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‘I didn’t know what to do or who I could reach out to’ | How students deal with legal issues

Jayshree Ravichandaran examines the difficulty of dealing with legal issues as a student.

By Jayshree Ravichandaran, Second Year, Law

Amidst the rigour of university life, resolving legal issues has risen atop the list of responsibilities students are having to juggle. Deposit disputes, Visa complications, or legal challenges regarding employment are only a handful of legal issues students might encounter, albeit unwillingly, during their time at university. 

A prominent area where students encounter legal issues is with housing, particularly concerning maintenance issues. According to the National Student Accommodation Survey 2024, over one in three students had issues with damp in student housing, affecting health, hygiene and placing significant strain on students’ mental well-being. Landlords’ failures to act were reported to have worsened this issue, with 35 per cent of students attesting that the resolution of their issues took over a week.

The Private Sector Housing Advice factsheet issued by the university highlights the support available on a range of common housing issues such as deposit queries, landlord concerns, and guidance on understanding contracts. 

Epigram spoke with Izzy Russel, Bristol SU Student Living Officer, who noted that ‘Although there is no formal provision for housing advice or contract checking within the university or the SU, [Izzy and her team] recognise that there needs to be something in place for students to turn to’ and have been actively lobbying for it. At the moment, the SU Student Living and Lettings team are not permitted to offer legal advice but can recommend external charities and helplines such as Citizens Advice and Shelter if students seek formal guidance.

Should students be seeking accessible legal assistance, the Bristol Law Clinic offers free legal aid to members of the public. They offer advice on topics ranging from housing to education and employment.

Epigram spoke to Sophie Wallman, a student advisor at the University of Bristol Law Clinic, who detailed the process and potential obstacles of bringing a claim to the Clinic. Firstly, an enquiry describing the background of an issue is made by submitting an online form. All enquiries are then reviewed by supervising solicitors and then allocated to a team of 2-4 student advisors who assist with letter-writing and paperwork, directing the client to other resources, or following a case through to court. 

Nevertheless, obstacles may arise when bringing a claim to the Law Clinic. The Clinic may take several weeks to respond due to the high volume of enquiries received, which poses a problem if an issue is time-sensitive. Furthermore, there may be fees incurred if a case proceeds to court. 

‘It was a stressful time – I didn’t know what to do or who I could reach out to. In hindsight, I found that it is a common issue we students face, and help is readily available.’  

To gain a better understanding of students’ experiences with legal issues, Epigram spoke to a student, who wished to remain anonymous, about their experience with housing difficulties. They expressed that ‘It was a stressful time – I didn’t know what to do or who I could reach out to. In hindsight, I found that it is a common issue we students face, and help is readily available.’  

Preventing these situations can be especially helpful. The Bristol SU established the ‘My Rent, My Rights’ campaign to give students vital information on renting. An extensive ‘Viewing Checklist’ can be found on the SU website, which advises students on what to look out for during a property viewing. Questions include: ‘Which deposit scheme will your landlord use to protect your money?’, ‘Does the landlord have a current gas safety certificate, provided by a Gas Safe engineer within the past 12 months?’ and ‘Are there smoke alarms/C02 detectors and do they work? to ensure mutual contractual agreements and safety procedures are securely in place.  

In addition to navigating legal complexities regarding housing, engaging in part-time work while attending university can expose students to a host of legal challenges. These range from facing workplace discrimination and unjust termination to becoming entangled in contractual conflicts.

As discussed earlier, the Law Clinic can offer assistance and support with claims pertaining to employment disputes. However, for international students, legal issues regarding employment can be more complicated.

When beginning part-time work, students holding a Tier 4 UK Student Visa are required to keep their visa obligations in mind – one being a strict working restriction allowing for a maximum of only 20 hours per week during term. Breaching this condition not only classifies as illegal working but is also grounds for visa cancellation and constitutes a criminal offence under the Immigration Act 1971.

To gain some insight into how international students feel about this, Epigram spoke to a second-year law student, who expressed that ‘While the 20-hour work limit feels restrictive to my career trajectory, it is a sacrifice I have to make to continue my education or even work here.’

Moreover, academic attendance for students on a visa has important legal implications for their immigration status. As mandated by the UK Visas and Immigration Office (UKVI), students have to demonstrate and report their engagement with their studies to continue their visa sponsorship. The University’s recent adoption of the Check-In app requires students to report their attendance during lectures and seminars, and serves as an important metric of proof for the continuance of Visa sponsorships. 

Where students are faced with issues regarding visas and immigration, the university’s Student Visa Advisers are legally permitted to offer immigration advice. Students can also access support for issues such as lost BRP cards, Visa implications when changing courses, and information about graduate route Visas.

In addition to Visa complications, students who work part-time might also be faced with discrimination within the workplace as more than a third of UK adults report having experienced workplace discrimination. Under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics – age, disability, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy or marital status – is strictly against the law. 

The University has set out channels to report discriminatory behaviour by students or staff members via its ‘Student/Staff Unacceptable Behaviour Form’, with an option to report anonymously if students feel uncomfortable sharing personal information. On the other hand, discrimination by a person external to the university can be reported to the Bristol Hate Crime & Discrimination Services. This organisation can also advance discrimination claims through legal proceedings.

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Navigating legal issues may seem like a daunting task for students. However, becoming familiar with legal rights and knowing where to find accessible support can help students confidently address any challenges that may arise.

Featured image: Unsplash / Scott Graham

If you are affected by any of the above issues, please consult the following links:

Private Sector Housing Advice Factsheet:

Citizens Advice Housing:

Shelter Housing Advice:

Bristol Law Clinic:

Student Visa Support:

Staff Unacceptable Behaviour Form:

Student Unacceptable Behaviour Form:

Bristol Hate Crime & Discrimination Services: