Coronavirus: Students and Landlords

This note was issued on 2nd March 2021. 

This article includes FAQs in the areas of Rent Payments and Rebates, Moving in and out of properties and living in student properties. 

Take me to the FAQs - Rent and Contracts (including a look at house hunting for next academic year), Moving in and out of properties and living in student properties 

 

National Lockdown 2021, the roadmap to end the lockdown and students travelling home for their Easter break

Following the Prime Minister's announcement on 4th January 2021 the country entered a new national lockdown.  On 22nd March 2021 the Governemt issued guidance on how the country would move out of the lockdown, known as the roadmap.  The Government issued revised guidance for higher education providers on 9th March 2021. This can be viewed here: HERE

The revised Guidance reads:
 
“Once students have returned to their term-time accommodation they must remain living there unless an exemption to the national restrictions on leaving home and gatherings applies. They must only travel home where they have a legally permitted reason to do so.
 
In addition, students will be able to return home for their Easter break, if they choose to do so.
 
However, in order to minimise transmission, we strongly advise that students remain in their term time accommodation where possible.”

An Additional £50 Million support package for students announced

Students will benefit from an additional £50 million to support them with financial pressures from the pandemic, the Universities Minister has announced. The announcement is in addition to the £20 million announced in December, bringing the total to £70 million for this financial year.
 
The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help.
 
This announcement follows the decision from many universities and accommodation providers to offer rent rebates for students who need stay away from their term-time address. The Government has encouraged others to join them and offer students partial refunds.

The APPG student inquiry in to tuition and accommodation costs publishes its results

The APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students), launched an inquiry in January 2021 which reported on 28th January 2021. The Group was Chaired by Paul Blomfield MP with Lord David Willetts, Alison Thewliss MP and Caroline Lucas MP as Vice-Chairs. The full report can be found HERE

Some of the recommendations are summarised below:
 
  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected costs. This should be assumed to cover rental periods for time when students were unable to occupy their properties where necessary.
  2. The Inquiry believed that an additional sum more than doubling existing student premium funding, of £256 million, would be required. Applying the Welsh approach would suggest a figure around £700 million for England.
  3. If tenants were released from their tenancies this meant that landlords would incur council tax obligations and the Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts more easily.
  4. The Inquiry felt that tuition fee refunds would not assist the majority of students whose fees are paid through the Student Loans Company (SLC) as the refund would be made to the SLC. Refunds would also reduce universities’ income and therefore their students’ education. The Inquiry suggested a number of redress and learning-loss opportunities including establishing a Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund.
Comment
The additional student support of £50m in England was broadly welcomed and the announcement came shortly after the APPG Inquiry’s conclusions were published. The £50m is widely seen the NUS and APPG as falling well short of the suggested £256m but some of the Inquiry recommendations do not reference immediate hardship and may well result in later, longer-term, initiatives emerging.
 
The £50m was announced before the change in Government Guidance on return for the Spring Term and so can be interpreted as addressing the issue of non-return and accommodation costs up to the middle of February and many interpret this as a “first instalment” that will need adding to if return is delayed further (as has was announced in updated Government Guidance issued on 3rd February).
 
Just to emphasise the scale of the rental issue NUS provided a set of guide figures. With 551,000 full-time higher education students living in the private rented sector (2018-2019) and their Homes Fit for Study report reporting average monthly rental costs for students of £502 (£125.50 weekly), NUS’s recent survey data estimated that 22% students were in rent arrears (around 121,220 students). To cover one 1 weeks rent arrears would (on the figures above) cost £15,213K, so to meet one month’s of rent to the 22% of students who were extremely concerned about their ability to pay rent would cost £60,852K.
 
Returning to university for the spring term

The Government amended its guidance for higher education providers on the return to university for the spring term on 22nd February. The Government continue to adopt a two-stage return to campus, with only the first stage fully mapped out.

