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'It doesn't seem fair': Some Irish Erasmus students still have to pay rent abroad despite not living there

Law student Liam Kennedy said that students are being “forced to pay for accommodation we no longer can afford or need”.

The closed cafeteria of the European University Viadrina, Brandenburg, Frankfurt.
The closed cafeteria of the European University Viadrina, Brandenburg, Frankfurt.
Image: DPA/PA Images

IRISH STUDENTS WHO had been studying abroad as part of the EU’s Erasmus programme are still paying rent on their accommodation abroad.

The Erasmus programme is a hugely popular higher education exchange that allows students to study their subject in universities abroad for a semester or an academic year.

This is enabled through the EU’s free movement of people, in order to provide students with the opportunity to experience a global education”. 

As the coronavirus hit Europe last month, the Department of Foreign Affairs had been advising Irish citizens to return home as countries closed their borders and airlines grounded flights.

Now, students who followed government advice are still burdened with the financial pressure to pay rent in the country they had been studying in, despite no longer living in that accommodation.

Liam Kennedy, a law student who had been studying at the University of Helsinki in Finland, flew back to Ireland on St Patrick’s Day.

He said that he is still being asked to pay two months’ rent by the company that owns the accommodation he had been staying in, despite the fact that he’s continuing his studies from Ireland.

“I was renting an apartment through a company. I applied for this accommodation through the University of Helsinki. My rent each month is €582 for every 30 days.”
When hr informed the company that he would be returning home to Ireland, and they informed him that he would have to pay the remaining two months’ rent until 31 May, which was worth a total of €1183.40 for Kennedy.

Kennedy said that the company charged some of his friends, who had left the same week as him, €1274.90 the same day they checked out, “without asking for permission or informing them that they would charge this”.
“I only had €22 in my bank account which I needed to pay for my train ticket to the airport, and luckily my bank did not let them charge my account so much.”

Kennedy said that the company also changed its office hours and increased fines for students if they locked their keys in their room.

He said that it’s now €80 during the weekend to have it opened, and if the fire alarm is set off accidentally, the cost has been raised to €1,200.

He said that the company has been told by Erasmus students that they do not have the funds to pay nor did the company have permission to try to charge them.

Many of my friends who went on Erasmus to other countries are also being forced to pay for accommodation we no longer can afford or need.
Ideally, I would like to see that the money paid for accommodation that we cannot use is returned to us as well as our deposit of €500.

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly has called on the European Commission to clarify what it is doing to alleviate the financial burdens of Erasmus students directly caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “We are now hearing that despite Irish students having returned home, many accommodation providers in European universities have refused to offer flexibility on rents payable while academic activities are suspended. This has made things very difficult for Irish students.

“I am raising this issue with the European Commission in the hope that some action, financial or otherwise, can be taken to help students and families who find themselves in this financially challenging position.

Being obliged to pay accommodation costs in another country while academic activities are not going ahead does not seem fair.

“Therefore, I believe a common sense approach must be found by EU Universities to give some flexibility to students at this challenging time for us all,” Kelly said.

Marks for the year and ‘force majeure’

In response to queries from TheJournal.ie last month, a Department of Education spokesperson said that if an Erasmus student had returned to Ireland prior to completion of their semester or year abroad, “the principle of ‘force majeure’ will apply”. 

The European Commission definition of force majeure is:

“Any unforeseeable, exceptional situation or event beyond the control of the parties that prevents either of them from fulfilling any of their obligations under the Agreement, which is not attributable to error or negligence on their part or on the part of the subcontractors affiliated entities or third parties in receipt of financial support and which proves to be inevitable despite their exercising due diligence.” 

The current problems created by the Covid-19 virus fall under this definition, the Education Department said, adding:

Therefore, students who are on Erasmus+ study or traineeship mobilities will not fail this learning period since the events are outside of their control. 

“If a student is unable to complete a mobility, the matter will be resolved by the relevant higher education institution (HEI) which is responsible for the award that the student is pursuing.”

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