St Mary's University Policy.

Steven Carter made this Freedom of Information request to St Mary's University, Twickenham

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The request was refused by St Mary's University, Twickenham.

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

The Vice-Chairman, Dave Hartnett said this in a YouTube broadcast on the 24th March 2020:

https://youtu.be/gbIy4jHch7c

a) “for those students presently remaining in university accommodation, Public Health England have advised us that you should go home if you can safely do so”
(b) “the only staff who should now be working on-site are those in estates and campus services”
(c) “the end of face-to-face teaching last week, by the introduction of remote teaching this week has put us in a good place”
(d) “I also want to stress the importance of the governments advice if we are to play our part in maximising the spread of COVID-19”
(e) “please stay out of crowds and do nothing to help them form”
(f) “finally, I hope you are all well, please take time to look after your families, friends and your own physical and mental wellbeing”.

At section 3 of St Mary’s University students charter [the coronavirus supplement] the policy of St Mary's University for students to follow states:

https://www.stmarys.ac.uk/policies/stude...

"Follow any direction received from University staff to help support me in adhering to the requirements".

For those students who were obedient to the student charter and did return home on the direction on the Vice Chairman, Dave Hartnett's YouTube address to students on or prior to the 24th March. Can you please tell me whether St Mary's University used a debt collection agency called SK international to force the students to pay accommodation fees upto the 8th April even though they were obedient to the Vice Chairman's direction in his YouTube broadcast on the 24th March 2020 and obedient to St Mary’s University student charter policy?

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter.

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

This request is due by the 6th of November 2020. Can you please ensure that it is actioned by this date?

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

The response to my request has been delayed. By law, St Mary’s should normally have responded promptly and by 6 November 2020.

Can you please urgently deal with my request?

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

It would seem that St Mary's University are not complying with the FOI act.

Best wishes

Steven Carter.

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

A second complaint to the ICO that St Mary’s University are failing to comply with the FOI legislation. Should the charity commission bring into question whether St Mary's University are a fit & proper body to hold charitable status?

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

I have made a complaint to the ICO. Can you please explain why you are refusing to answer this FOI request in line with ICO guidelines?

I note that St Mary’s University has now deleted or made private the YouTube broadcast of the Vice-Chairman Dave Hartnett from the 24th March 2020.

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

Today 24th November 2020, I have received confirmation that the ICO have requested that St Mary’s comply with the legislation and answer this FOI request.

https://mobile.twitter.com/uni_dispute2/...

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

It has been noted that St Mary’s University has deleted or made the original YouTube broadcast by the Vice-Chairman of the 24th March 2020 private.

For the avoidance of doubt, I have recorded a copy of that broadcast from the 24th March to avoid any dispute as to what was said.

https://youtu.be/ziNtu4WBT_s

Additionally, I am aware that St Mary's University have received a letter from the ICO instructing you to answer this FOIA request.

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Dear St Mary's University, Twickenham,

The ICO wrote to you giving you 10 days to provide the request. This still hasn't been provided.

Can you please action this?

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Freedom of Information, St Mary's University, Twickenham

This message has been hidden. Hidden due to data protection breach by the university. Please contact us if you have any questions. If you are the requester, then you may sign in to view the message.

Dear Mr Browning.

I don't think that you are the correct person to answer this FOI request given the reasons set out in the reply directly to the ICO's Senior Case Handler, Samantha Coward ICO (Case Reference -IC-71191-S4Y3) that has been seen by the Debt Collection Agency that St Mary’s University have instructed and the mental health counselor who is counselling St Mary's students regarding a dispute about accommodation fees and other matters.

I am helping students in establishing whether is was lawful for St Mary's University to charge students accommodation fees up to 8th April for rooms they were told to vacate by the government prior to the 23rd March coronavirus lockdown which was reaffirmed by St Mary’s Interim Vice Chairman, Dave Hartnett on the 24th March 2020 in a YouTube broadcast where he told students they should go home, meaning that students were paying St Mary's University for accommodation that they were instructed to leave because of the coronavirus health emergency.