Stage One - The first stage of return (in addition to certain courses that were allowed to return from 4th January) takes place on, or after, Monday 8th March 2021. The Guidance says:
 
“We are now advising providers that they can resume in-person teaching and learning for students who are studying practical or practice-based (including creative arts) subjects and require specialist equipment and facilities from 8th March. Providers should not ask students to return if their course can reasonably be continued online.”
 
The inclusion of the creative arts in this phase is important because many courses could not be fully taught on line and performance and collaborative working with other students is normally a central part of the course.
 
Stage Two - is not yet clear and further plans will be announced in April. “The government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students. This review will take account of the latest data and will be a key part of the wider roadmap steps. Students and providers will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return.”
 
The “Easter holidays” is a bit of a moving target because it could mean the statutory holidays (on 5th April) or the school holidays (16th April). For planning purposes this is likely to mean 16th-18th April and therefore new Guidance can be expected around 9th-11th April.

The Government are still saying that where large numbers of students are returning then those arrivals should be staggered.

The Guidance  has little to say about student accommodation provided outside of the educational institution under normal landlord and tenant arrangements.
 
Within other guidance Government Guidance (MHCLG) to Landlords and Tenants (Available HERE) it is also clear that tenants are entitled to continue to take up their tenancies (which represent an estate in land).

Throughout this period, it remains legal for the public to be able to move house and reconstitute households to keep the ‘housing market’ open. There are no restrictions on tenants returning to their homes and taking up their tenancies and they are allowed to do that at any time.

This is a developing situation and it is likely that universities will continue to update their own guidance for their students.  The links below are examples from some of the institutions Unipol work with.  

University of Leeds

Nottingham Trent University

Travel

An important part of the Guidance is:
 
“Once students have returned to their term-time accommodation they must remain living there unless an exemption to the national restrictions on leaving home and gatherings applies. They must only travel home where they have a legally permitted reason to do so.”
 
This emphasises that when students move to their University town or City, then they are covered by the general restrictions on visiting applicable to the rest of the population.
he only significant additional information for accommodation providers is that educational institutions are being asked to “consider whether students need to return before the Easter holiday.” To minimise travel.
 
The Office for Students has brought out advice in this area for students. You can access all this information HERE

The National Code website has a detailed summary of the recent guidance and provides a very useful commentary on estimates of current occupancy in student accommodation, rent refunds and offers a view on how to interpret the guidance on moving back to a term time address. National Code website

The Situation in Accommodation (latest presented first)

February and March 2021

February saw updated guidance for universities with the first stage of return to take palce on, or after 9th March depending on the course type.  Many universities are busy planning what is and isn't possible and whether a move from online learning should take place before the Easter holidays. 

The MHCLG guidance to landlords and tenants remains unchanged in relation to moving home.  A new £50 million support package for students facing financial difficulties related to COVID-19 was announced.

Unipol has looked at a number of occupancy estimates within the accommodation sector and estimates that:
  • 55% of students are now present in University provided accommodation. This number has been rising week-on-week but this may well stop if refunds are made for nom-occupancy
  • 65% of students are present in private sector PBSA. Again, this number is rising week-on-week
  • 68% of students are present in off-street HMOs.
This means that there are students present in virtually every house and flat and those running PBSA and off-street houses are running a full landlord/tenant service. Many students regard themselves as having “left home” at the beginning of term and are keen to re-establish their independence after visiting home for Christmas.
 
The majority of students with accommodation needs are now living in a town or City allied to their place of study.
 
Unipol expects that there will be a significant rise in returners leading up to 8th March 2021 and estimates that around 25% of additional students are likely to return by that time. Many students are tired of living at home and want to be with their friends and although the 8th March return will only apply to a sub-set of students, this has been seized on my some as a date when students might return to be reunited with other friends.

