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Scenario: A student signed a contract with a Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in London, with the term starting Dec 2020. The student was not able to obtain the tier 4 visa on time. The student noticed the PBSA that she cannot arrive on Dec 2020 and must cancel a part of the accommodation. The student asked for a partial refund, excluding an one-month. The PBSA refused to negotiate.

Question: Are there any legal cases in which the court awarded the student a partial refund for not able to come to UK due to compulsory reasons such as COVID or Visa problems?

My try: I tried to contact a few students and have done some research online (such as the parliament's research briefing, the interpretation of the law by CMA, and the parliament's resources for students in this case), so I think I have some background knowledge. To my knowledge, there seem to be no ruled legal cases related to these issues. However, some students (hereafter student B) did receive partial refunds by negotiating with the PBSA (in 2021), possibly due to that the PBSA is bound to the National Codes for PBSA. The National Codes put an emphasize on COVID-related issues in 2020 but not in 2021.

Any related information will be deeply appreciated.


Updates regarding the frustrated contract, according to Citizens Advice:

If you’re paying rent to stay in university-owned halls of residence but it’s impossible for you to travel there because of a local lockdown, you might be able to argue that your rental agreement has been “frustrated”.

This is a legal term that means that, due to special circumstances out of anybody’s control (such as a global pandemic), the rental contract cannot be ‘performed’, as you can’t actually use something that you’ve paid for.

Citizens Advice has said that you might also be able to use the ‘frustration’ argument if the purpose of the accommodation is ‘radically altered’.

For example, if your accommodation was closely tied to you attending a course in a particular location but the course is now being delivered completely online, you might be able to make the argument that your rental agreement has been ‘frustrated.

The charity says, however, that this has not been tested in court so there is not much way of knowing how successful this argument would be.

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  • 2
    The Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 may be relevant here.
    – Nemo
    Oct 21 at 14:14
  • @Nemo: may be true but the landlord is probably counting on the fact that a student out of the country will also have a hard time suing. As I understand the Q, it's about getting a refund.
    – Fizz
    Oct 21 at 18:16
  • By "refund", do you mean the student already paid? And for what length of time?
    – Fizz
    Oct 21 at 18:29
  • @Fizz Yes you are right that the student already paid. The student is seeking a partial refund, i.e., not a refund for the whole period.
    – High GPA
    Oct 22 at 15:32
  • @Nemo Thank you Nemo for introducing the "Frustrated Contracts" to me. I've done a little bit of research and more information is updated.
    – High GPA
    Oct 22 at 17:30
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You must do what you contracted to do

You contracted to pay rent from Dec 2020, they contracted to provide housing from Dec 2020. They did provide the housing, the fact that you were unable to use it is your problem, not theirs.

There is an exception if the the reason you can’t use it is due to some act or omission of theirs but that appears not to be the case. You can’t use it because HMG won’t let you into the country - contractually this is your risk, not theirs, just as it would be if you couldn’t travel because our fell ill, or were jailed, or couldn’t afford a plane ticket. Your issue, your problem, your loss.

Special provisions were made for COVID-19 but again, your situation doesn’t seem to fit that.

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  • I deeply appreciate your contribution. Here is a quote from CMA on contracts with non-refundable payments: "In the CMA’s view, for consumer contracts the above rights to a refund will usually apply even where the business says part of the payment is a non-refundable deposit or advance payment. This is because the contract will have been frustrated and terms which allow a business to provide no service but keep a consumer’s money (including deposits or advance payments) are likely to be unfair, and therefore unenforceable under Part 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015."
    – High GPA
    Oct 21 at 3:03
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    @HighGPA but the business did provide a service: your unit was there waiting for you.
    – Dale M
    Oct 21 at 4:17
  • If you don't mind you could reread the following phrases: "which allow a business to provide no service but keep a consumer’s money". Note the word "allow". It does not matter if the business provide the service or not. What matter, is that, the business was allowed to not provide the service. Thank you again for your help.
    – High GPA
    Oct 22 at 15:30
  • Let me make an analogy: if you bought a plane ticket and the plane flew with a seat set aside for you but, for reasons beyond the control of the airline, you didn’t show up. They have provided the service, the fact that you didn’t or couldn’t use it does not entitle you to a refund.
    – Dale M
    Oct 22 at 21:48
  • Well, even if the plane ticket is non-refundable, at almost all scenario, the airport establishment fee, all the taxes, and a part of the fuel fee will be refunded if you ask them. This works in almost all countries including UK, US, and Canada. My no-show enable them to cut their costs and the taxes are always refundable. I am not entirely sure about the legal clauses behind the facts of refunding the taxes so you could teach me as you surely have better understandings .
    – High GPA
    Oct 23 at 10:37

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