Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has said that the Government cannot be observers while students get fleeced for accommodation they are prohibited from using because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Teachta Conway-Walsh said that students are struggling immensely emotionally, financially and socially, and that the anger and sense of injustice they rightly feel is palpable.
Addressing Minister Simon Harris in the Dáil, the Mayo TD said:
“Students followed the government assurances and paid for accommodation because they did not have their timetables finalised until it was too late. Now, many no longer need this accommodation but have already handed over thousands and thousands of euro.
“Students whom I have engaged with feel that much of the uncertainty that they have faced around their education was avoidable. They feel that the Department for Further and Higher Education overpromised on the feasibility of getting students back on campus.
“Students are in a uniquely vulnerable position in the rental market as they are often asked to pay rent months in advance. It is completely unreasonable for them to be charged for something they cannot now use.
“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, students and parents have had to fight to get refunds for unused accommodation. Many are still trying to get their money back from last semester.
“Minister Harris, when questioned, confirmed that five out of seven Education Institutes will give refunds for on-campus accommodation. I welcome this and the remaining two, TCD and UCD, need to follow suit.
“Requested refunds need to be processed as quickly as possible. However, more than 90 percent of student renters are off-campus in private accommodation.
“A memo has been brought to cabinet to investigate banning evictions as was done during the previous lockdown. This is sorely needed and should never have been removed, but where is the same urgency when it comes to students?
“When requesting refunds for unused accommodation, students are told that there is no protective legislation in place for renters and that they will not be entitled to their money back. This is not good enough.
“Successive governments have failed students and their families. These accommodation providers need to be able to access the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) if they let students out of lease and give refunds.
“We are asking students to adhere to Level 5 restrictions. We need to bring them with us. We need to show solidarity with them. Level 5 counts as ‘use prevention’. Surely that must mean that we put in place measures to ensure that they are given fair play.
“All higher-level accommodation providers must be instructed and enabled to allow for leases to be terminated without incurring fees or penalties and full refunds to be issued to those who request them. If this means emergency legislation, then this is what must be done.”