Operators of large-scale student accommodation should provide refunds to students who have had to leave college and return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

Landlord firms are refusing any refunds to students that are no longer living in the privately-operated student buildings, many of whom have lost part-time jobs due to closures as a result of the pandemic.

USI Vice President for Welfare, Roisin O’Donovan explained that students have had to leave accommodation for many difficult reasons, such as to self-isolate or care for vulnerable family members.

Roisin said: “Along with the Students’ Unions in affected colleges and universities, we are calling on these companies to show some compassion to students that are in very difficult circumstances. Students are out of college, they’ve lost jobs, had to move home and are trying to keep up their study online and keep themselves healthy while supporting family and friends who are more vulnerable. Some students who have had to move home have underlying health conditions themselves and recognise it is safer for them to be able to self-isolate away from their shared student accommodation. Some students had very tough decisions to make in a hurry, such as those from India who had 24 hours to decide whether to go home as the borders were closing and they didn’t have time to get reassurance on rent refunds.”

The USI is calling on these companies to look at ways they can support students who have paid thousands of euro for these facilities which they are not now using.

“We feel something could be done in relation to refunds for accommodation that is not being used. These companies make a lot of money from students and we feel they should give back at these difficult times. Some of these companies are telling students they can only get a refund if they find someone else to take the place, which is very unlikely in a pandemic. There is no doubt a solution can be found here, and we are calling on these firms to step up and play their part.” said Roisin.

The USI is also very concerned about the prevalence of students being asked to leave digs-style accommodation without any notice, or regard for if they have somewhere else to go.

Roisin said: “Students are just being told to leave their digs with very little or no notice.  Many do not have alternative accommodation options and are scrambling to find somewhere else to stay to avoid becoming homeless. It’s a very concerning situation and there needs to be provision made for them. They need to be afforded similar rights and protections as other tenants, whereby they get notice of being asked to leave and get their deposits back. And they need to be given priority to take places in Purpose Built Student Accommodation that has been freed up.”