January 2021

With the latest announcement from the Government that sees the country enter in to a new National Lockdown there is much uncertainty around students ability to travel back to university, particularly if they are not on one of the small number of courses listed where some limited face-to-face teaching will continue.  Understandably, many students would still wish to do their online learning from their university home, where they can get access to the libraries and other facilities. 
 
The current guidance also concentrates on 'not returning to campus'.  The January lockdown does not prohibit moving home.  It is clear the Government wants to reduce movement around the country for public health reasons but, within other guidance “Government Guidance (MHCLG) to Landlords and Tenants it is also clear that tenants are entitled to continue to take up their tenancies (which represent an estate in land) even though they are being discouraged from returning to campus. It is not “illegal” to return to take up a tenancy.
 
The tab published an interesting article on 6th January 2021 that illustrated the frustration felt by many students across the UK with the student featured explaining the reasons behind her choice to return to university. Lizzie explains "I’ve lived in my uni house for my second and third year, and the house, along with the people who inhabit it, is my home. I want to go home." Read the full story HERE
 
What is important is that should students decide to return to live at university they should not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time and in particular the current national lockdown.

December and the tiered restrictions 

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

The government replaced the national lockdown restrictions from 2 December with a regionally-differentiated approach, where different tiers of restrictions apply in different parts of the country.  You can find the link HERE

The universities that Unipol works with (and whose students we house) have made it clear that their services remain open and studying is continuing:

Leeds Conservatoire

November and National Lockdown (part 2)

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

Universities and accommodation providers are currently in the process of setting out their plans following the announcement on 31st October that the country would go back in to a national lockdown from November 5th.   

Special arrangements and exemptions from restrictions affecting most of the population are available to those studying in universities (and schools). The Government “has prioritised the wellbeing and long-term futures of our young people and is not closing schools, colleges or universities”, so:

  • you can leave your home for the purposes of study
  • workers in essential services, including education settings, can continue to go into work.

October 2020

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

Now that the academic year and teaching has begun things settled down. Students have also now met their peers and so the need for indiscriminate socialising is diminishing. 

In the “settling down” phase a few observations can be made:

  • partying significantly reduced
  • many of the in-household social events are now having a positive effect
  • the number of students seeking tests has increased
  • social isolation is now taking place properly.

It is likely that, following the “arrival stage” which saw infections spread across the student population, the number of those self-isolating peaked in tmid-October and then cases started to reduce.

Although face-to-face teaching is unlikely to have been responsible for the virus’ transmission, a few universities have adjusted their blended learning to reduce face to face teaching further. A handful of universities have stopped face to face teaching where this can be done. A few universities have stopped face to face teaching altogether - although this is again likely to throw students back onto their residential settings even further.

Arrival in September 2020

Following the arrival of students at University it is clear that there was a burst of social activity primarily from many first year students living in PBSA when their “freshers' week” would normally have taken place. Most freshers’ weeks consisted of very little activity and the “rule of 6” and local restrictions meant that many of the limited actual social events planned by universities and students’ unions were cancelled - which meant that students had nothing to do other than create their own social events - which many did within their accommodation.

This resulted in most accommodation providers increasing their security and now have “differentiated security teams” consisting of front of house security and roving “bouncer” type security. Most PBSA have extensive CCTV systems and so it is easy to spot large “in flat” gatherings and request tenants to move on.

 

The 2020 - 2021 Academic Year

Student Demand

The demographic dip goes into reverse as the number of English students increases for first time since 2013 – this decline has been masked to some extent by increasing non-EU applicants.
  • 570,475 students accepted through UCAS, up 5.4% on last year (+29,235). Push by government and HE to grow capacity after A’level marking u-turn. 
  • The number of applicants accepted from outside the EU has reached a new peak of 52,755, a 16.9% year-on-year increase (+7,615). Although acceptance does not necessarily mean a student enrolled. 
  • EU acceptances are stable at plus 555 (+0.17%) to 32,320.
  • The UK 18 year old population is expected to start rising in 2021.
  • 81,660 applicants used Clearing in the 2020 cycle. A new record, and an increase of 10% on last year. However many of the applicants who had their grades adjusted did not use clearing and went back through the main route. 
  • Clearing accounted for 14.3% of all students accepted – also a new high.
  • Non-EU acceptances up by 9% this year through UCAS (China up by 24%)
         But
  • Difference between acceptances and enrolments 
  • Many students studying from home country as courses online
  • Number of universities had flexible refund policies so may see late cancellations
  • Many universities offering Jan 2021 start dates for PGs but very few students travelled to the UK.

