I propose to take Questions Nos. 396 and 409 together.
I am conscious of the challenges faced by students regarding student accommodation this year due to financial pressures and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year. Throughout the last number of months my Department has been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector to address the challenges faced by students in this difficult time. My Department, in consultation with these key stakeholders will continue to monitor the situation relating to student accommodation closely.
Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the license agreement signed at the beginning of the academic year. In the first instance students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached in regard to a refund.
If this is not possible, under the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 students have access to the Dispute Resolution Services of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).
I have asked our higher education institutions, where they have accommodation, to try to show flexibility in terms of its use for the coming academic year, as well as flexibility with regard to cancellations and refunds. All seven universities have confirmed that students who choose to vacate their university-owned accommodation early will receive pro-rata refunds. The exact details of these refunds vary by institution, and students are encouraged to engage with their university directly on this manner. I would hope that private providers will show the same flexibility, however it is not within the my remit to issue instruction in relation to the private rental market.