Coronavirus: Universities make student accommodation refunds

A number of universities have said they will refund rent for agriculture students who are not in their on-campus accommodation during the national lockdown.

Government guidance says students should not return to campus until the middle of February, with a “stay at home” message in place to try to suppress a surge in Covid-19 cases, which has put the NHS under extreme pressure.

The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Gloucestershire said a refund will be given to students who are not in their on-campus accommodation for the period Sunday 3 January to Saturday 20 February.

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RAU’s vice-chancellor Professor Joanna Price wrote to students to inform them of the decision last week.

Reading University confirmed it will offer a “temporary halls fee waiver” from 6 January to 22 February, for students who are not in their rented room during the lockdown.

Students living in accommodation at Sparsholt College’s University Centre in Hampshire have also been told they will not be charged for rooms they cannot use during the lockdown.

Harper Adams University said it will contact students directly ahead of the new term. Vice-chancellor Dr David Llewellyn said: “Our term does not recommence, for the majority of our students, until 18 January and we therefore hope to update students shortly on the implications of these amendments to the start of term on accommodation and other services.”

Hartpury University in Gloucester said refunds would be made following a review in April.

A statement said: “During the 2019-20 academic year, we refunded students for the costs of on-campus accommodation and livery for the first lockdown period. 

“We fully expect to do so again this year. Due to the continued and ongoing national changes, assessment for these refunds will be made after Easter, with adjustments made to the end of each individual payment plan.”

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) said it would waiver rent from Monday 4 January to Sunday 21 February for all students not using their rooms in NTU-owned or operated accommodation.

Professor Edward Peck, vice-chancellor at NTU, called on private landlords to do the same.

He said: “While this is good news for a small proportion of our students, we cannot make the same promise for all.

“Therefore, we’re encouraging other large accommodation providers and private landlords to also waive their rents, and will seek support from local councillors and MPs to help us communicate this message.”

North East and Scotland

Newcastle University said students in its accommodation will not be charged for the weeks they are not using the room.

“The president of Newcastle University Students’ Union and the vice-chancellor have written a joint letter requesting private accommodation providers, who have contracts with Newcastle University students, to offer their residents similar assurances for the remainder of this academic year,” a spokesperson said.

Scotland’s Rural College has been using a “pay what you need” model since the start of the pandemic, where students only pay for their accommodation when they have needed to be on campus for practical elements of the course.

Students have not signed long-term contracts so refunds are not required during the latest lockdown, where the Scottish government guidance is to stay at home.