Pay £2,000 for a room you can’t use – or break the law? | Money


A friend’s daughter is a first-year student at Bath Spa University. She lives in a hall of residence allocated by the university but run by IQ Student Accommodation. Like most students, she returned home when lectures ceased because of coronavirus. Then lockdown began. She has been emailed by IQ saying she could cancel her contract without penalty, but she would have to collect her belongings – a round trip of 200 miles. Otherwise she would have to pay rental for the summer term. So she faces the choice of paying £2,000 for a room she can’t use, or break the law by doing a non-essential journey.

SH, London

IQ, which owns 66 halls of residence across the country, says it sent a further email assuring students they could cancel their contract without removing their belongings and reminding them to avoid non-essential travel. It says it has since updated all its communications to clarify the issue.

Your friend is lucky. Some halls of residence providers have refused to waive rent for unused rooms during the lockdown, arguing that students are still receiving maintenance and tuition loans. Hundreds of students have joined a rent strike with the support of Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan who is lobbying providers to release students from their contracts.

I had to self isolate but Airbnb host refused to extend our stay

My family I live and work in Ghana and we returned to the UK just before lockdown. We checked into an Airbnb in Edinburgh to self-isolate for 14 days before going to look after my elderly in-laws. During our stay, my daughter developed coronavirus symptoms meaning my wife and I had to self isolate for a further 14 days. Our Airbnb host refused to let us extend our stay, despite the fact that we had to abide by government guidelines and there were no ensuing bookings on the website.

Airbnb told us a guest had been booked in on our departure date and that we would have to find alternative accommodation. We do not have a car so would have to rely on taxis or public transport to do this.

No one seems to address the fact we are being asked to commit a criminal offence.

ME, Accra, Ghana

This is worrying on several counts. Quite apart from the fact that your family could have transmitted the infection if forced to seek new accommodation, the host had no business marketing the property after lockdown was imposed. Moreover, it may have been contaminated if you are infected.

Airbnb finally blocked rentals on its website to all bar key workers on 9 April after hosts were found to be advertising properties in tourist hotspots as coronavirus retreats, despite a ban on non-essential travel.

Airbnb told me that the pending guest had not been arranged through its platform and that once it learned of the problem it offered to fund alternative accommodation and pay for the host’s cleaning expenses. To no avail.

You ended up being turfed out two days before your quarantine ended. Luckily for you, you found a taxi firm willing to drive you the hour to another family home, and Airbnb paid the fare. Since your contract is with the host, not Airbnb, the host can legally, if not morally, hold you to the agreed check-out date, even if it means breaching quarantine.

Technically you’re not committing a criminal offence since the self-isolation guidelines are not enshrined in law and essential travel includes moving house “where reasonably necessary”.

Airbnb says: “We were concerned to learn about this situation, and provided the guests with our support throughout. The health of the public and our communities is our priority, and we have introduced measures and guidance for hosts and guests that are regularly updated and in line with the latest government advice.”

I have to stay in, so how do I get a chequebook?

I am 81 and last week I used my last cheque. I’ve tried so many times to get through to NatWest on the phone to ask for a new one. I know they want us to bank online, but I do not want to. In this difficult time, where we have to stay in, I’m stumped. I can’t be the only person in this situation.

MJ, London

Cheques are, quite literally, a lifeline for older people in self isolation who are relying on neighbours to shop for them and can’t get to an ATM. NatWest no longer automatically replaces chequebooks and its guidance on how to order a new one requires customers either to have an online account or visit a branch or ATM. This is obviously no longer possible for customers who are most likely to need one. A chequebook has now reached you and NatWest says it has set up a dedicated phone line – 0800 0514 177 – for customers over 70, those in extended self isolation and NHS workers.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions



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