Likely there has been a 50– 70% drop in international postgraduates, estimated at 50,000 - 80,000 fewer students this year.

 
Observations
  • there are risks still inherent in providing student accommodation this year relating to universities closing or moving entirely on-line in 2021
  • there is no evidence that students who have moved away from home want to return and study from home - attrition rates are lower than last year
  • good Wi-Fi is vital and shared space within flats important
     
Future Applications
  • 2021 will bring the first increase in the 18 year old population since 2015 – a trend that is set to endure for the next six years.
  • By 2025, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data projects a net increase of 114,060 18 year olds across the UK, bringing the total to 811,130.
  • By 2025, UCAS forecasts there will around an additional 90,000 UK 18 year old applicants based on a projected application rate of 47.5%.
  • UCAS January deadline for applicatons has registered an 8.5% increase in applications.  Both UK and non-EU applications are up, 11.6% and 17.1% respectively.
  • High tariff providers now make up 43% of all applications, whilst low tariffs now account for 28%.
  • Interestingly, medicine based subject applications are up 27% and nursing applications are up 32%
     
Social Distancing, Visitors and Social Interaction (subject to change as per local lockdown restrictions)

Many universities are requiring the wearing of face masks by staff and students in communal areas on campus and have chosen to retain social distancing at 2 meters.

The Government published guidance for universities on 3 June 2020 (last update: 2 March 2021) looking at Operational Guidance for higher Education

There are some useful sections on social distancing on campus, the wearing of face coverings, social isolation and wellbeing.  There is a useful section on forming new households.  

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mental health and wellbeing have been recognised as areas of serious concern for students.  The Minister for Universities announced a 3M funding award to the Office for Students (OfS) on 17th June that would see a new online platform delivering targeted and high-quality mental health support, designed to respond to additional pressures caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Student Space is designed to complement the mental health support already in place through universities, colleges and NHS services in England and Wales – filling potential gaps in provision and ensuring that all students have access to support they need.

Other news in the HE Sector

On 2nd February 2021 the Government announced a package of measures aimed at supporting students in financial difficulty. The full statement can be accessed here.

On 28th January 2021 the APPG inquiry publishes its report:  APPG Students inquiry into tuition and accommodations costs during Covid-19: The Case for Compensation. Full report

The U-turn on A levels is likely to impact middle and lower tariff universities.  An article from Universities UK details the potential financial crisis faced by a number of institutions

Rent and Contracts

Please note if you are living in a student hall of residence the advice on the National Codes Website will be the most relevant for you.  If you are living in a smaller shared property in the private rented sector please see information below.

Earlier in the year during the first national lockdown Unipol, along with many landlords received requests and questions from their tenants and their parents about paying rent.  Unipol's Board met in May and June 2020 and decided a number of measures affecting rent across the Summer period and next year's tenancies. Unipol has now written to our own tenants following a Board meeting on 21st January 2021.  

Find out more here: Unipol's current position on rent reductions and travel

Find out what universities and private providers of accommodation have announced about rent refunds (as of 3rd February 2021) HERE - Please see section '2021 Rent Refunds' 

The information below will hopefully provide some clarity based on the latest information from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Department for Education DfE, the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK (UUK), the National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA) and Unipol.  

This Section has two sub-sections:

Tenancies and Rent Refunds

Q: What is the Government saying about rent refunds?

