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FAQs on University Tuition Claims

What is the claim about?
On the 22nd February, lecturers from 65 Universities commenced strike action over changes to their pension scheme. Lecturers on strike stopped all work including teaching and contact with students over this two week period.  Given the annual fee for attending University as a UK or EU student is over £9000, a legal action is now being brought on behalf of those students affected for reimbursement of a proportion of their fees to cover the missed teaching time.
 
Why approach Leigh Day?
Bringing group actions on behalf of consumers is one the firm’s key areas of speciality. We have a vast amount of experience in acting as lead solicitors in large scale group actions in relation to medical devices, consumer products and consumer law. Our team has expert knowledge in this area and are committed to achieving favourable outcomes for clients.
 
We have been ranked as the top law firm in the area of product liability and consumer law by the legal directories:
 
“Leigh Day fields ‘an outstanding team of talented individuals’, who are at the forefront of group litigation…” [Legal 500 2017]
 
“I think they are fantastic. If you have a big case against a large corporation and need to push the boundaries, they are the ones you go to."…"They have a lot of resources, have built competent teams and they have the depth to take very complex and long cases." [Chambers and Partners 2018]
 
What is the legal basis for the claim?
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 University students are legally classed as ‘consumers’, which means they are entitled to the same protection as any other person in the UK who has purchased an item or a service.
 
For each University, we anticipate that there will be a variety of contractual documents in play; in addition there will be certain implied terms under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
 
The Competition & Markets authority have set out a guide for all Universities for complying with consumer protection law. This guidance confirms that when a student accepts an offer from a University, they enter into a formal contract.
 
We understand that some Universities may have a clause that says they will aim for a certain number of lectures, i.e. by outlining the course structure/contact hours time, but that specifically excludes any contractual entitlement to that provision. If there is such a clause, there may be issues as to whether it is unfair and in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Each case will be considered on an individual basis.
 
Who can bring a claim?
All UK, EU and International students are entitled to seek compensation from those Universities affected by strike action, regardless of your degree course or subject. Not all Universities were involved in the strike action and you will be unable to bring a claim if your University was not affected.
 
How can I confirm if my University was affected?
You can check if your University was part of the 65 striking Universities here – https://www.ucu.org.uk/14-strike-dates.
 
What if my University offered to not examine me on the subjects I missed out on; or offered to provide the lectures I missed through other means e.g. e-learning, Moodle etc?
There have been reports that some Universities have offered additional resources during the strike period such as; specific online learning materials, internal working groups, rescheduling of lectures and changes to questions in assessments.
 
Leigh Day does not believe that these steps are sufficient compensation. We recognise that there is more to your degree course than just learning the necessary information to pass the final exams and for some students, there may have been elements to their course that they were looking forward to learning about and, as a result of the strikes, that opportunity has now been missed.
 
My University is offering me a free graduation gown in recognition of the inconvenience caused by the UCU Strike Action. Should I accept this?
This is of course a matter for you to consider independently. However, you should be aware that if you do take up the offer, it is possible that the University will seek to offset the value of the gown against the value of any claim for breach of contract that you bring subsequently in relation to the Strike Action. It is also important that you consider very carefully the full terms of any paper work that you may be expected to sign in order to benefit from the ‘free’ gown. In particular, you will need to check the extent to which any paperwork expressly states that by accepting the gown you are agreeing not to bring any further action against the University in relation to the UCU Strikes. If you are asked to sign any paperwork and are unsure about any terms, please feel free to contact us with your queries.
 
My University has said that they are setting up a ‘Student Hardship’ or ‘Student Opportunity’ fund with money that they saved during the Strike Action, as a result of non-payment of striking lecturers’ salaries. How does this affect my legal claim for compensation?
We have heard reports from some Universities that money saved during the strikes will be invested in existing ‘student hardship funds’ and/or used to establish new funds, such as ‘student opportunity funds’.
 
Our position in relation to these reports is that whilst it is good news that the universities recognise the fact that the strikes had a significant impact upon students, and that they are willing to re-invest monies saved, we do not think that putting the money into generalised schemes absolves the Universities of their responsibilities under the Consumer Rights Act 2015: This is because:
 
  1. ‘Student Hardship Funds’ are often means-tested and require students to disclose outgoings and debts in order to qualify. Under the CRA failure to provide services is a breach of contract to which students have a right to compensation, on that basis students should not have to proactively seek charitable hand-outs from their universities in order to achieve compensation.
  2. ‘Student Hardship Funds’ are unlikely to be available to those who graduated in summer 2018.
  3. ‘Student Opportunity Funds’ are likely to have eligibility criteria (e.g. a certain percentage of lectures have to of been missed), which have specific eligibility criteria and which in some instances are ‘means tested’ and/or are conditional upon the money being used in certain ways (e.g. for ‘educational opportunities. Under the CRA students have a legal right to compensation and should not be made subject to additional eligibility criteria or conditions on how compensation is spent.
  4. Funds offered are likely to be capped at around 250GBP. It is our understanding that the value of your claim under the CRA may be higher than that.
 
Should I apply to the Fund set up by my University to compensate students for the UCU Strike Action disruption?
This of course is a decision for you to make for yourself.
 
However, it is important for you to understand that if you do apply to any Fund set up by your University this may mean that any legal claim you wish to make under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is no longer viable, on the basis that any monies received will have to be offset against the total value of your compensation which may mean that your legal action is no longer proportionate for us to bring.
 
