USI claims university's refusal to refund rents is affecting student mental health

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) say students' mental health is being affected by pre-paid rents not being refunded.

The USI and local Students’ Unions called on individual colleges at the start of the pandemic to refund students who had moved out of university-operated student accommodation. Most colleges and universities agreed to provide refunds.

However, a number of private landlords and the University of Limerick have not given them money back for accommodation that was paid upfront, despite the majority of units lying empty since mid-March.

The USI has said that many students 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.

USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick's calling on them to rethink the decision.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "University-owned accommodation has issued refunds, all bar University of Limerick who haven't issued refunds to their students.

"But, I suppose this is an issue that is affecting students across the board, across the island really, because there are a lot of students living in private accommodation, in private purpose-built student accommodation in every town and city where there is an institution and a university."

She called for a national response to this 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.”

Orla, a student in St Angela’s College told USI: “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.”