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Coronavirus - CS072107

A student was renting a house with three other students. The accommodation agreement was with their higher education provider and the provider was renting the house (and others in the area) from private landlords.

The student left the house in March 2020, shortly after the end of the spring term, and just before the nationwide lockdown was announced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The student was not able to return to the house because of the lockdown restrictions.

When the lockdown was announced, the provider offered to release students in accommodation that it owned from their obligations under accommodation agreements from a date in April. But the provider did not make the same offer to students in accommodation that the provider was renting to them but did not own.

The student asked to be released from their accommodation agreement but the provider refused. The student complained to us.

We decided that the complaint was Partly Justified. The provider had acted quickly in response to an unpredictable situation and its actions in releasing students in accommodation that it owned from their obligations showed flexibility. But we thought it was not fair to treat students in accommodation that it rented differently from students in accommodation that it owned. This was because there was nothing in the information available to students wishing to rent accommodation to tell them that they might be at a disadvantage compared to students in accommodation owned by the provider. The information indicated that students who decided to rent from the provider would be better off than those who rented from private landlords. In fact some private landlords agreed to release tenants from their obligations, so this was not necessarily the case.

Under consumer protection legislation providers must give students material information to enable them to make an informed choice about whether to enter into an accommodation contract with the provider. We think that it is reasonable to expect that a provider would take extra care to ensure that all information which could be considered as being material is provided to students. This is because students are likely to have less experience and be unfamiliar with the process of renting accommodation. We think that the provider’s application of a different status to students, depending on whether they were renting accommodation that the provider owned or not, is or might be material information, and not making students aware of that difference could be considered misleading and unfair.

In the circumstances we think that, having reached a decision to allow students in accommodation it owned the opportunity to be released early from their accommodation contracts, it was reasonable to expect that the provider would act fairly and consistently to all students and make the same offer to students renting from it in other accommodation. The provider’s decision to reject the student’s complaint was not reasonable. We recommended that the provider should release the student from rent due from the same date in April onwards.

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