In making a decision on whether or not to apply to the Fund set up by your University you may wish to consider the following points:
  • Is the value of individual payments available under the Fund capped; if so, do you believe that your claim is worth more than this? If it is you may wish to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act.
  • Are there additional eligibility criteria under the Fund? If so, do you meet these criteria? If you do not, you may wish to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act.
  • Are there conditions attached to the way in which any monies received under the Fund are to be used? Are you content to use the monies received in this way? If not, you may wish to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act.
  • Is the Fund time limited, i.e. is there a deadline for the application? If so, are you applying within time? If you are not, you may wish to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act.
If you would like further advice please feel free to contact the Team.
 
What if I missed less than 2 weeks of teaching?
We understand that you may not have had a full 2 weeks of teaching during the strike period and different degree types will have different timetables. You can still make a claim for the missed days and we would urge you to sign up to bring a claim even if you only missed a small amount of teaching. Obviously the amount of time missed will impact upon the value of your claim, however, we can evaluate that on your behalf once you have provided relevant details.
 
What if it wasn’t just teaching that was affected but other facilities at the University?
If other facilities at your University were affected, for example access to the library, IT systems, other resources, as a result of the strike then it is very important that you provide further information on this. We have heard reports that ‘picket lines’ blocked access to key buildings on campus which may have meant that you not only missed out on teaching but also on access to other vital resources.
 
Please do let us have details of this.
 
What happens if I want to bring a claim but I have already left the University?
You are still entitled to bring a claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and it won’t make a difference if you are no longer studying at the University, provided you bring your claim within the legal time limit (see FAQ below).
 
Will I face backlash from my University for taking action?
This claim isn’t about making your University look bad or trying to give it bad publicity, instead it is about students asking to be given what they are paying for. Many students have raised complaints about the strikes but the Universities have not taken sufficient action to put those students back in the position they would have been in had the strikes not gone ahead. In those circumstances, if students want their contractual right to education to be maintained then they have to defend those rights.
 
If your University did take any sort of hostile action against you that would likely be illegal and anyone who experiences that should tell Leigh Day straight away. Students are going to be stronger together – not only in terms of getting the right results but in terms of any University backlash. This is not just about a single student, this is about a generation of students.
 
How will Universities respond to a claim for compensation?
Some Universities have held fast in their positon that they will not be offering compensation to any of the students affected. Some Universities have offered to consider compensation on a case by case basis and a small number of institutions have offered to cover any expenses you may have occurred as part of the strike action (such as wasted travel or childminder costs). Although each case has to be considered separately, there will be a lot of common issues which will mean that it is likely that we will be able to take the case forward as a group action so that the costs and risks of bringing a claim can be shared between all those that join the group.
 
Note that some Universities have announced that they are adding additional monies to ‘Student Hardship Funds’ or setting up new ‘Student Opportunity Funds’. Please see the FAQ above for further advice on this.
 
What will it cost me?
We will act under a conditional fee agreement (CFA), popularly known as “no win no fee”.
  • If you lose (that is, you do not get any compensation from the University), then you do not have to pay us anything.
  • If you win, the majority of our fees and expenses should be paid by the University.
  • We will arrange insurance to protect you against the risk of losing and having to pay the Universities’ legal costs and our expenses.
  • We are taking steps to reduce the cost of insurance.
 
What do I need to prove my claim?
It would be really useful if you could start gathering together some of the following:
 
  1. Copy of your contract with the University.
  2. Your assessment of the number of teaching / contact hours that you were entitled to and the number of hours missed.
  3. Documents from around your time of application, e.g. prospectus.
  4. Documents provided at the time of admission and enrolment. This might include course handbooks and general literature provided by the University about the services it offers, or rules applied by the University towards students (often referred to as ‘regulations’ or ‘statutes’). These might be accessible from the University’s intranet, or from its student services department (or equivalent). This is because we will need to establish what the contractual terms were, and whether there are any express terms which could be relied on by the University. Please note that Universities, in our experience, usually don’t ask students to sign a contract in the usual way, but may produce documents such as those mentioned above which a court might construe as having contractual status.
  5. Documents about the strike action and anything which details how students have been affected and what the University is proposing to do about it.
  6. A short summary of how you have been affected and how the University has treated you, or responded to any complaint.

What do I do if I don’t have all of the paperwork ready?
Don’t panic. Please let us know the details of your potential claim and we’ll go from there. It is more important to contact us as soon as possible than to lodge a complete file of paperwork. Once you get in touch we can walk you through the details and tell you exactly what we need. That’s our job!
 
How long do I have to get my claim lodged?
There are strict time limits in which to bring your claim which will depend on the law applicable to your case. We suggest you begin the process of instructing a solicitor as soon as possible in order to make sure your claim isn’t time barred.
 
Will I be in trouble if my lecturers find out?!
Leigh Day believe that by joining this action you may well be helping your lecturers to resist the pension cuts about which they’ve been striking. By lodging a claim you may well be forcing your University to look again at the importance of the work your lecturers do in teaching you and to recognise that both your lecturers and you have enforceable legal rights that must be taken seriously.
 
How do I begin my claim?
It is really simple to sign up to join the claim! Simply click on our link and complete the details required on the form.

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