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Many students in Ireland are worried they “may not be able to afford college next year” and are “extremely stressed” due to the lack of refunds for accommodation they now cannot use.

In association with its Students’ Union members across Ireland, the USI has been campaigning for the operators of all student accommodation to refund students for accommodation they cannot use for the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to this campaign, the USI had been inundated with messages from students who are losing thousands of Euro in rent they had to pre-pay.

And in order to publicly highlight the accommodation issues students are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USI created an online portal to enable members to share their stories with the union.

In one message, Orla, a student in St Angela’s College said: “Having to pay over €1,000 for accommodation that I can’t be in is very upsetting and challenging. Now I have to start paying a deposit for next year’s accommodation not knowing if I’ll be able to afford it. My usual summer job doesn’t look like it will be operating as normal and so I’ll have no income. I don’t qualify for the COVID payment as I was not working prior to the date in February. My parents’ pay has been cut – this time is a very big struggle financially and mentally.”

At the start of the pandemic, the USI and local Students’ Unions had called on individual colleges to refund students who had moved out of university-operated student accommodation.

This happened at an early stage as most colleges and universities agreed to provide refunds for vacated on-campus accommodation.

However, University of Limerick has not provided such refunds to their students and has stated they will not be returning rent for unused accommodation.

The USI is backing calls by students who have had to move out of on-campus accommodation in UL for their pre-paid rent to be refunded.

USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick has called for a national response to this crisis and has said all students should be treated equally regardless of whether they were living in private or college-run accommodation or what third level institution they attend.

She said: “You could have a family where one sibling goes to NUI Maynooth, while another is studying in UL, but are both back home caring for family members. In that case one will have gotten a full refund, while the UL student has had no refund. It’s very unfair and we are calling for every student to be treated the same and every organisation that has been paid rent for accommodation that cannot now be used, to give full refunds.”

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