Can parents get a refund on boarding school fees because of lockdown?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the offering of schools across the country and the independent school sector is no exception. With boarders sent home and many normal school activities cancelled, most independent schools have offered fee reductions and remissions to reflect this.

The Good Schools Guide reports that the majority of independent schools have offered fee discounts in the region of 10-30%. While individual circumstances must be considered, this does provide an indication of the level of fee discount or refund parents might expect.

Of course, many parents will find their financial circumstances have changed significantly due to the pandemic, especially where they have been furloughed or made redundant. Schools should take this into consideration when looking at what support can be given to parents around fees, especially where children are already receiving a bursary towards their fees and other costs.

Whatever your situation, it is important to understand your rights with respect to your child’s education and, in particular, with regard to their school fees at this challenging time. This can help to ensure you get the best deal and the best support for your child and your family.

What fees should independent schools be refunding, discounting or waiving entirely?

This will depend on the circumstances, but The Good Schools Guide has suggested that fees for services that cannot be provided should not be charged. Examples of these types of fees include boarding and school transport fees.

They also suggest that schools should look to economise on their outgoings wherever possible and pass those savings onto parents with a fees rebate.

Finally, they suggest that schools should take steps to help parents who are struggling to pay fees through measures such as deferring fees, offering staged payments or forgiving unpaid fees where appropriate.

How to ask your child’s school about a fee rebate, discount or waiver

If you are struggling with your child’s school fees or simply feel a rebate or discount would be appropriate under the circumstances, you are entitled to ask the school about this. The normal approach would be to contact the school’s Finance Office, with whom you can discuss your situation and concerns.

When contacting your child’s schools, it is important to do so in a collaborative frame of mind, while making clear your position, the outcome you would like to see and why you believe this is reasonable.

You should expect the school to be able to explain exactly how they have arrived at any fee discounts or rebates they are offering and how your school fees will be allocated.

If you are planning to contact your child’s school about a fee issue or are unhappy with the decision a school makes, a specialist education lawyer will be able to advise on your rights and the decisions other schools have taken. This can then inform your approach and what level of fee assistance you should expect and accept.

What if you need to withdraw your child from school due to changed financial circumstances?

The Good Schools Guide recommends that independent schools suspend the normal one full term of notice parents are required to give before withdrawing their child for those who are no longer in the position to cover their school fees.

It is also possible that parents may be able to exit their contract with their child’s school by relying on the legal concepts of ‘frustration’ and ‘force majeure’.

Frustration refers to a situation where either party to a contract can no longer perform their required actions under the contract because an event has changed the fundamental nature of the deal made between the parties such that it would be unjust to hold that party to the terms of the contract.

Force majeure refers to a situation where either party to a contract is unable to perform their contractual obligations due to an event outside of their control.

Where COVID-19 has left parents unable to afford their child’s school fees, for example due to a significant reduction in their income, it is possible these concepts can be applied. This could be used to withdraw your child from their school without the usual notice or, perhaps, to secure a reduction in fees or other financial support to allow your child to retain their place.

Most contracts, including those for children’s schooling, will have a force majeure clause designed to cover one-off, unforeseeable events such as war and terrorism. One would expect the COVID-19 pandemic to fall under this provision, although whether schools will be willing to accept this is impossible to predict without discussing it with them first.

Consult our expert education law solicitors about a boarding school fees refund

At IBB Law, we are passionate about getting the best deal for parents and children when it comes to their education. That means making sure children get all the support they need, when they need it.

If you have a concern about your child’s education, including in relation to the level of fees charged during lockdown, we will be happy to advise. IBB Law Consultant Salima Mawji has been recognised as one of the UK’s leading experts in education law, so we can provide assurance that your family are in safe hands.

We offer an initial consultation for a fixed fee of £250 + VAT to discuss your child’s situation and provide clear, practical advice on your options. This consultation can take place over the phone or via video conferencing to suit you.

To book your initial consultation or to find out more about how we can help with boarding school fee refund advice, please contact Salima Mawji.