More than two-thirds of students in rented accommodation are concerned they cannot afford to pay their landlords, says the NUS – and a third believe they would not be allowed to break their tenancy agreement early because of the pandemic.
The online survey of over 4,000 students took place between 6 and 23 November 2020, during the second national lockdown in England, and restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The survey coincided with the announcement of a UK-wide plan to return students to their families for the Christmas period – with ministers unclear on how or when students would return to campuses in the new year.
The survey comes as more than 45 student rent strikes across the UK gather pace.
Rent Strike Now, an international network of student strikes, called on the government to alleviate student rent fears.
They today tweeted: “@GavinWilliamson millions of privately renting students are expected to pay thousands in extortionate rents for homes they can’t return to during lockdown. We all know it’s unjustifiable, how long do we have to wait for this government to take action?”
.@GavinWilliamson millions of privately renting students are expected to pay thousands in extortionate rents for homes they can’t return to during lockdown.
We all know it’s unjustifiable, how long do we have to wait for this government to take action?
— RENT STRIKE (@rentstrikenow) January 12, 2021
Over two-thirds of student renters (69%) said they were worried about their ability to pay rent; around a quarter had, at that point, already been unable to pay rent (22%) or bills (27%).
The NUS said the problems “are likely to be exacerbated with the most recent lockdown announcement” that means most student renters are unable to return to their term-time addresses but may still be liable for accommodation.
Several institutions have issued fee waivers for students in university-owned halls. Bath, Cambridge, Warwick, London School of Economics and Sheffield have said students will not be required to pay any rent while they are not in halls, but this does not cover those in privately-owned halls and flats. Other universities have offered partial discounts.
Salford University has unveiled a fund to support students living in halls and in privately owned accommodation with rent.
It will make a payment of on behalf of students living in Campus Living Villages (CLV) accommodation – the university’s exclusive student halls partner – who have paused rent due in mid-January and will adjust its ongoing rents “to reflect the university’s contribution”, the university said.
The university will be making a payment to CLV to the value of £1000 to £1200 per students. Using figures taken from the CLV websites, the grants will cover rent for students in the three Salford partner halls for between seven to 10 weeks.
For students who live in private halls or private housing, up to £1000 is available from the Salford assistance fund. CLV and Sanctuary Students, which both own private halls across the country, have confirmed they will continue to charge rent during this lockdown.
Unite Students, the UK’s largest owner and manager of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) yesterday announced a four-week rent discount for students. The company said: “Eligible students will be able to apply for a discount of 50% of their rent for a total of four weeks, to be credited in March. In addition, they will be given a four-week complimentary extension of their tenancy agreement at the end of the academic third term to extend their stay into the summer for their own enjoyment and convenience.”
A quarter of respondents had to self-isolate during the autumn term, NUS said. According to the survey, 57 per cent of those who have been self-isolating have not received any support from their accommodation provider. The NUS said its figures suggest that the proportion of students living with parents or guardians during the Autumn term prior to the January lockdown has gone up from 21% to 30% since September.
Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice-president for higher education, said: “It is astonishing that the UK government has placed students under lockdown yet are still requiring them to pay rent for accommodation that they cannot legally access. It goes to show the level of disregard that this government has for students.
“We need rent rebates immediately to ensure that students are not out of pocket for rent from properties they are not living in. Over two-thirds of students are already concerned about their ability to make rental payments, and this will have only increased with the most recent lockdown announcement.
“Students deserve better than to be financially punished for following public health guidance.” Student rent strikes