Students leaving halls to be charged up to £400 despite refund promise

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Stirling students who choose to leave their accommodation contracts early are facing up to £400 in fees, Brig has learned.

Students who have left halls amid the Coronavirus outbreak and the national emergency have been contacted by the University of Stirling informing them that they have to pay an outstanding balance despite students being given the impression that they would be refunded.

Stirling’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Gerry McCormac gave a video message to students and staff posted on the university’s social media where he said:

“For students who are going to leave university accommodation we will put in place a refund procedure.”

Students who left halls were then emailed by Accommodation Services asking them to pay outstanding balances by Direct Debit on April 12.

Students were asked to contact Accommodation Services to inform them that they were leaving and that any rent owed would be calculated.

The amount that can be paid has been capped at £400 and any student who pays less than £400 in monthly rent will pay the lesser amount.

Students who cannot return home and have to stay in halls will not be charged any rent past their contract.

An email sent to a student in halls from Accommodation services. (Personal information redacted)

A university announcement on March 23 told students: “We are putting processes in place for students who have chosen to leave their University accommodation to be released early from their tenancy contracts, and we will not require students, for whom it is necessary to remain living in University accommodation during this challenging period, to pay beyond their current contract.”

A university spokesperson said:

“Students who require accommodation beyond the original end date of their contract, due to the current travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19, will not be charged rent for the extension.

“Students who wish to leave University-owned accommodation prior to the original end date of their contract, are being granted early release from their contract.

“To do this, students have been asked to notify the Accommodation Services team, which will calculate any remaining rent due to be paid and begin a 28 day notice period.

“The amount due for that notice period will be capped at a maximum of £400, with students whose monthly rent is less than that, paying the lower amount.

“The Accommodation Services team are working through all requests and each student who has indicated that they have left University-owned accommodation early will receive an email from Accommodation Services with details specific to their circumstances.”

Amid the Coronavirus outbreak and national emergency, many students have been made unemployed, placed on furlough, facing social and financial uncertainty and some are even unable to get home due to travel restrictions.

These fees have not been welcomed well by Stirling students, with one student, Rachel Condie, setting up a petition to scrap the fees.

She argues that leaving fees will place additional pressure on students and parents that are out of work and that the additional cost of travelling home on top of these fees just increases the pressure being placed on students.

She also argues that it is unfair to be charging people to leave halls when they have been advised to move home by both the university and the government.

Principal McCormac made promises of a “refund procedure” in a video message to students.

Student representatives and groups have expressed their disappointment in the university’s actions and called for the fees to be scrapped.

The Students’ Union called for the fees to be dropped because of the impact on students, a union statement read:

“The Students’ Union was originally pleased with the University’s decision to allow students out of their accommodation early and offer refunds.

“However, this has now changed with the information that students will be charged up to a maximum of £400 to leave their accommodation early.

“With many students having lost employment or now having the unforeseen costs of returning home the University should drop this charge so that students will not fall into financial difficulties during these unsure times.”

The Students’ Union has called for the fees to be scrapped after the change in action by the university. Credit: Brig/Stuart Thomas Graham

The Stirling Students’ Tenant’s Union, a group that represents student tenants in Stirling, released a statement describing Stirling University’s actions as “disgraceful” and accused them of not having the interests of students at heart by adding to their stress.

A spokesperson for the SSTU said:

“Initially when we heard there were going to be refunds, we were pleased but now we are extremely disappointed in the university.

“Students in university owned accommodation can’t give a month’s notice unlike tenants who are privately renting so it is incredibly unreasonable to charge them for a situation that isn’t their fault.

“In this current state of crisis, the university should be looking out for its students, not adding to an already stressful situation.

“It is disgraceful and shows that the university does not have the students best interests at heart. Students should be given full refunds.”

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Freelance award-winning journalist | Best Journalist SPARC Scotland 2021 | Stirling Uni Class of 2021 | Former Deputy Editor - Brig Newspaper | Bylines in The Scottish Sun, The Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser, The Barrhead News, The (Renfrew and Johnstone) Gazette, Brig Newspaper, The Oban Times, Stirling Today and Tales From Lockdown.

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