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Education briefing - Have you got a minute? Student contracts and consumer law: A few quick questions

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings
  • Education - Coronavirus

09-03-2021

HE providers in England will no doubt be undertaking, or even have completed, the review of the compliance of their student contracts with consumer law which the Office for Students recently requested that they proactively undertake – that letter can be found here. Amongst other things, HE providers will have been assessing whether their students received the teaching and assessment during the autumn term 2020/21 that they were promised. The OfS has also directed HE providers “actively to consider [their] obligations under consumer law for refunds or other forms of redress” and to inform students about their entitlement to redress and how they can complain where they consider they haven’t received the services they were promised.

Consumer law encompasses all stages of the student journey - from marketing and recruitment, as part of admission and enrolment, and throughout the duration of a course, and when addressing complaints.

Against this backdrop, ongoing regulatory and media scrutiny, and calls for tuition and accommodation fee reductions and refunds, HE providers in England may want to test their knowledge on some of the more technical requirements of contract and consumer law with the following questions. HE providers in Wales may want to do so too given the application of consumer law to their student contracts.

1: At what specific point in time is an HE provider’s student contract formed?

o At registration

o On acceptance of an offer by a student

o On confirmation by the HE provider of a student’s acceptance of an offer

o It depends

o Don’t know

2: From what point in time does a student’s 14-day statutory right to cancel the student contract run under consumer law?

o From registration

o From acceptance of offer

o From contract formation

o It depends

o Don’t know

3: Which of the following documents constitute an HE provider’s student contract?

o Student terms & conditions

o Marketing material

o Student regulations, policies and procedures

o Course handbook

o Prospectus

o All of the above

o It depends

o Don’t know

4: Do you know what information an HE provider must give to students in a “durable medium” under consumer law?

o Yes

o No

o Don’t know

5: Could something said to a student by a member of staff or student ambassador at an open day or at interview on which the student subsequently relies when entering into the student contract contractually bind an HE provider?

o Yes

o No

o Don’t know

6: Do you know what statutory remedies students have under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 if services are not provided as promised?

o Yes

o No

o Don’t know

7. Do pastoral and wellbeing services advertised by an HE provider form part of the student contract?

o Yes

o No

o It depends

o Don’t know

8. In what manner must an HE provider set out information about tuition fees in order for such contractual terms to be exempt from an assessment of fairness under consumer law?

o Simply and transparently

o Clearly and intelligibly

o Transparently and prominently

o Don’t know

9: Are variation clauses in a student contract allowing an HE provider to change services or the contract subject to the consumer law test of fairness?

o Yes

o No

o It depends

o Don’t know

10: Is it a criminal offence for an HE provider to omit, hide, disguise or delay any information that the average student needs to make an informed decision whether or not to enter into a student contract and to make decisions during the life of the contract?

o Yes

o No

o It depends

o Don’t know

11: Is it a criminal offence for an HE provider to mislead students as to their consumer law rights (including when dealing with or settling complaints)?

o Yes

o No

o It depends

o Don’t know

12: Under consumer law must an HE provider’s student contract give details of the OIA complaints scheme?

o Yes

o No

o It depends

o Don’t know

We have a wealth of experience of advising on these and related questions. If you are interested in discussing the answers or any of the surrounding issues with us, please get in touch.

Next time: Student complaints : A few quick questions