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UCU Strike Action: University Student Compensation Claim

‘The Consumer Rights Act means that students’ are empowered to demand their rights to compensation rather than form a queue for ‘means tested’ charity’.

University students walking
Related Areas of Practice:
Sarah Moore specialises in product liability and claims for groups of people who have suffered an injury because of unsafe products. She has written a number of articles on topics such as drug regulation, cigarette packaging and food safety.
Leigh Day have now been approached by more than 2500 students studying at 60 universities across the UK: All students who have registered with Leigh Day are seeking to enforce their legal rights to compensation for breach of contract, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, caused by the UCU Strike Action earlier this year.

Many universities have either ignored students’ requests for financial compensation or have responded to them with assurances that, whilst individual compensation will not be paid out, they will ‘ring-fence’ monies saved during the UCU Strike Action, as a result of non-payment of lecturers’ salaries, and re-invest that money into schemes that will benefit students.

In recent weeks, details have begun to emerge from some universities, as to the form that this planned ‘re-investment’ will take:
Leigh Day’s analysis is that the proposed schemes take two main forms, using monies saved through the UCU Strike Action to:
  • ‘Top-up’ existing ‘Hardship Funds’ which are ‘means tested’ and require students to prove that they are in need of additional monies by disclosing details of their debts and outgoings; and/or
  • Setting up new ‘Student Opportunity Funds’, which involve one off payments of around £250, and are subject to exclusive eligibility criteria and conditions regarding how any money paid out is spent.

At this stage, the scheme proposed by Edinburgh University sets out the most detailed information for students regarding the new ‘Student Opportunity Fund’ that is now available to students affected by the strikes. What is also clear is that this, ‘first come first served’ fund is unlikely to be sufficient to help all Edinburgh students affected and will only be available for students who meet the following criteria:
  • They missed out on more than 10% of their timetabled lecture time as a result of the strikes;
  • Any money paid must be used for ‘educational’ opportunities only.

Payments under the Edinburgh ‘Student Opportunity Fund’ will be £250 per student, maximum.
Edinburgh University is part of the Russell Group universities, and the newly announced scheme in response to students’ demands for compensation may be an indication of how other universities within the Russell Group, and more widely, will respond.

Sarah Moore, of Leigh Day’s Consumer Rights Department commented:

“The recent announcements provide clear acknowledgment, on the part of the universities that; (a) they have failed to deliver the services which students are entitled to receive; and (b) they will need to respond substantively to students’ calls for compensation.

“However, what the proposed schemes completely fail to understand is that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, students have individual rights to compensation from universities that fail to provide the services for which students have paid large amounts of money. On that basis, whilst ‘hardship’ and ‘opportunity’ funds may be aimed at improving the general student experience, and that of course is a good thing, such funds do nothing to absolve the universities of their contractual obligations to individual students.

“This is particularly relevant where such funds are likely to be means tested, capped at low values, subject to exclusive eligibility criteria, and conditional upon students using such monies for ‘educational experiences’.

“The Consumer Rights Act means that students are empowered to demand their rights to compensation rather than form a queue for means tested charity’.”

Leigh Day advises that, if students are being offered access to funds set up by universities in response to the UCU Strike Action, before applying for such funds, they may wish to refer to our FAQ page which provides further advice on what issues should be taken into consideration.

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