UNIVERSITY of Limerick has come under immense pressure from students, parents and politicians alike to refund accommodation fees to its students who vacated the campus due to Covid-19.
Students who have returned home have been told they can claim back deposits they paid at the beginning of the year, but will not be refunded rent that covers the rest of the semester.
A UL spokesperson maintains there are 700 students living in accommodation affiliated with the university at present, with the university set to remain closed for the rest of the semester.
Last week, the university’s student’s union, UL Student Life, issued a statement in response to the issue, calling on UL and its accommodation service, Campus Life Services, to refund students.
“The University of Limerick is the only university in Ireland not offering refunds to students for their on-campus accommodation,” they claimed. “This is simply untenable. The only reason students live on campus is to attend university and it has now been confirmed that students will not be on campus for the remainder of the semester.”
“The university must show a duty of care to its students,” the statement read.
One parent told the Limerick Leader: “I'm very disappointed in their current stance. I have written to the University in the hope that they would at least respond. That hasn't happened to date. We followed Government direction following the announcement that all school and College campus were to close back in early March by bringing our daughter home. All UL have stated is they have extended campus support hours and no refunds will be made.”
Meanwhile, an undergraduate student said: “Following the guidelines as set out by the HSE and due to the closure of the campus, I returned to my family home in Meath. We were informed that we would not receive a refund, but instead we could check out early and receive our deposit back before the date outlined in our contracts. Students are amongst the most financially vulnerable in society.”
A number of councillors, TDs and Senators have expressed their frustration with the issue, with Labour councillor Conor Sheehan calling on the UL president and the Housing Minister to rectify the issue: “It is absolutely disgrace that students who were forced to vacate their student accommodation due to Covid-19 will not be refunded.”
“Many of these students and their parents are under severe financial pressure at the moment due to the crisis and this is the last thing they need.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan has called for a uniform approach to be adopted by public and private student accommodation providers.
“Sinn Féin believes that all student accommodation providers, both public and private, should provide these students and their families with refunds.
“It is important for students in purpose-built accommodation to know that their licences are covered under the Residential Tenancies Act. Where landlords are denying refunds of pre-paid rent or deposits beyond the required notice period, they should make formal complaints to the Residential Tenancies Board.
“It would also be helpful if the Ministers for Housing and Education made a clear statement calling for full refunds from all student accommodation providers.”
Finally, Senator Paul Gavan said: “UL are completely out of step with other universities that have already agreed to refund pre-paid rents. To attempt to hold on to this rent money in the current circumstances is unfair and has the potential to do significant reputational damage. We need to see immediate action taken by university management to right this wrong.”
A UL spokesperson said: “The on-campus accommodation at University of Limerick has remained open and operational and there are 700 students living in the village residences. Staff are working seven days a week to provide support and security to these students.
“While the main University campus has physically closed and teaching in lecture theatres and classrooms has transferred online, an extended seven-day support service is in place in the residences so that we can continue to enable students to live in their homes while using high-quality facilities to support remote learning.
“The government has said that universities and other educational facilities should remain closed until April 19 and we are working through the implications of that.
“We continue to examine all issues in light of the rapidly changing circumstances of this global Covid-19 crisis.”