Australian National University students stuck interstate during COVID-19 lockdown fight rental charges | #students | #parents

Two students in Canberra are fighting to recoup thousands of dollars in rent that their university charged them while they were stranded interstate by COVID-19 lockdowns.

Lawyers in the case say more than 600 students were caught up in the same situation.

Australian National University (ANU) students Kate Aston and Sigourney Vallis left the ACT to see their families on June 22, 2021, after finishing their first semester.

They were unable to return because, the next day, the ACT closed its border to people who had been in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to try to stop the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Within days, all of Greater Sydney was locked down as more people became infected.

During a three-day hearing in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Ms Vallis gave evidence that she tried several times to obtain an exemption to return to Canberra, but was told she was not regarded as an ACT resident.

The pair had also communicated with the ANU in forums, which discussed options such as quarantining in one of the university’s halls, but none of those plans eventuated.

On August 26, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt sent the students an email about their situation.

“We had hoped we would not be in this position by semester 2, 2021,” Professor Schmidt wrote.

“We have made persistent representations to authorities with alternative solutions, however we must follow their directions, as much as we sometimes wish those instructions were different. 

“At the moment, those directions make it impossible to bring many of our students home to Canberra.”

Students were responsible for risk, university argues

The ANU stopped on-campus lessons throughout the second half of 2021.(ABC News: Niki Burnside)

With the second semester already underway, Ms Aston enquired about ending her rental agreement with the university, because she was unable to return.

She says she was told the public health order preventing her return to Canberra was insufficient grounds for terminating the agreement.

Ms Aston said she was also told students were warned before signing rental agreements to live on campus that they would still be liable for the full cost in the event of a public health order prevented them from travelling.

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