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A Summary and Replay of the Student Group Claim Webinar – 8 December 2020

The Student Group Claim team held its inaugural information session on 29 November 2020. It was presented by:

  • Trevor Asserson, Senior Partner Asserson Law Offices
  • Shimon Goldwater, Senior Associate Asserson Law Offices
  • Francesca Caller, Head of Communications & Business Development at Asserson Law Offices

These sessions are an opportunity for students to put any questions they have to our lawyers. We kicked off with a brief introduction to the firm and the claim. This was followed by Q&A.

Questions asked were:

  • Is this a scam?
  • How can you be sure that joining this claim won’t a have a negative impact on my degree? Won’t UCL penalise students who join this claim?
  • Is there a difference in the strength of the claim between a Masters student who graduated in Summer 2020 and an undergraduate who is still at the university in the year 2020-21?
  • How does Asserson make its money? What is the 70/30 split?
  • Is there a deadline for students signing up?
  • Will the compensation also take account of term 3, which is now also to be online?
  • Are the damages related to Covid-19 and those related to Industrial Strikes weighted differently?
  • What is your plan for obtaining the 1000 signatures that you need to proceed? How do you plan to make more students aware?
  • Who is the funder?
  • What would be required of me as an individual – would I have to give a statement in court?
  • Where can I follow the social media campaign?
  • This issue was recently debated in Parliament. If the Government were to oblige UCL to compensate students, would this impact the amount of compensation we would get through the claim?

You can watch the answers here. If you prefer, you can read a transcript below.

 

Click Here To Join The Student Group Claim

Introduction to the Claim and the Firm

The Claim

The claim began when Shimon came across petitions signed by thousands of students demanding a refund of their tuition fees in light of Industrial Strikes and Covid-19. It was clear that universities would not pay out in response to these petitions – unless they were forced to through legal proceedings. We wanted to help students achieve this aim – in our view, a just one.

On a review of UK universities, we chose UCL as the university first to proceed with for two reasons: One, they had clear terms and conditions, that in our view were favourable to the students. Two, it had responded strictly to the demands that Covid-19 placed on educational institutions, moving all of its teaching online.

We assembled a group of UCL students who wanted to take this matter to Court. We also analysed the UCL terms and conditions, and the relevant law, and came to the conclusion that the claim stood an excellent chance of success. We had our analysis reviewed and approved by a leading QC.

As a result of the way in which we designed the claim, at no stage would students have to pay out of their own pockets to join it. Our fees would only be paid out of the compensation students would win at Court. Moreover, we would take out after the event (ATE) insurance so that there is no risk to students having to pay costs at any stage. All in, it is a package designed to be as attractive, and as easy to engage with, for students as possible.

The Firm

Trevor, senior partner working on the claim, founded the firm 16 years ago as a specialist litigation firm. The firm specialises both in human rights and commercial litigation. This claim covers both elements – first, helping you, the students, the powerless party in this claim, achieve justice. And second, challenging an opponent like UCL, a billion-pound institution.

Progress so far

We are just short of 600 students signed up so far. Once we hit around 1000, we will issue a Letter Before Claim to UCL, giving them the chance to respond to the crux of our claim. If, as we expect, they refuse to pay compensation, we will then proceed to court in order to obtain a ‘Group Litigation Order’. This is permission from the court to bring a claim on behalf of a large number of people at once. Once that is obtained, we will proceed with the claim by marshalling evidence in support of our claim and eventually go to trial.

Q & A

  • Is this a scam?

Asserson is a well-known, prize winning law firm. You are welcome to research the firm, and ask any questions of us you wish. We are confident that you will come to the conclusion that a firm like ours would not involve itself in a scam whatsoever. So, no – its not!

 

  • How can you be sure that joining this claim won’t a have a negative impact on my degree? Won’t UCL penalise students who join this claim?

There are a few reasons why we don’t think this ought to be a concern.

Firstly, we will only proceed with this claim once we have the participation of a thousand plus students. This means you will be one among a vast number of students challenging UCL.

Secondly, UCL is a world renowned institution whose integrity and reputation is central to their brand. It would be morally wrong, and probably unlawful, were someone associated with the university victimise a student for joining the claim.

It is not uncommon for parties bringing a claim to be scared of vindictive action by the party they are bringing the claim against. After decades of experience in litigation such as this, we can state with a great deal of confidence, that this does not happen. If UCL were to take such a step in this case, such action would undermine it’s credibility, hamper its standing in the eyes of the court, and likely lead to the dismissal of the person responsible for it. We are confident that any lawyers advising UCL would be guiding them to stay as far away as possible from anything that even remotely seems like penalising students for joining the claim (as we would, if we were advising UCL).

  • Is there a difference in the strength of the claim between a Masters student who graduated in Summer 2020 and an undergraduate who is still at the university in the year 2020-21?

 

There is no difference in the strength of the claim – you would be complaining about the same thing, and are both subject to a substantially similar contract. There would however be a difference in the amount claimed. Regarding 2019-20, the claim will cover the strikes in November 2019 and  February 2020, and the Covid-19 changes which started around the middle of March, towards the end of the second term. Changes to the third term will also be covered, though the damages here may vary from the second term insofar as there is typically minimal teaching in the third term (see Answer to Question 6 below).

 

A student at UCL in the academic year 2020-21 will be able to claim for the whole of term one, and following UCL’s recent announcement regarding its plans for the rest of the academic year, terms two and three (as explained in the answer to Question 6 below) as well.

  • How does Asserson make its money? What is the 70/30 split?

At Asserson, we sincerely care about our clients, and seek to take on cases that we believe in. We are, however, also a business, and therefore we need to be paid for our work.

