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Coronavirus - CS032102

A student was living in accommodation owned by their provider. Their accommodation agreement was for the full academic year, from September to mid-June.

The student paid accommodation fees in three instalments at the start of each term. The student left the accommodation in March 2020, just before the nationwide lockdown was announced during the coronavirus pandemic.

The student asked the provider to refund accommodation fees that they had paid from the date in March when the provider contacted students to say that they should consider returning home. The provider had decided not to ask any students to pay the third instalment when it became due in April, but refused to refund the amount the student had paid for the six-week period before that.

The student complained to us. We decided that the complaint was Not Justified.

The terms of the student’s accommodation agreement did not permit the student to give notice to terminate it except in exceptional circumstances and by following a specific process. The provider had sent students several messages in the run up to and immediately after the national lockdown was announced, and it was reasonable for the student to understand those messages to be an instruction to leave their accommodation and return home if they were able to do so. But the accommodation was not completely closed; some students stayed, and others (including the student) left their belongings. When the student left, there was a hope that students would be able to return. The student’s agreement was not formally terminated by the student or the provider.

We saw evidence that the provider had carefully and thoughtfully considered its policy on accommodation refunds. Like many providers, it decided not to ask students to pay the third instalment of accommodation fees, regardless of whether they had stayed in or left the accommodation. This meant that students did not have to pay for the last weeks of their agreement, and students who were unable to move out were not disadvantaged. The provider made this decision quickly and told students about it before the end of March. We thought that this was a fair approach in a very challenging situation.

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