Difficult to comment as we don’t know the full details of these cases.
It’s up to the Universities discretion to grant Home Fee Status. Showing strong connections to the U.K. obvious helps.
Maybe they were able to provide the following for Home Fee Status:-
evidence of a “family home/property in U.K. (Not let out)” in the U.K.
payment of council tax
annual flight tickets to the U.K.,
having Grand Parents in the U.K.,
showing strong connections with the U.K.
temporary residence overseas with the intention to return to U.K.
All of the above (with evidence) can/may influence the University’s decision, despite not having 3 years residence in the U.K. However the Student would not be able to qualify for a student loan.