Students’ rent refunds – legal and reputational consequences

As lockdown restrictions toughen across the UK, many higher education students are feeling disgruntled at being required to pay full rent for accommodation they can’t access or attend. Here, Trish D’Souza argues that when dealing with this issue, institutions should consider both legal and reputational risks.

While some higher education institutions have offered partial refunds or discounts to account for the effect of the pandemic – particularly as students aren’t able to work in retail or other sectors to help contribute to their rent – it’s not the case for all. National Union of Students (NUS) Wales is seeking a fair outcome for students, but what exactly does the law say?

Universities accommodation terms and conditions must comply with consumer protection principles – in that the terms need to be clear, non-misleading, and do not seek to impose unilateral variations part-way through an academic year that could lead to credible breach of contract arguments.

Universities or private accommodation providers may be considering Force Majeure provisions as a way of cancelling contract obligations – but these are unlikely to be drafted in a way that dissipates a student’s obligation to provide rental payments.

If some students decide to cancel direct debits, it could, for some institutions, amount to a breach of the disciplinary policy. 

What’s for certain, is that the reputational impact for institutions in the face of mounting pressure from students and their representative body may force others into having to consider ways of recompensing affected students.

If you have any questions about the above or would like advice on how to change your institution’s policy terms to reflect the ongoing pandemic, please contact Trish D’Souza (t.dsouza@capitallaw.co.uk).