A recent question was posed in Parliament by Clive Lewis MP (Labour, Norwich South) who had written asking what recent discussions the Treasury has had with the Department for Education on providing a rebate to students renting private rented accommodation but not living in that accommodation as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay MP, responded:
 
“Private accommodation providers are autonomous and are responsible for setting their own rent agreements. Whether a student is entitled to a refund or to an early release from their contract will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider.
 
“We recognise that in these exceptional circumstances some students may face financial hardship. Higher Education providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards hardship support. The Government has also made available a further £20m to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students.”
 
Clive Lewis MP has also received a response to his written question asking what plans the Treasury has to provide financial assistance to students in private rented accommodation who are unable to pay their rent as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.
 
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury replied that: “This has been a very difficult time for students and we encourage universities and private landlords to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, clear and have the interests of students at heart.” He then went on to outline the extra £20m being made available to support students who need extra help."
 
Q: The Government have announced a £50m support package for students facing financial hardship.  How do i apply? 
 
A: The funding will be distributed by the Office for Students directly to universities, which are best placed to assess student hardship locally. Universities will be able to help students, including international students, impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location, or an inability to maintain employment, such as a job based close to their term-time accommodation for which they cannot access the furlough scheme, or to support students to access teaching remotely.
 
If you are struggling financially you should contact your Students' Union for advice and support on how to access hardship funding.
 
 
 

Q: What is Unipol doing around rent reductions?

A: Unipol's own response can be found elsewhere on the website on the button below

Unipol's response to Rent Payments

Q: Should my landlord stop charging rent during the latest National lockdown (January 2021)?

A: The Government issued guidance on 1st June 2020 which states:

"Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward."

This guidance remains current.

Unipol is a charity and is guided by its values.  Our operation and setup is very different to private landlords, who in most cases will not be able to sustain a drop in rental income.  Unipol wrote to current tenants on 5th January 2021 to explain our position and has now writen again following our Board meeting on 21st January 2021 

An excerpt from the letter that went to Unipol tenants on 22nd January 2021
 
"It is important to stress that Unipol is a not-for-profit housing charity. Unipol’s “business model” is that rents are effectively set to cover the annual cost of a house/flat together with a small surplus that goes towards funding Unipol’s family accommodation, advice and accreditation functions. There is no surplus from which to make rent refunds and making any refunds simply accumulates debt for the charity that will have to be repaid by future students through their rents. Nor is Unipol an educational institution and gets none of your academic fees, so our position is very different from that of a University.
 
Our trustees, at yesterday’s meeting of Unipol’s Board, decided to increase Unipol’s debt level to its maximum but they also decided, within the very tight financial limits they have to operate within, to prioritise a limited number of refunds, to those areas of the portfolio with the lowest occupancy levels where tenants have not previously had a rent refund and to individuals with special cases."
 
Q: I've moved in to my student property but no longer want to live there as all my courses are now online.  Can i give notice?

If you have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you will be bound by the terms of that agreement and will be financially liable for the rent.  The vast majority of agreements do not contain break clauses or allow  you to give notice.   You can speak to your landlord and explain your situation but it is very unlikely that you will be released.

During December 2020 some universities reduced rent to students where a so-called “lockdown” has been implemented earlier in the academic year, often in the face of media and student criticism of their actions. These rent refunds are effectively “sweeteners” and leave the key question of academic fee refunds in the case of lower than expected face-to-face teaching unanswered. For private accommodation providers, where their main business is sustained by rent (rather than academic fees paid to HEIs) it is unlikely that the rent refunds that took place in the previous academic year will be repeated.

With the new National Lockdown now in place and many students facing an uncertain time over their courses and whether to return to university many providers are seeing an increased call for rent reductions.  Some universities are already reviewing their position, however most private providers are unlikely to offer refunds. 

Q: I no longer want to move in to my accommodation for next academic year, what can i do? (You may have changed your mind about attending university or due to a change in your course delivery you are looking to stay at home).

