University colleges and student residences could be the subject of legal proceedings for requests for reimbursement of accommodation

University college residents and their families have continued to come forward, recounting their struggles to recover thousands of dollars in unused prepaid accommodation, while others speak of their success.

But there may be a cheap and easy solution through state legal systems for families and students seeking reimbursements from boarding schools and student housing providers.

It follows revelations of families seeking thousands of dollars in reimbursement from university student housing providers and others locked in rental leases after students left their dorms and returned home to study in line.

Jennifer Plompen said her Victoria-area family had struggled to make it through the past six months on just one income when University College Melbourne refused to repay the $ 13,000 it deemed owed after his daughter, Sophia, only spent three weeks living there.

Sophia O’Brien with her parents, Nicholas O’Brien and Jennifer Plompen, at their home in the Victoria area.(ABC Central Victoria: Beth Gibson)

“A minimum refund of 50% is fair”

Another family, who also sent their child to University College and wished to remain anonymous, told the ABC they believe the accommodation provider listed by a charity has taken an “approach. unfair “and” inconsistent “to reimburse students for the time they did not. stay in their dorms because of the coronavirus.

A large red brick building stands behind a door.
The University College offered $ 3,000 in second semester credits and a $ 1,000 scholarship for financial hardship.(ABC Central Victoria: Tamara Clark)

While other frontier university colleges received up to $ 3,000 in second-semester credit and could apply for a $ 1,000 hardship scholarship, this family was offered a refund of $ 3,000 directly. to his personal bank account.

The family also received a refund of $ 406 for their unused college parking spot after asking how University College justified the cost.

The New South Wales-based family said they were unable to travel more than 50 kilometers from their home when cross-border restrictions were tightest, so there was “no way we could. she [their child] to join the college “.

“So to say it was available to her, it wasn’t available. And it wasn’t available to anyone who lives legally outside of Melbourne,” the University College parent said.

The University College did not respond to requests for comment from the ABC.

A University College contract for a boarding student states that if a resident is absent for any reason during the contract dates, they will not receive any refund.

A way forward for legal remedies

But there may be a solution for students bound by these leases and contracts.

A bed with white sheets and a green blanket in a small dormitory
Some students paid to live at University College Melbourne, but were unable to due to the pandemic.(Provided)

Students can apply to the Victoria Civil and Administrative Court (VCAT) to recover the costs of a lease covered by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) for claims less than $ 15,000 and for a fee of $ 63.50, or for nothing if they have a Centrelink health care center. card.

Ben Cording, senior attorney at Tenants Victoria, said student accommodation was sometimes covered by law, but other arrangements were sometimes contractual and subject to Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trade Law.

A spokesperson for the University of Melbourne said colleges, such as University College, operated independently of the university, but chatted regularly.

A black sign with the words "University college" and the "University of Melbourne" written on it in front of a large building.
The University College did not respond to multiple requests for comment.(ABC Central Victoria: Tamara Clark)

He said the university and colleges have helped students in response to government COVID-19 restrictions, including providing accommodation for some students unable to return home in the first semester.

A spokesperson for the Australian Charity and Nonprofit Commission (ACNC) said charities registered by ABC should operate in accordance with their charitable values.

Since the revelations were released last week, the country’s university regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), has received two concerns about payments for student housing during the pandemic.

Last week he said he didn’t have one.

A spokesperson said TEQSA was studying the information provided.

“For concerns about student accommodation that involve entities that are not owned or controlled by registered higher education providers, these matters are outside the purview of TEQSA,” the spokesperson said.

“TEQSA continues to monitor the effectiveness of measures put in place by registered providers during the pandemic to protect the interests of students. “

Ms Plompen said that she and her husband, Nicholas O’Brien, were unaware they could address this issue with VCAT and that they were planning to file an application.

Success for families seeking reimbursement

The University College’s approach has been different from that of other student accommodation providers in Victoria.

A young man with curly blond hair is smiling at the camera
Monash University student Tom Maher was reimbursed most of his deposit for dormitory boarding at Mannix College after returning home to the Victoria area due to restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic .(Supplied / Tom Maher)

Carolyn Maher of Bendigo paid $ 6,176 of the $ 19,805 annual fee for her son, Tom, to stay at Mannix College while he studied at Monash University, before returning home due to coronavirus lockdowns.

The Maher family received a refund of $ 4,715, and Mannix College only kept the service charge for the three weeks Tom remained at the college.

Ms Maher said the way Mannix College had handled the situation was “extremely fair”.

“We only paid pro rata on the days he was there.”

“If they weren’t there, they weren’t charged”

A sign with "Dwell Village Melbourne" written on it hangs from a gray concrete building.
Dwell Village says it has helped 141 residents who may have demonstrated real need or financial hardship.(ABC Central Victoria: Tamara Clark)

Deakin Residential Services chief executive Vincent Wilson said students were not charged for rent for the entire period they had not lived in the accommodation.

“It means paying them back whatever they paid up front,” Wilson said.

“We also looked at the rents we charge students this year in light of COVID, and at two of our campuses, which has led to lower weekly rental fees for students, which we have applied mid-year. year, ”he said.

Mr Wilson said the reduced fees on some campuses will continue until 2021, and for campuses that have not received a reduction in rent, the price of rent will be frozen for next year.

A sign with the words Civil and Administrative Court from the Victorian era hangs from a concrete pillar
Students can apply to the Victoria Civil and Administrative Court (VCAT) to recover the costs of a lease covered by the Residential Tenancies Act.(Provided / Victoria Civil and Administrative Court )

The WestJustice Community Legal Center provides free legal advice on rental contracts to residents of Melbourne’s western suburbs.

Its rental program manager, Susan Huang, said if students have a problem with their university, the first step is to report it internally to the university.

“If students have an RTA-covered rental agreement and have concerns about their owner’s actions, they are encouraged to contact us or any other rental agency for advice. “

Ms. Huang said that a landlord who wanted to get money back as part of a rental could also apply to VCAT.

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