New national PBSA code includes penalties for construction delays

The government-approved code also includes new rules on rents for rooms for disabled students

Students could receive automatic compensation if construction delays disrupt their tenancy under the relaunched National Code for private purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).

The government-approved code, which currently applies to 50% of the PBSA market in the UK, has been relaunched with new penalties for developers that do not complete buildings in time for the start of the term.

From 1 September 2022, students will receive automatic compensation in the event of delays. Renters will immediately receive £200 for disruption, with an additional £200 per week for delays of between two and four weeks. Compensation increases to £500 from the fifth week. Students will also receive £100 each time their move-in date is postponed.

For example, if tenants of a 300-bed building experience a week-long delay to their move-in date, the developer would pay out £150,000 in compensation.

The code is developed by the student housing charity Unipol Student Homes, alongside the National Union of Students (NUS) and Accreditation Network UK (ANUK).

The head of Unipol called the penalities “a powerful deterrent”.

Launched in 2004 and approved by the government under the Housing Act 2004, it now covers 51% of the market, equating to 1,312 buildings with 365,236 beds. The organisers say that several thousand students are affected by delays to their tenancies every year because of overrunning construction.

The new protections are in addition to the old code, which stipulates that students should be placed in alternative accommodation within half a mile of their halls and receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, like travel or moving costs, related to their temporary room.

The new PBSA national code also brings new protections for students with disabilities. For those students, rents will fall to a rate equivalent to the lowest available locally, ensuring that disabled renters do not pay a premium. Unipol estimates that this measure will save impacted students on average £2,300 per year.

The National Union of Students’s Accommodation Costs Survey 2021 found that 19% of private providers could not report that disabled students could get a room at a rent equivalent to the lowest-priced rooms. The former universities minister has described higher rents for rooms for disabled students as “tantamount to a tax on disability”.

[These new rules] stress and codify the private sector’s obligations [on mental health] which has never been achieved before
– Martin Blakey, Unipol

The national code also sets out new PBSA requirements for mental health, including working more closely with universities and ensuring all accommodation staff receive mental health training.

The National Code’s overall remit is about setting standards for health and safety, management, and tenant wellbeing provision in PBSA.

Martin Blakey, chief executive at Unipol, said: “Private providers increasingly dominate the student halls market as many universities have chosen to leave future housing provision to the private sector. This means it is critical that facilities meet expectations and are delivered on time.

“For any student, particularly those in their first year, not being able to access your promised accommodation is more than just inconvenient, it can affect their transition to university, mental health and well-being.

“The first few weeks of a new year are when lasting friendships are forged and for many people, it might be their first experience of living away from home and adapting to university study. Any disruption is potentially long-lasting, and this change reflects the seriousness of the situation and should be a powerful deterrent.”

Changes to rules on mental health support in PBSA “codify the private sector’s obligations in these areas which have never been achieved before,” said Blakey.

The rules do not apply to university-owned accommodation, which follow a separate code.

Last year, the NUS found that average annual rent for PBSA in the UK rose 4.4%, continuing a decade-long trend that it warns sets the market “on a collision course” with efforts to recruit students from poorer backgrounds.

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