A: If you have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you will be bound by the terms of that agreement and will be financially liable for the rent.  The vast majority of agreements do not contain break clauses or allow  you to give notice.  In normal circumstances this would only be possible if you came to a mutual agreement with the provider or found a suitable replacement for yourself.  You are recommended to talk to your landlord at the earliest opportunity to talk through your options.  If you live in Leeds, Nottingham or Bradford you can use Unipol's Student Noticeboard to advertise your room. 

There are ongoing discussions between the Govenment, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Office for Students (OfS) and the OfS has issued a guidance document on consumer protection, stressing the importance for HE Providers to be clear in what they will be providing by way of teaching and services so students can make informed decisions.  It is possible that students may be entitled to a rent refund where what is provided differs significantly to what was stated beforehand and students entered in to accommodation agreements with their institution as a result i.e. a link between the rental and the course. This would mainly affect 1st year UGs going in to university provided accommodation and is unlikely to be applicable to students renting in the wider private rented sector.   

Q: I am due to pay my rent but due to my changed circumstances I don’t think I am going to be able to do that.

A: Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. Most will be sympathetic, especially if you and/or the person who assists you with paying the rent has lost that source of income due to the Coronavirus situation.  They might agree to a rent reduction for a period or to accept rent at a later date.  However if you come to an agreement to delay your rent payment the full rent will still be due at a later date. Repayable rent reductions are where rent is reduced for a period but the overall amount will still be due just at a later date by mutual agreement.

If you agree a plan with your landlord to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important that you both stick to this plan, and that you talk to your landlord immediately if you are unable to do so.

If you are struggling and would like advice around other options open to you and how to access financial assistance contact your university AND Student Advice Service at your Students’ Union. You may be able to access certain hardship funds.

The Government has worked with the OfS to help clarify that providers can use existing funds, totalling £46m, to boost their hardship funds for students in financial difficulty. This can include help for IT equipment and internet access.

Additionally, students are also able to claim Universal Credit under certain circumstances. Find more information about Universal Credit

Q: I heard that in Scotland students can give notice to leave a contract.  Is that likely to happen in England?

The Scottish Government has introduced emergency coronavirus legislation in the Scottish Parliament relating to student accommodation. If the legislation is approved, it would put in place in Scotland:

  • a 7-day notice to leave period for those currently tied into a student accommodation contract; and
  • a 28-day notice to leave period for new agreements entered into.

There is no indication from Whitehall currently that a similar approach is likely to be adopted in England. Given the new guidance issued on 1st June maintaining the position that rent should be paid it looks unlikely that the Scottish approach will be adopted in England.

Q: Now there are more local and national lockdowns will my landlord release me from my contract?

Government advice issued through the DfE on 7th January 2021 says that you should stay where you are, wherever possible until your face-to-face teaching resumes, indicating that this could be a term-time address.  The guidance also says that students can return in exceptional circumstances where they do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities or study space, or who need to return for health or safety reasons. This guidance does not reference a student's right under earlier guidance to move house, which appears to still be allowed.  

In any case there is no legal requirement on landlords to provide rent refunds.  It is our understanding that many landlords will not be in a position to offer any rent reductions.  You should check with your landlord directly.  In any case if your rent is due you should pay it as normal and discuss any payment difficulties with  them as soon as possible.  Any decisions on rent reductions will be up to your landlord and will be an individual business decision. Where this is not possible landlords should be working with their tenants to offer support and guidance.

The Government have been clear in their guidance and updated this on 1 June 2020 and this states:

"In the case of private landlords and letting agencies, the negotiation of rent waivers with student tenants is a matter between the parties concerned. We encourage landlords, letting agencies and tenants to adopt an understanding, common-sense approach to issues that may arise in the current circumstances."

This guidance remains unchanged.