Given the fact I am helping several students with establishing the lawfulness. The release of this information is vital in the attempt to establish the lawful position. As you've previously published in a FOI request on the whatdotheyknow.com website, upto 598 students paid St Mary’s University accommodation fees up to the 8th April when they were instructed to leave their accommodation to return home prior to the 23rd March.

The period between the 23rd March - 8th April equates to a disputed accomodation charge of somewhere in the region of £400 - £800 per student depending on the type of accomoadation students were renting from St Mary's University, when you times this amount of money by the number of affected students then the overall amount of money is a significant amount.

I have attended online hearings with St Mary's University to support a student and have written to St Mary's University as Steven Carter on behalf on many students who I'm helping. All of these students refer to me as Steven Carter, St Mary’s mental health counselor who I attended an online counselling session with to support a student knows me as Steven Carter and the debt Collection Agency that St Mary’s University have passed the debt to know me as Steven Carter.

There is a reason for this and that is because I am Steven Carter. Nevertheless, the identity of the requestor is still unimportant given that the information request is vitally important in establishing the lawfulness within the public interest test and St Mary’s University should welcome that scrutiny as a public body with charitable status (that I believe you have, please correct me if I am wrong, but the Charity Commission have replied on this matter so there is a presumption that St Mary's University hold charitable status).

Organically, given the fact that I am helping several students then there will be many emails to St Mary’s University - that would make perfect sense, wouldn't it? So once again, the volume of emails to St Mary’s University cannot reasonably be considered as vexatious.

Nevertheless, even if I wasn't Steven Carter and I was using a Pseudonym then the ICO are clear about the use of Pseudonyms; as set out in the FOI request below which states:

~Where a public authority knows that a pseudonym has been used, as a matter of good practice it should still consider the request, for example where identity is not relevant and it is content to disclose the 
information requested, even though technically the request is invalid. 
~Either an email or postal address is acceptable as an address for correspondence. 

I point to the fact that the identity of the requestor is significantly far less important than the information requested. After all, St Mary's University is a public body and there are potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds in dispute when consideration is taken into account that up to 598 students paid accommodation fees to St Mary's University up to the 8th April and were told to vacate their accommodation by the government prior 23rd March due to the coronavirus health crisis and St Mary's University reaffirmed this on the 24th March.

There is a real public interest in the release of this information due to the nature of the potential financial loss to hundreds of students, potentially totalling many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I have asked that the ICO to consider whether this request meets the public interest threshold, and as a matter of transparency, I ask that St Mary's University (as a public authority with charitable status) endeavour to be completely open and transparent with the release of this information under the Freedom of Information Act and release this information as a matter of public interest, irrespective of wheher your claim that I'm using a Pseudonym or not is justifiably correct (even though everyone from the University, to the Students, right through to the debt collection agency who St Mary’s University has passed the disputed debt on to know me as Steven Carter).

The simple fact is; students need to establish whether it was lawful for St Mary’s University to instruct students to return home on the 24th March (after the government had given the same advice prior to the 23rd March) and then charge students for rooms up to the 8th April that they were instructed by St Mary’s University to vacate due to the coronavirus health emergency.

I hope that St Mary’s University reconsider your position and be open and transparent with this and other FOI requests that I have made under my name of Steven Carter. I believe it is of vital importance for students who have just left school and who are now at University, who are faced with the unfairness of trying to establish why they had to pay St Mary's University for accommodation they were instructed to vacate due to the coronavirus health emergency is justifiable.

We must be mindful that students who are 19, 20 & 21 years old cannot fund legal action to remedy their collective dispute, because they simply fund their studies and accommodation via student loans that they are saddled with for the rest of their lives - this is another reason St Mary's University should be helpful in establishing the lawfulness of charging students for accommodation they were told to vacate.

