Can I get a refund on my university fees and rent because of Covid-19?

Thousands of students are demanding refunds of tuition fees and rent, as coronavirus wreaks havoc on their university experience. Most are being told not to return to campus, with online-only teaching in place until at least mid-February. Those on certain courses such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary science are exempt and can go back to their universities. 

Many students are disappointed by this, arguing they are getting bad value for their tuition fees and many are wasting thousands in rent for accommodation they cannot stay in. More than 250,000 people have signed an online petition to refund tuition fees for 2020/21 due to Covid-19. 

It is possible to win back money from your university if you feel you haven’t got value for money and some students may also be able to put a freeze on their rent. Here, we illustrate how to do it.

How to get a refund on your tuition fees

According to website Save The Student, 1,635 students made complaints about their university in 2017 and received a total of £650,000 in compensation. Reasons ranged from changes to course content to poor teaching. 

Students should first speak to their university to see if they can resolve their issue through existing complaints and appeals procedures, the Government has said. 

If a complaint is unsuccessful students can appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, a body for higher education complaints. It will judge whether students have been unfairly treated and if their university did enough to provide a similar quality of teaching this year as at any other time. The ombudsman can be contacted via oiahe.org.uk.

The OIA said it can look at complaints about what was promised and what was delivered, but could not make judgments on issues such as quality of teaching. It will also take into account other issues students may be facing, for example if they have had to care for a relative during the pandemic, or have poor internet connection or no access to a computer. 

Students can only approach the OIA once they have received a ‘Completion of Procedures’ letter from their university with its response to their complaint. They have 12 months from the date on the letter to approach the OIA. 

If this fails, students could try to go through the courts. Last year law firm Bott & Co offered to file individual claims on behalf of students who’d had lectures cancelled. 

Can you get a refund on your rent? 

Students have no automatic right to a rent refund if they can’t make use of their university accommodation. That applies both to those who are renting privately and those in halls owned by their institution. However some may find their landlord or university is more lenient. 

Those in the latter group should check with their university if any refunds or discounts are available for accommodation costs. Bristol, Cumbria and Manchester Metropolitan are among those offering financial support. 

Failing that they should check their tenancy agreement to see if there are any break clauses or other rights they can rely on, otherwise they should try lobbying their student union.

Those with private landlords or accommodation providers, such as Unite, should speak to them about what they offer. Some individual landlords may offer a temporary payment holiday, but students should remember that in most cases this is not an offer to cancel the rent. They will still have to pay up later down the line, and potentially with interest on top.  

What have universities done to help? 

Students in halls at Glasgow University were all refunded one month’s rent at the start of the academic year after the campus went into lockdown. Those who had to self-isolate also got £50 each to help pay for food and supplies as well as deliveries of food, cleaning materials, bedding and towels.