The Fund will see the University allot “a non-repayable award of £200 as a contribution towards [the] rent and living costs” of students who meet a list of eligibility requirements. To improve participation, “international, PGT [postgraduate taught] and PGR [postgraduate research] students and students who have not previously received hardship funding this academic year” will be prioritised.
Although I am certain the plan will be helpful to students who are in a dire financial situation, I am not entirely uncritical of the plan. For one, the eligibility requirements are prohibitively strict. The only clear-cut requirement that makes sense is that students must be studying at Newcastle University.
Students must also “be able to evidence that [they] have a 2020/21 tenancy agreement for privately-owned or privately-managed accommodation”, and Unite Students, Student Roost or IQ Students-managed accommodations don’t count. Students must also “not be currently living in [their] term-time accommodation” and “not have received a rent refund from their landlord of [sic] privately-managed provider”. Finally, students need to “be able to evidence that [they] were in financial hardship at the end of January 2021”. The guidelines clarify that this means students who “did not have sufficient funding available to cover essential costs such as food, medical costs and essential bills”.
These eligibility requirements leave a lot of room for questions: why are students only eligible if they are not in certain accommodation? What qualifies as evidence of financial hardship? How much funding counts as “not sufficient to cover essential costs”?
I understand the desire to prioritise students who are not living in term-time accommodation. It means they can get somewhat of a refund on rent for a place where they are not living. However, this excludes students who may have moved out temporarily and then returned. The plan would also exclude students who may have only received a partial refund on rent.
Lastly, why is the University only pulling out this plan now that the government has given them extra money? Why didn’t it draw from its own extensive funds much earlier? If the government hadn’t coughed up, I doubt the fund would exist, or be as generous as it is.
Still, although the eligibility requirements are confusing, they still cover a significant number of students in need. Despite loopholes and questionable reasoning behind eligibility, I believe the COVID-19 Living Cost Support Fund will be at least somewhat helpful to the students who qualify.