tenancy early and some universities and student accommodation providers have implemented more flexible tenancy terms this year.
‘Students could also check their tenancy to see if there are ‘break clauses’ in place which may allow them to exit their tenancy early.
‘If students wish to exit a fixed-term tenancy early they should seek support from a trained housing adviser in their students’ union or an organisation such as Shelter and then enter into discussions with their landlord.’
WCan students request refunds from their university if they are not receiving in-person tuition?
In regards to tuition fee refunds, students have the right to make a complaint to their university – and eventually to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator – seeking such compensation, according to the NUS.
There is no guarantee of succeeding, especially in the current climate, but it is worth a try.
If someone decides to drop out of university, will they get their tuition or accommodation money back?
According to Save the Student, if you drop out of university, you will have to still pay a certain amount of your tuition money.
Of your Tuition Fee Loan, the part of your Student Finance that covers the costs of your degree, the first two installments are paid at the start of terms one and two and each make up 25 per cent of the total amount borrowed.
The last one is paid at the start of term three and equates to 50 per cent of your loan for that year.
Students pay up to £9,250 per year towards their tuition fees, so check how much you have taken out this year and any previous years.
This is the amount you will have to pay back, minus the fees for terms you haven’t yet completed, plus added interest.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you will still be charged for a full term even if you drop out halfway through.
This will be added to your loan balance which becomes repayable later on.
Similarly, you will still have to pay back a chunk of your Maintenance Loan. Check how much you have taken out this year and any previous years to start working out how much you will have to pay back, and bear in mind the small amount of interest on top.
If a student has financial concerns, who can advise them?
Speak to your university first as they should be able to offer advice and assistance.
Your student union may be a good place to start as well as the welfare department. They should be able to point you in the right direction.
Citizens Advice also has trained debt advisers and has lots of advice on its website that can help.
Tips for students who have less income than expected
Here are some pointers from Citizen’s Advice for students who have less income than they expected, or experienced a drop in income:
• Shop around for the best deals on your mobile phone and broadband.
• Look at switching energy provider or installing a water meter.
• Check insurances and subscriptions – cancel any you don’t need and shop around for the others. It’s normally cheaper if you don’t leave it until just before the renewal date.
• Make sure you’re claiming any benefits you’re entitled to. The Turn 2 Us benefits checker can help.
• Make a list of the cost of priority outgoings – such as housekeeping and essential travel in order to work out a budget. It can also help with working out how much can be paid off each month if there are outstanding loans.
• Think carefully about any ‘buy now pay later’ deals – they’re not always the best option long term.