Question to the Department for Education:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he is having with university representatives on students who have signed contracts for university accommodation in relation to courses that have no in-person teaching as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.
The government is committed to ensuring that students that have been living away from home are able to return home at the end of term, if they choose to do so. Higher education (HE) providers should ensure they have plans for how they support students to return home safely. As part of these plans, HE providers should plan to have moved all teaching online by 9 December, at the very latest, for a short period until the end of the autumn term. We expect providers to stagger the end of face to face provision between 3 to 9 December, both between faculties and universities in the same city (and region if possible).
Anyone who remains at university after 9 December will run the risk of having to undertake a period of isolation of up to 14 days at university, if they contracted COVID-19, or were identified as a contact of someone who had, and would therefore be at risk of not being able to travel home for the end of term break.
The government plays no direct role in the provision of accommodation, whether university or privately owned.
Officials speak regularly with representatives of private and university owned accommodation, as well as sector bodies. The government worked closely with universities to ensure they were well prepared for the return of students, and we have published guidance to help them keep students and staff as safe as possible. Protecting students’ education and wellbeing is vital, so we are supporting universities to continue delivering a blend of online and face-to-face learning where possible in a COVID-secure way. More information is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses.
Libraries and study spaces on campus should remain open to students and staff, for educational purposes, and must continue to maintain COVID-secure measures. This is important to ensure that student learning can continue as planned while the national restrictions are in place.
Students who have an accommodation contract and, because of COVID-19, think it may no longer fit their requirements, should talk directly to their housing provider.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. This sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and help businesses treat their customers fairly. This guidance can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cma-to-investigate-concerns-about-cancellation-policies-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic/the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-consumer-contracts-cancellation-and-refunds.
Students may be entitled to refunds from accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. If students need help, organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support.
If a student thinks that their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice, as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: https://www.thesac.org.uk/; https://www.unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain and https://www.rla.org.uk/about/nrla-code-of-practice.shtml.