Students who missed out on teaching time during university strikes earlier this year are trying to get compensation, with more than 5,000 signing up to a proposed group legal action and hundreds more filing individual claims.
Some solicitors involved in the claims believe students who missed lectures and classes as a result of their tutors striking could each be owed £100s back. It comes after the University and College Union began a strike in February at over 60 universities across the UK. The strikes continued for several weeks, affecting 100,000s of teaching hours.
It's unclear at the moment if the legal claims will be successful - we're yet to hear of a student actually managing to reclaim their fees.
And of course, there are debates over whether it's morally right for students to claim. The strikes earlier this year were at least partly down to pay disputes, and this legal action could take cash from universities at a time when there are worries over funding. Plus it's worth noting that tuition fees don't simply cover the cost of teaching but also resources such as libraries.
Also, in many cases students will not pay back their full tuition loan, as you only start to repay them when you're earning over a set amount, and depending on when you started university the loan is wiped altogether after a certain period of time. So it could be argued students are potentially claiming money they would never have actually paid.
Ultimately, only you can make the decision as to whether you wish to claim. But if you do want to, here's what you need to know.
How will the legal actions work?
The lawyers who are leading the actions claim that students paid for a service that wasn't provided and so should be entitled to some compensation.
The solicitors we have spoken to claim the money will go straight to students, rather than as credit on their tuition fee loans. Leigh Day told us that this is because the money being claimed is not a direct refund of students' tuition fees, but compensation for a supposed breach of contract.
We're aware of three main solicitors' firms that are taking this type of case on, though it's likely there will be more. In all cases, the lawyers are operating on no win no fee arrangements, so you won't have to pay anything upfront or if you lose, though it's important to understand that all will take a cut of the money you win if your claim is successful. See below for how to try and claim yourself instead, though again there's no guarantee of success.
Of course, you'll have to choose one of the firms to pursue your claim.Here's how the firms are taking on cases:
- Bott & Co is handling individual claims. Bott & Co - a firm of claims solicitors best known for fighting flight delays cases - is filing individual claims on behalf of students.
If you ask Bott & Co to take on your case, it will send a letter to the university formally outlining your claim and inviting a response within 30 days. If a university fails to respond to the letter or disputes liability Bott & Co will choose the best course of litigation to recover compensation for you as quickly as possible - in practice, this is likely to involve it launching a test case against each university.
There's no charge to file a claim via Bott & Co, but if you do manage to reclaim money it'll take 30% + VAT of what you're awarded. Bott & Co says it's already submitted letters of claim on behalf of hundreds of students, but it says these could take anything from a few months to more than a year to go through.
- Leigh Day is bringing separate claims against different universities. Leigh Day is also making claims on behalf of individuals against universities. It may send of a bundle of individual claims if they are made against the same university.
Again there are no upfront costs for students to pay in bringing the claim but if students win and receive compensation, a percentage would be taken, capped at 30%. You can sign up on Leigh Day's website to be part of the claim.
- Asserson MAY launch a group action. A group action is where a group of people - in this case students affected by the strike action - are represented by one party.
Asserson - a law practice specialising in dispute resolution - says that so far it has around 5,800 students signed up to take part in a possible legal challenge, but it needs a funder for the process and almost 10,000 further students to make it viable. So it's uncertain currently if this legal challenge will ever get off the ground - at this stage, Asserson is currently unable to say what cut students would get. You would be able to withdraw your claim at the point you're told what percentage the firm will take.
It is free to sign up to take part in the possible group action and you can do so via the University Compensation website. But be warned that this kind of action can take a long time to get together - if it ever does go ahead - so don't expect anything imminently.
Can't I just claim myself?
If you want to try and claim yourself instead you could simply write a letter to your university outlining why you've been adversely affected and asking for money back. If you do, make sure you include as much evidence as you can to support your claim, and you could try basing what you write on a free template letter which Bott & Co has put together.
However it's important to understand that while getting money back via any route is a long shot at the moment and there's no indication you'll be successful - Bott & Co says it believes direct claims will almost certainly be rejected.
If your claim is rejected and you wish to take it further you could in theory try and make a claim against your university in the small claims court, but this is likely to be tricky as this type of issue is untested. See our Small Claims guide for more information
How much can I claim?
There's no set amount as this is a completely untested area - with no guarantee anyone will be able to claim anything at all.
That said, the solicitors' firms taking these cases on reckon some could be due £100s. Asserson told us students could be due roughly £1,000+ each, while Bott & Co's free template letter suggests you could claim as much as £1,110 - that's an estimate based on fees of £9,250/year, a 25-week university term and students having missing three weeks, whilst Leigh Day says the claims could be worth up to £1,000 per student.
What are universities doing?
So far we've yet to hear of any students successfully reclaiming fees - if you have managed to do so, please let us know at email@example.com.
However some universities are using the money they saved from not paying striking lecturers' wages to waive the cost of gown hire - typically around £50 - at graduations for all students, even those unaffected by the strikes. The Universities of Manchester and Reading are doing this for all ceremonies this year, while the University of York says it is doing it for ceremonies this year and in January 2019.
It was widely reported back in March that Kings College London was offering refunds to compensate for the strike. But the university now says that while the money it saved on wages is ring-fenced and will be invested, it won't be going directly to students.