Additionally this and other FOI requests that I have made will help to shed some light on why St Mary's University charged students for accommodation up to the 8th April when they were instructed by St Mary's University to go home in March.

There has been no lawful justification of this policy by St Mary's University and it is deeply unfair that students are charged for accommodation they were told to vacate.

The FOI act is the only mechanism that students and others have in trying to obtain information, clarity and documentation to support their dispute. For a public body like St Mary’s University to close down this facility further extends the asymmetrical balance of power that St Mary’s University have over students.

I hope that St Mary’s University release this information in the public interest and show clear transparency. Alternatively, I hope the ICO make the decision that this request meets the required public interest threshold.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/u...

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s...

Yours faithfully,

Steven Carter

Dear Mr Browning

I note that you have published my email address in the top left hand corner of the letter that you have attached to your reply.

As a dispute/complaint has already been made to the ICO may I ask that you self report this to the ICO and ask whether they consider this to be a data breach?

Yours sincerely,

Steven Carter

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

Below is an Email that I received from the Department for Education: NOTE THIS IS WHAT THE DEPARTMENT for EDUCATION SAY:

"You may wish to know that If an accommodation provider did formally instruct a student to leave the property, then it would not be acceptable to continue to charge student rents".   

On Tue, Nov 17, 2020 at 12:11 PM ACCOUNT, <xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@education.gov.uk> wrote:

Dear Steven Carter 

Thank you for your email of 15 October about your request to St Mary's University, Twickenham, for reimbursement of student accommodation fees from 24 March to 8 April. I write on behalf of the Minister of State for Universities and would like to apologise for the delay in doing so, which is due to excessive volumes of correspondence received by the department. 

I would like to explain that this department plays no direct role in overseeing of student accommodation, private or otherwise. As such, this is not an area where government can intervene. Most student accommodation providers, including universities, sign up to national codes of practice covering management, standards, repairs and maintenance, environmental quality and tenancy agreements. This information can be viewed on the Universities UK website at: 
www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/accommodationco...

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by the coronavirus. This sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and help businesses treat their customers fairly. This is available at: tinyurl.com/YA5KRQIL. As previously noted, the department has no direct role in the provision of student accommodation, private or otherwise or involvement in guidance provided by the CMA. 

Students may be entitled to refunds or release from contracts from accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. Organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support to those students requiring additional help. 

Private providers of accommodation for students must make their own decisions about the fairness of charging rents to students who in some instances will not be staying in that accommodation.  

You may wish to know that If an accommodation provider did formally instruct a student to leave the property, then it would not be acceptable to continue to charge student rents.   

I hope this information is helpful to you. 

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2020-0058552. If you need to respond to us, please visit https://www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.

As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: https://form.education.gov.uk/service/TO....

Yours sincerely

XXXX XXXXXXXXXXX

Ministerial and Public Communications Division

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

In the refusal of this FOI request by St Mary's University the 1st link has been removed by the website administration team as it contained the requesters email address which could be classed as a data breach.

Scan Andrew Browning 20201203 163801 0540 001.pdf
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Dear Sir
Please see the attached letter.
Your sincerely
Andrew Browning
University Secretary and Head of Governance
Office of the Vice Chancellor
St Mary’s University, Waldegrave Road, TW1 4SX
020 8240 4267
07970 531112
[email address

Steven Carter left an annotation ()

There is a unjust refusal to answer this FOI request and all of my FOI requests by St Mary's University, Twickenham, these are really important FOI requests that are in the public interest. More generally, as a society, we have an obligation to ensure that young students are not exploited by these Universities across the UK.

Extract from a letter/email received from the ICO....

"I have therefore decided to accept both complaints for full investigation without the need for an internal review."

Note: It is allegedly the case that some Universities across the UK have unlawfully overcharged students accommodation fees for those students who left their halls of residence prior to the 23rd March on the advice of the UK government and/or the University, but were charged accommodation fees beyond the 23rd March. #Lockdown1

#StudentsDeserveBetter

See twitter account @uni_dispute2