Given the way the Covid 19 situation has impacted people in countries around the world, you won’t be surprised to hear that our Italian school in Bologna suffered a wave of cancellations and people leaving before they had finished their courses.
Then we were closed, by order of the Italian government, and then we were stuck at home in lockdown for several months. So there wasn’t much we could do about the school.
But now, well it seems the world is perking up a little, or at least Europe is. The school is open again, and we have classes running, and students!
So it seemed like a good time to take a look at our Terms and Conditions, with a view to making sure the various legal bits and pieces were still appropriate to a world dragging itself through a pandemic.
And in fact, they weren’t really. So I’ve tweaked them a little. If you paid a deposit for an Italian course in the past, but never came to study with us, for whatever reason, virus or otherwise, then you’ll want to know about this.
The bit that I wasn’t happy with was in section 4. Cancellation or postponement of Italian language courses (click here to view the whole thing):
Students who cancel an Italian language course at least 10 days before the beginning of the course will be refunded the full cost of the course… less the deposit of €150, which will be considered lost.
Non-refundable deposits are common in many industries, and we rely on people to turn up when they say they will (we have obligations to our staff, and to other students.)
HOWEVER, what we do IN PRACTICE, when anyone has a problem, can’t come when they expected to, or whatever the situation is, is to say, look don’t worry – come some other time. We’ll hold your deposit as a credit!
After all, it’s in our interest that students actually come, take a course, learn Italian and go home and tell their friends what a wonderful time they had in Bologna. We’re not in the business of profiting from the small print.
A few lines down in section 4. Cancellation or postponement of Italian language courses, though, there was this:
…the school reserves the right to issue a credit equal to the value of the part of the course not used. Such a credit can be used as payment for a future Italian language course. Any such credit must be used within 12 months from the moment it is issued. Credits may not be transferred to third parties. Credits not used within 12 months will be automatically considered void and no longer valid.
Well! That seems rather mean, don’t you think?
I’m sure there were good reasons why I wrote it that way, years back, but it isn’t the way we’ve actually been doing things. If you paid a deposit, or started a course but didn’t finish it, we’re almost always happy to agree a credit for a future course, and would be disappointed if you chose not to use it.
It must be said, too, that in these uncertain times a second wave could engulf any of us, any time. People are understandably wary about making plans right now, so dissuading them with punitive clauses seems foolish.
So this is the revised version, with the parts I added highlighted in bold:
…the school reserves the right to issue a credit equal to the value of the part of the course not used. Such a credit can be used as payment for a future Italian language course. Any such credit must be used within 12 months from the moment it is issued, except at the discretion of the school. Credits may not be transferred to third parties, except at the discretion of the school. Credits not used within 12 months will be automatically considered void and no longer valid, except at the discretion of the school.
You can see I was feeling lazy. But what does that mean, ‘except at the discretion of the school’?
It means that we’ll ensure that whatever you paid, towards or for your Italian course, is available to you or someone you know to actually use to learn Italian at our school. If you paid a deposit years back and had been thinking that you lost your money, well no. Come and do a course. What you paid will count towards it.
If you choose to book a course and pay a (non-refundable) deposit now, and then, right after, get hit by a second wave, we’ll still be here when your lockdown ends. Don’t worry, as long as you still intend to come and study Italian with us, you won’t loose anything.
OK, and what about refunds? It’s a subject that has come up a few times over the past few months.
There are three situations in which we refund payments. The first is for people who need a visa to study in Italy. The consulate (not us) insists that they pay the entire cost of their Italian course in advance. That same consulate may then refuse the visa application anyway. For this reason, we commit to refunding the full cost of the course paid in advance EXCEPT for the deposit (there’s a lot of work involved in helping people apply for visas.)
The second situation, as mentioned in section 1. of the T&C, is if you book a course, turn up on the appointed day, and through no fault of yours, we do not have the minimum number of students at your level (which we often don’t know in advance, though we try to find out.)
Rather than put you into a class that is too easy or to hard for you, we’ll open a new group, just for you, or for you and up two other students – our minimum is four. Because of the cost implications of running an additional, smaller class with below the minimum number of students we need to pay the teacher etc., our solution is to shorten the length of the daily lessons, so you might study for 2.5, 3 or 3.5 hours (just 1, 2 or 3 students in your mini-group), instead of the usual four. And if you’re not happy with that option? We’ll repay everything, including your deposit.
Bear in mind that we take bookings from people sometimes a year or more ahead, so this is how we can PROMISE we will have a class for you, no matter what your level is. Most people are fine with that, as a smaller class means much more speaking time, which compensates for the fact that the lesson is shorter each day. I’m not sure we’ve ever had someone ask for their money back on that basis, though it IS an option.
Situation no. 3 is what the T&C describes as ‘serious illness, death in the family’. One time we had a student who had such a nice time with us that upon leaving he paid four (!) deposits, probably maxing out his credit card, and promised to come back shortly but this time with his wife. Then he went home and died. A few months later the widow got in touch and we refunded her the whole amount.
What about situation 4? You were planning to come to Italy and study, you paid a deposit, but now your plans have changed, for one of a thousand reasons, but usually virus-related.
There isn’t a situation 4. You have our sympathy. The same thing happened to us. We booked a holiday, had to cancel, lost our deposit. I was not at all happy.
But non-refundable means what it says – we have staff who are furloughed, we have rent to pay even though our revenues are close to zero, and we have obligations to stay in business for students who DO plan to come and study with us, who have also paid a deposit. Repaying everyone who paid a deposit would close us down overnight, and that’s not going to happen, so why would we give in when people bug us and threaten?
Sure we can’t persuade you to come to Bologna and learn Italian? Your deposit payment won’t expire.
Perhaps when the world is back to normal you’ll reconsider?
We hope so!
N.b. If you have paid a deposit previously but have your plans on hold for now, why not fill in our course booking form and so let Stefi know (even provisionally) when we can expect to see you? Later this year, maybe? Or in the spring. It would really help us to have some idea!
And it your plans change? No worries. As long as you let us know in advance that you can’t come when you specified… except at the discretion of the school, remember? The deposit will still be valid for when you CAN come.
What about those of you who are new to Madelingua? Well of course we’d love to see you! As I wrote above, we’re open, and plan to be open all the way through the summer, however hot it gets.
Below are some links to get you started: