By Julianna Garofalo
Ryerson students can no longer use the meal plan funds on their OneCard to purchase gift certificates from the Starbucks in the Student Learning Centre (SLC) due to tax laws imposed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Students have been buying Starbucks gift cards to use up their remaining meal plan balance before the end of term, as the balance does not carry forward into the next academic year.
Ellis Poleyko, a first-year RTA school of media student, took to Facebook after she was told by a Starbucks barista that she couldn’t use her OneCard to buy a gift certificate from the cafe in the SLC. A few weeks prior, at the same location, Poleyko was able to use her meal plan funds to purchase a $50 Starbucks gift card.
“Update: Ryerson told the Starbucks in the SLC that we can no longer use our OneCards to get gift certificates because despite the fact we are paying a crazy amount for tuition, they want to steal more of our money,” read the post shared on the Ryerson University Class of 2018 Facebook page.
“The purchase of gift cards using OneCard meal plan funds is not permitted as it goes against the Canada Revenue Agency rules governing the non-taxable status for on campus meal plans,” Darcy Flynn, OneCard manager, said in an email. “This includes any gift card such as those sold by Starbucks, Tim Hortons or other establishments on campus.”
According to the CRA, gift certificates do not meet the conditions of a tax-free meal provided under a meal plan.
“The Starbucks gift cards were accidentally sold at the Student Learning Centre as the new staff at the location were unaware that meal plan funds on the OneCard were not permitted for that transaction. Staff have been since informed that this practice is not permitted,” said Flynn.
“I am very frustrated. I pay for most of my own schooling and I can hardly afford it as it is. On top of paying high tuition fees, I’m going to have a bunch more money taken away from me at the end of the year if I don’t use up all of my meal plan,” said Poleyko in an interview. “It’s greedy and unfair.”
At Ryerson, students who live in the International Living Learning Centre or Pitman Hall residence buildings are required to purchase a meal plan. The mandatory meal plans are available in small, medium and large, ranging from approximately $2,500 for the flex plan or $4,000 for the full meal plan.
“It’s our own money. We were forced to buy a meal plan so big many of us cannot finish it, so we should be able to get our money back,” said Poleyko. “If Ryerson isn’t willing to give us back the money we don’t spend, we should be able to buy gift certificates that we can use at future times.”
After reading Poleyko’s Facebook post, Jonathan DaCosta, 19, decided to petition the university to reform its OneCard policies.
“When I read through the comments on the post, I saw that people wanted a petition to be started,” he said. “I just put the wheels in motion.”
DaCosta launched the online petition on Change.org. So far, more than 200 supporters have signed it.
“I feel like us students are being ripped off,” he said. “We should have the right to do whatever we want with our remaining balance. I know some people who are going to lose upwards of $1,000 because they can’t finish their plan. Other universities allow the plans to be refunded or extended, so Ryerson should incorporate that into their policy too.”
First-year student, Alyssa Keighan said that the real issue is not the purchase of gift cards with meal plan funds but the loss of unspent meal plan money.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I understand that a gift certificate may not be a legitimate meal, but it is a future meal. If I can’t use my extra cash to buy things like gift certificates, it’s not going to get spent.
“The real question is, why do they get to keep my leftover money?”