Northern Ireland’s economy minister Diane Dodds (pictured, above) has vowed to boost student hardship funds and push universities to support tenants during the pandemic including students renting properties off private landlords.

While she insists that student accommodation is a matter between the individual student and their private, university or corporate landlord, Dodds says she recognises students are in a very difficult position as a result of the COVID restrictions.

The minister was being grilled by MPs at the Northern Ireland Assembly, where MP Mark Durkan asked if she would meet the accommodation costs of university and college students renting property they couldn’t use while courses moved online.

Dodds replied that she was looking at ways to provide more support, including asking the Student Loans Company to investigate whether it can deliver payments to all Northern Ireland students.

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Financial hardship

“My department, through the universities, continues to provide support to any students who face genuine financial hardship for whatever reason, including difficulties with their accommodation contracts,” said Dodds.

“In recognition of those difficulties and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic…I will be seeking additional funding to increase the total amount that is available for student hardship in the current financial year.

“I have also instructed the universities to publicise and promote the availability of those additional funds to ensure that they reach eligible students as quickly as possible and to consider whether any requirements set by them for students to access funds can be relaxed or removed.”

The National Union of Students in Northern Ireland says students shouldn’t have to pay for accommodation they’re unable to access and claims they’re being treated unfairly by private landlords.

Queen’s University has extended a rent holiday for students living in their halls of residence until the beginning of March, while Ulster University is reviewing requests to leave student accommodation early on an individual basis.

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