What is the first step?
Refund Students will ask a solicitor to instruct a leading Queen’s counsel to assess the merits of a case in law to compel universities and other fee charging educational institutions to refund tuition fees in whole or in part. This is a highly complex matter requiring not just an assessment of the legal merits of any case but also the strategy of any future litigation.
The estimated cost of the legal opinion is likely to be between £20,000 and £25,000 and administration expenses between £10,000 and £15,000. It is for this reason that, although registration is free, we are asking for a suggested minimum £10 donation to cover initial costs. If you cannot pay this yourself, please ask a friend or parent to do so – it might even make them some money as explained in another section.
How might we take a case forward?
In the English legal system there is no such thing as a Class Action such as we often hear about in the United States. People wanting to take a case to court in the UK either have to do so themselves as individuals or they can join in a Group Action where the court decides on a case in which many people are claiming for the same thing.
It is essential that anyone hoping for compensation out of any award made by the Courts in a Group Action case is a named party to it. It is not possible, as it is in American Class Actions, to say after the case has been decided “Hey, that happened to me too!” and expect to share of the award or even begin a new case all over again.
For this reason it is imperative that everyone who wants to pursue this signs up with Refund Students so that we can apply for a so-called Group Litigation Order to take everyone’s case to court at the same time.
What if the Barrister says we have a good chance of winning?
A Counsel’s Opinion is a deeply considered document into all the legal aspects of the case, assessing its strengths and weaknesses and recommending, if it does at all, the best approach in law to winning it. It concludes with assessment of chances of success from Very Poor through to Very Good.
In consultation with the Barrister and Solicitors, Refund Students will decide whether the case is strong enough to embark on a legal action with all that that entails.
What do we need to do to launch the case?
Launching a legal case that could involve as many as two million claimants, the approximate number of university students in the UK, is a huge task. It is no exaggeration to say that it could be the largest litigation ever undertaken in the UK courts.
As a result we will need to embark on a major fund raising exercise to pay for legal representation and the administration of such a large case. We also need to publicise the case in order to get public opinion on our side.
What sort of money are we talking about?
It is likely that as the case progresses the courts will set a maximum on what each side can spend on legal fees at a Costs Hearing – itself a highly specialist and expensive undertaking – but this could still amount to an eye-watering £10 million for each side.
In addition to legal fees there will be administrative expenses involved in processing the information all the individual claimants – so called Case Management. Because the process will be done entirely on-line we can dramatically reduce costs per person but could still be in the region of £35 – £50 per person.
It is also possible that we may need to get insurance to cover everybody in the event that the case is brought and lost. There are specialist insurers that provide such cover through an “After The Event” policy for the sort of sums we are talking about – at a premium that could be between £1.5 million and £3 million.
What is a Litigation Fund?
Refund Students will act as a litigation fund in relationship to claimant students, donors to the fighting fund, legal advisors on the case and IT and claims management.
The company will adhere to the Code of Conduct of the Association of Litigation Funders https://associationoflitigationfunders.com/. Detailed information about the structure and function of litigation funding can be found on this site.
In brief, claimants will be asked to sign a litigation funding agreement where in exchange for legal representation with no up front cost, a proportion of any award will be deducted to pay for these in the event that the court case is won and damages awarded.
Donors to the fighting fund will be investors in the litigation fund and will be entitled to a return on their investment subject to an award being made by the Court and under terms defined in the investment contract and the terms of the Litigation Funding agreement.
How is all this going to be paid for?
The solution to raising such large sums of money is through crowd funding. Our website has been set up so anyone can make a donation, be they students making a claim, their friends, parents or, who knows, even corporate sponsors. You can be as generous as you like – How about funding your case by going on a sponsored run!
All money will be gratefully received and respected by being held on Trust in a solicitor’s account until disbursed according to due process.
Refund Students recognises that we have a mountain to climb to raise funds so we are prepared to incentivise those who do.
In the past few years there have been changes to the way in which civil law cases can be funded, notably the Jackson Reforms.
This has allowed, for the first time in the history of English Law, third parties to directly assist claimants by funding their cases, a practice that was hitherto regarded as ‘Champerty’ and disallowed by the courts.
People can now invest in a legal case as ‘litigation funders’ and be rewarded up to as much as 35 per cent of the total award. These means crowdfunders could get their money back if the case is won and even get a bonus for having been a supporter.
How will this litigation funding work?
Refund Students has a sophisticated database which will not only record all claimant details but those of donors’ as well. Of course a claimant can also be a donor, in which case their contribution will be factored in to any share of an award make by the court.
Claimants will be asked to sign up to a litigation funding agreement in which funders will be rewarded for investing in the case with a percentage of any award made. This is after all legal expenses, admin costs and any insurance premiums have been paid.
An independent firm of accountants will oversee how the scheme is administered.
What can I expect to get back if we win our case?
This depends, of course, on the amount the court decides to award in compensation and the amount of costs incurred in mounting the case. The amount of cost depends on what stage we have had to go to in order to get judgement or settlement.
Given that the case currently covers the period between the beginning of the lockdown in the UK on March 16, 2020 and is continuing up to the present time (October 2020) and with no immediate respite in site, it is reasonable to consider that students will be adversely effected by restrictions for the best part of an academic year if not longer.
A favourable judgement worst case scenario might see, then, an award of 10 per cent of fees paid, so given average fees of £9250 that would be £925 minus the funder’s percent. If that is the maximum 35 per cent allowed then deduct £323 leaving the student with a net gain worst case of £602.
Our lawyers will, of course, argue for the highest award possible. If it is 20 per cent, this becomes £1,204 and so on up the scale.
Students who have contributed to the second tier funding and are party to the litigation funding agreement on that basis will have an uplift in proportion to their contribution.
What happens if the authorities agree to give student refunds before we go to court?
It may be that the Authorities agree to our demands even before that, in which case a ‘Scheme of Arrangement’ would be set up under which students would receive refunds. In this case Refund Students would hand over all the claim files of its claimants to help the scheme’s administrators and reduce distribution costs.
What will happen to money raised by Refund Students if no legal case is brought?
The first round of fund raising aims to raise around £35,000 which will be used to pay for a Barrister’s Opinion as to whether we have a case and to cover administrative expenses such as running and developing our website and data management.
If the Barrister’s opinion is negative all funds remaining after these expenses will be donated to the Student Minds charity (http://www.studentminds.org.uk) which offers support to students suffering mental health problems during their education.
In the event of a positive Opinion which leads to a second round of financing where the target amount will be substantially more to pay
for all the expenses required in mounting a costly legal action on behalf of many thousands of claimants, it may be the case that substantial sums are raised but that legal advice is given subsequently that the case should not be proceeded or it may be that a settlement is reached without needing to use the litigation fund.
In this case money contributed to the litigation fund will be returned to donors pro rata after expenses.
Details of Refund Students finances and disbursements will be published on our website.
What is Refundstudents.org?
Refund Students is a not-for-profit company number 12925837 limited by guarantee and set up with the sole purpose of mounting a legal campaign to get students a refund on the tuition fees because of the effects of Covid restrictions on the quality of their education.
The company will enter into service contracts with lawyers, other professionals and established service providers in the fields of Claim Management and Litigation Support to whom agreed fees will be paid.
These arrangements will be clearly stated in any litigation funding agreement signed by claimants so they clearly understand the basis on which their case is being taken forward.
Refund Students Ltd. does not make it a requirement that student claimants make any personal financial contribution towards the cost of their case.
Why are there adverts on the site?
Simple. Refund Students is all about getting the best deal for students, so adverts help keep the administration costs as low as possible.