Typically, lawyers are paid based on their time spent on a matter, whether or not their client wins the case. In order to create a situation whereby students will not have to pay us unless the claim is successful, and to make sure we have the funds to run the case as we go along, we have brought in a litigation funder. A litigation funder is a an entity that chooses to ‘invest’ in a case it thinks has a strong chance of success. It pays the costs of the case, on the basis of an agreement that if the claim succeeds, they will receive the money they invested back plus a return. So, if the costs of running the claim were, say, $100 (they will obviously be a lot more than that), then the funder may provide $100, on the basis that if the claim succeeds, they will receive $150 back.

However, there is an absolute cap on how much a funder may take from any compensation awarded to a client. In our case, we have a funder who has agreed that the maximum they will ever receive is 30% of the claim.

In the above example, that means that if only $200 were won in compensation, the funder would not receive more than $60, even though they had invested $100. The funder, and Asserson (who are paid by the funder out of this amount), would lose out – that is the risk Asserson, and the funder take on the case.

Conversely, the funder (and Asserson) will never receive more than the agreed amount. What this means is even if the claim succeeds spectacularly, and we win $1000 in compensation, if the funding agreement provides for a return of $150, that is all that will go to the funders (even though its just 15% of the compensation). The students will keep $850 (85% of the compensation). Obviously, in reality we will be dealing with figures of hundreds of thousands of pounds (at least), but these numbers illustrate the principles for you.

We have worked hard to ensure that this is a fair, and risk-free arrangement for students. In our view, it is an excellent proposal.

  • Is there a deadline for students signing up?

Once the matter reaches court, the judge will set a deadline for students to join the claim. Once that deadline has passed, students will no longer be able to sign up. It is in your interest, however, to sign up even sooner than this – the greater the number of students we have signed up, the greater the chance of the claim proceeding and succeeding (see the Answer to Question 9 below).

  • Will the compensation also take account of term 3, which is now also to be online?

Our estimates so far have been on the assumption that just term one would be online. We are in the process of updating our model to account for the fact that terms two and three will also be online. In our view, there ought to be compensation for the changes in term three too. Although typically full time teaching no longer takes place in term 3, there is some teaching and catch up sessions with tutors which will be online, library and campus facilities which you will have either no, or restricted, access to, and examinations either not taking place or taking place in a very different way to how they are normally held. In sum, whilst the compensation may not be as much as for terms one and two, we still think some compensation is owed for the changes to term three.

On this topic, it’s important to note that international students, who have paid a great deal more for their courses, stand to receive higher compensation than UK/EU students.

  • Are the damages related to Covid-19 and those related to Industrial Strikes weighted differently?

There is a difference between Industrial Strikes and Covid-19 with respect to how the amount of estimated compensation is calculated. During the course of the strikes, teaching was cancelled altogether. As a result of Covid-19, teaching was moved from in person to online. For the former, the compensation is based on there being no teaching whatsoever, and therefore equivalent to the whole value of the teaching you didn’t receive. For the latter, because there was teaching (albeit online), the compensation is based on the difference in value between in person teaching and online teaching. Our model takes all this into account.

  • What is your plan for obtaining the 1000 signatures that you need to proceed? How do you plan to make more students aware?

We have contacted as many students as we can via email, targeting as many student leaders and representatives as possible in order to spread the word. We have also been developing a comprehensive social media campaign which is growing day by day.

The aim with claims like these is that the first group of claimants we reach will help spread the word. We now have over 600 students signed up – if each of you managed to spread the word to 2-3 more of your friends, we could then have 2000 students – a number that would make the claim stronger, and easier to run in many respects.

In reality, given the number of students at UCL, and the extent of the damage you are all suffering through the inferior product, the number could be (and we hope will be) much higher.

  • Who is the funder?

We have strong interest from a number of funders, and we are currently in negotiations with two of them. We cannot reveal their names until an agreement is signed.

What we can tell you is that litigation funders are effectively investment businesses – they pool together money from investors, and then invest that money in cases they feel have a strong chance of winning, and are expecting to obtain enough damages that they stand to gain.

The more students that are part of the claim, the more eager a funder will be to join, and the better the terms we will be able to agree on behalf of the students. That’s why it’s so important that students sign up and spread the word. 1000 students may be enough to move forward and issue a Letter before Claim, however 2000 would put the claim in a much better position all round.

  • What would be required of me as an individual – would I have to give a statement in court?

Anyone who doesn’t want to do anything more than simply sign up on our website, does not have to. Because everyone is bringing the same complaint to the Court, we will only need a few students to present their experience to us and the Court. Everyone else can remain in the background, reading our email updates from time to time.

We are confident that of the many hundreds of students who have joined the claim, there will be some who are happy to take on a more active role and tell their stories to the court.

  • Where can I follow the social media campaign?

We are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Share away!

  • This issue was recently debated in Parliament. If the Government were to oblige UCL to compensate students, would this impact the amount of compensation we would get through the claim?

We think that it’s highly unlikely that the Government would instruct UCL (or any other university) to take this step. UCL would inevitably turn to the Government to fund such a claim, and it’s not in the Government’s interest to do so.

A Parliamentary Committee recently recommended that a centralised body was created to enable students to claim tuition fee refunds – however, the Government rejected this suggestion, we believe for the reason detailed above (it would cost universities, and likely the Government too, too much). We are effectively stepping in in place of such a body.

Were the Government or UCL to refund students, there would no longer be a need for this claim, and it would stop. Unfortunately for students, this is extremely unlikely, and we will therefore have to turn to the Courts to obtain justice. 


To view more of our info sessions and subscribe to our YouTube channel, click here.