University students in Auckland and Otago who are being locked out of their hall accommodations during lockdown say the $150 holding fees by Victoria University are "a bargain" compared to what they are being charged.
Megan Tan, who lives in University of Auckland's University Hall Towers, told the Herald she feels "cheated" after learning about Victoria University students' lesser charge and reading reports that some have had their hall fees waived during alert level 4.
Tan says she is has been paying $263 per week since March 30 for a room she can't live in, and will be required to keep paying that until she can move back in.
"Having to pay $263 a week is ridiculous and I feel cheated after learning about how much less other universities are charging," Tan said.
"I've told the university I can't afford to pay, but we've been told we can't go get our belongings to move out."
She was given an alternative to cancel her room and move out, but that had to wait until level 2 or lower when she could retrieve her belongings - and would still incur a penalty of $1572.
The Herald has also been told University of Otago halls of residence are still charging students the full accommodation fee for the lockdown period and have only refunded the food component of the charge.
On Friday night, Victoria University students complained on Twitter about the $150 "placeholder fee" they were asked to pay since a day after level 4 ends and the slightly-less restrictive alert level 3 comes into place.
Under level 3 people can return, one-way, to their home region, but the Government is still encouraging people to stay home where possible to stop the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Most tertiary education is expected to be done through distance learning.
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Student Lily Lewis said she felt "disgust and disappointment" after receiving the email notice from the university.
She believed that under the tenancy agreement, Covid-19 alert levels 3 and 4 would fall under the unforeseen circumstances clause and students "are not liable to paying any fees while we remain at level 3".
"Many of us are borrowing the extra $1000 of course-related costs the Government has allowed to cover accommodation, food and power, as at this time finding part-time employment is difficult," Lewis said.
Victoria University had said in a statement: "We recognise [the fee] will be an unwelcome charge, but are balancing this against the need for the university to retain a viable high-quality accommodation offering without undue cross-subsidisation from tuition fees."
Students could cancel their room contract, or apply to the hardship fund.
In an email to students, University of Auckland associate director accommodation Michael Rengers said the university was unable to access any Government support due to its size and operational structure.
"As an ancillary business unit within the university, our student accommodation is not subsidised from tuition fees or Government tuition subsidies, so we are required to break even financially, but do not make a profit," he said.
"While we are saving on food costs and on some utilities, we also have other costs that have become significantly larger, such as increased cleaning expenses."
He assured students the university was doing its best to minimise costs and maintain services.
"The university is not making money off our residents during this difficult time," Rengers said.