Sources of support and information on money, housing, and employment during Covid-19
By your Students' Union Advice Service
During the ongoing uncertainty we have been asking students at City what is worrying them the most. Some of the most common concerns for students have been about money, housing, rent, and employment.
With so many (sometimes contradictory) sources of advice and information out there we thought it would be useful to pull some of this together for you in one place.
Sources of advice and support
There is a lot of general information in this article, but you may need to speak to someone for advice and information that is tailored to you and your situation.
When in doubt about whether something you read here or elsewhere online applies to your not, you should seek some advice.
Many of these services are very busy and waiting times may be longer than usual. You might have to persevere on phone lines in some cases.
Save the Student have drawn together a great source of information. It touches on all kinds of money related problems including bills, rent, and employment.
We also found the Money Saving Expert (MSE) Finance & Bills Help page useful, and this is a good source of advice. Part of the guide specifically tackles issues for students, though much of this is covered in the Save the Student page we mentioned above too.
Paying the Bills
Support about Debt
Travel & Events
Paying the bills
Both Save the Students and MSE have a lot of information about bills and money but we have pulled out some choice bits for you below.
The Save the Student page refers to the fact that it’s a good idea to contact your energy provider if you are struggling to pay your bills. You may be able to work something out with them.
Money Saving Expert also tackle this issue here starting with those with prepaid meters who may find it difficult to top-up. Further down you will find more information for those on a standard credit meter. The page includes a table showing the kinds of support energy providers are offering.
Both articles identify that companies have temporarily halted disconnecting customers who are struggling to pay the bills.
Phone and broadband
Both Save the Student and MSE both talk about your phone contracts and broadband and what help may be available.
Further down their “Rent” section, Save the Student point out that full-time students don’t pay council tax!
However, for those that do you can find more information in the MSE guide about what some local councils are doing to help at the moment. MSE comments that this “depends on where you live”, and refers to more information about Council Tax Reductions for those on low incomes.
We have heard of some scams in this area, with some people getting texts saying they are due a council tax refund. Councils would never do this, so be vigilant!
Support from banks
The Save the Students page has some helpful information about support that banks are putting place. This includes information about your interest-free overdraft and credit card repayment holidays.
MSE talks about the help that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) put in place to “end the patchwork of help banks were offering on overdrafts to make sure that those struggling got the help they needed”.
Loans and Credit Cards
As well as Save the Student, MSE have a lot of information about the help the FCA brought in to support loan and credit card customers.
This includes information about the payment holidays that are available from banks and lenders.
Contrary to popular belief, full time students are entitled to some benefits. You can find our more about this from Turn2Us here.
For those entitled to benefits, Citizens Advice have a handy guide to check what benefits you can get. This applies if you can’t work due to self-isolating, earning less because you can’t work, or have lost your job.
Support if you are worried about debt
The National Debtline page on coronavirus has a lot of the information we covered above.
Generally, if you are worried about falling into debt or need advice about existing debts we would strongly recommend you contact National Debtline or Citizens Advice.
They will be able to talk through your personal situation, your debts, and offer you debt counselling/debt management if needed.
The internet is chock full of money saving tips, but Save the Student have a lot of information available at their page here.
Tuition fee refunds
We have heard you loud and clear, this is a big area of concern for students at the moment.
The National Union of Students’ (NUS) has launched its Student Safety Net campaign aimed at pressuring government to provide more financial support to students across the country.
“That’s why we need a student safety net. We believe that every student, at all levels of education, should have access to a national hardship funding and every education leaver should have access to an additional grant, which can be used for training and developing their skills. This is the student safety net we need.
The current crisis has shown that students occupy the worst of all possible worlds – with the majority paying extortionate fees for their education and are treated as consumers but are left out in the cold when the product cannot be delivered as described. We need the chance to redo, reimburse or write-off.
Anyone who wants to should be able to repeat this year of studies, at no additional cost. Anyone who has paid fees through the student loan system should have their debt for this year written off – and if you’ve paid upfront, you should get that reimbursed.”
However the response from government to supporting universities financially (a “bailout”) has been muted, with Michelle Donelan, the Universities minister, responding as part of a government refusal to bail out universities that “We’ve always said that we don’t believe students would be entitled to reimbursement for tuition fees if the quality is there.”
This is a complex and evolving area. Students are technically consumers of their education, and this needs to be provided in a way that satisfies the contract between University and student in a way that complies with consumer protection regulations.
Universities may insist that even though courses are being delivered online, quality provision of teaching is being maintained.
City University’s line on refunds at present is:
“Currently the University is focused on arrangements for alternative teaching and assessment. We recognise the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on your studies. We also recognise that for some students, this latest impact is in addition to teaching and assessments affected by industrial action. We will be assessing this complex situation overall in the coming weeks in terms of overall impact.”
The Students’ Union continues to discuss this with City.
If you are dissatisfied about the deliver of your course and you want advice on making a complaint then please contact our Union Advice team by completing a contact form here. You can find more information about the university complaints procedure here.
Travel and events
Many students will have had travel disrupted or cancelled, or planned trips abroad disrupted.
Again, Save the Students addresses refunds for travel and cancelled events in their guide. It covers trains, coaches, and flights.
Which? have some helpful information about the cancellation of events on this page.
The guide also covers Airbnb’s cancellation policy, package holidays and travel insurance.
MSE has a huge article covering much the same information as does Citizens Advice.
Many students will have young children of nursery age. Some nurseries have continued to charge various amounts despite being closed.
Where charges are continuing to be made, there’s very little guidance online in this area, though the the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) are investigating providers where charges are being made despite no services being provided.
Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA said:
“The current situation is throwing up challenges for everyone, including businesses, but that does not mean that consumers should be deprived of their rights at this difficult time. If we find evidence that businesses are failing to comply with consumer protection law then we will take tough enforcement action to protect those rights.”
You may want to try and attempt to negotiate these costs down with your childcare provider.
Money Saving Expert (MSE) have pulled together a comprehensive source of information on employment rights. It covers the furlough scheme, sick pay, redundancy, and your rights at work if you need to look after children.
The guide also has information for those working in the gig economy, as well as freelance or agency workers.
Staying safe at work
Citizens Advice have information for those that may have concerns about staying safe at work.
We strongly encourage any School of Health Sciences students working or on placement in the front-line of the NHS to discuss any concerns around safety with their programme team.
Housing and rent
Halls of Residence
Many Halls providers have been releasing students from their contracts ahead of the third term. Some had placed a time limit for this to happen.
If you need some more information or support regarding Halls you can contact the City University Accommodation Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or via +44 (0)20 7040 7040.
The University of London Housing Service has put together a guide for private renters with regard to the pandemic. It covers moving out before the end of a tenancy, problems paying rent, your rights around eviction, viewings and more.
We strongly recommend that any student with a private tenancy in need of legal advice and support around your contract, landlord, eviction etc. contact the University of London Housing Service. This is free and is in place to help you manage these situations
Shelter England also have information about repairs during the crisis.
Homelessness and eviction
Rules around evictions during this crisis have changed, see the guide from the University of London Housing Service.
If you find yourself homeless you should contact your local council for support. You can find more guidance and information at Shelter England here.