I have proclaimed today ‘thank you Sunday’ – my little way of acknowledging all you wonderful readers who make my role as personal finance editor of this fine newspaper so enjoyable, occasionally challenging, and always interesting.
Despite lockdown – maybe because of it – and the great economic uncertainty that lies outside our front doors, you have been quite magnificent in keeping me and my money team informed of the key issues that are currently impacting on your financial lives.
So, to every single one of you who has taken the trouble to contact us with your money thoughts since lockdown came into force in late March, a very big ‘thank you’. Without you being our financial eyes and ears, we simply couldn’t do our job as effectively as we do.
Big issue: Whether students should be required to pay summer term accommodation fees for digs they have long fled
Although your thoughts are eclectic – embracing everything from concerns over delayed (or non-existent) refunds for cancelled holidays to sudden hikes in household bills – a number of key topics seem to be occupying your minds.
For the moment, none is bigger than the issue of whether students should be required to pay summer term accommodation fees for digs they have long fled as their universities have shut campuses and taken teaching online. It is a subject I raised more than a month ago and one that still rankles with many of you.
As parents and (often) financial backers of these students, your view is overwhelming: students have been largely forgotten in the Government’s splendid effort to protect businesses from the consequences of lockdown – and workers from the scourge of unemployment.
They have been left to scurry home – often leaving behind part-time jobs – continue (unsatisfactorily) with their studies online, but still pay full whack for both their patchy tuition and accommodation they have gone nowhere near since lockdown.
As I report here, private landlords and their managing agents have flatly refused to offer students any concessions on their summer rent.
Their attitude is: ‘pay up or face legal action’. For students facing exams – some, finals – such legal threats are deeply distressing although a hardy few (the Jack Clarkes and Ella Smithymans of this world) have refused to lie down without an almighty fight.
Landlords and agents guilty of bullying behaviour should hold their collective heads in shame. Just because students have received their maintenance loans for the current term does not give landlords the right to charge them for a service they can no longer use because of lockdown.
Compromise, not legal threats, should be the order of the day. Indeed, my view is that students, student unions and universities should blackball offending landlords and agents when – and if – university campuses rumble back into life at some stage in the new academic year.
Student accommodation fees are not the only money issue currently irking readers. Dozens of you have been in contact over NatWest’s outrageous policy of closing customers’ bank accounts (both personal and business) without giving an explanation why. It’s a policy that is financially disruptive to those caught in its net – but the bank does not seem to care a jot.
Its communication on the issue is as sparse as toilet roll was ahead of lockdown. Note to NatWest: we will not let go of this issue until you change your ways and start telling customers the exact reason for their accounts being closed.
So, thank you readers. Keep writing to us, stay safe, steer clear of scammers, and enjoy the spring bank holiday. May the sun shine on you in these difficult times.