It is also important to say that this was not a foreseeable set of circumstances and no one will be covered by insurance or would have had it on their risk register. It should also be noted that for many landlords in off-street housing, this is their only asset and pension.

Two Warwick University students give their views on rent reductions

Q: Should I stop paying my rent during the outbreak?

A: Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. 

For students experiencing financial hardship the Government has issued additional advice that students should contact their higher education provider to see if any hardship funding would be available and the Office for Students (OfS) has published guidance for those providers to support this.

In many cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. however if your circumstances have changed it is really important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.

House Hunting for Next Academic Year

Q: I've received information about house hunting for next academic year and don't know what i should be doing?

A: In many university cities across the country students will be facing decisions on what to do about their accommodation for next academic year.  Although many providers will be making these properties available for students to sign.  Students are advised to take their time and give proper consideration to what the situation is likely to be in the next few months. 

It is generally thought that 'house hunting' will be a slower process than in previous years and students can take their time.  In most cases it is unlikely that you would get released if you changed your mind.  This is particularly important if you are considering entering a joint contract with friends. 

Always seek independant advice and get your contract checked with your Students' Union advice centre. 

Q: What is happening about viewing properties for next academic year?

A: Viewings are a bit of a tricky due to the restrictions currently in place.  One thing we are recommending to landlords is to create videos tours and virtual viewings online which will minimise interaction between current/future tenants and landlords.  

There are a number of different types of virtual viewings currently being used by landlords.  These are the virtual tour, the pre-recorded video walk-through and the live-streaming video.

The virtual tour is a self-guided 'fly-through' of the home, created by capturing a series of 360 degree footage shots that are then stitched together to allow the viewer to navigate through the property.  

The pre-recorded video walk-through is the most straightforward and can be filmed on a mobile, this may include music or a voice over talking about the property.

The live streaming video is where the landlord hosts a WhatsApp or FaceTime call and the viewers are added to the video call.  The landlord would walk around the property and the prospective tenants can ask questions whilst seeing the property live.

Physical Viewings will be very limited and will need to adhere to the current Government Guidance on viewings available here

Please note that this current under review 

Q: Is Unipol doing anything different during house hunting this year?

A: Yes. In order to give you peace of mind, all students renting a room in a complex for next year will be able to give notice on any agreement they sign with Unipol up to 1st March 2021 and this would end their 2021-2022 obligations. If you are renting a shared student house where occupancy is 6 or under then you can also give notice but this must include all the occupants of the house. For houses 7 and above Unipol will accept individual notices. We will give you this Peace of Mind Promise when you sign up and you will be able to withdraw on-line from your contract any time before 12.00 midnight on the 1st March 2021. This information relates to the Unipol Housing Portfolio is Leeds and Nottingham.

This way, you can secure a room or house of your choice, but allow yourselves more time to take stock of the situation in early spring. We hope that is fair and helpful at this difficult time.

Q: Should i sign a contract when i don't know what is happening to my course across the academic year?

At present, Unipol is simply advising “if you are not happy signing a contract then don’t” try and negotiate a period of time (say a month) with the landlord where they will hold the accommodation whilst you work out what to do. In the case of students renting as groups under joint contracts a single failure to sign up (or a parent refusing to act as a guarantor) may bounce back on the other tenants rather than the landlord.

Some student suppliers are giving students who have not already entered into contracts a promise of flexibility. This seems more prevalent in the PBSA sector.  

Moving In and Out of Properties

Q: Will i be able to go on viewings when i start searching for a property for next academic year?

A: Physical Viewings have become a lot harder under current restrictions, particularly where there is a group wanting to view a property.  For example, if you are in a group of six and are all currently living in different households and then want to view a property that is currently occupied and shown around by the landlord/ agent, you can see that this becomes unmanageable under the current restrictions. 

Many accommodation providers are offering viewings virtually.  There are two pre-recorded options a video walkthrough or 360 degree footage where you can navigate your way around a property.  The third option is via live streaming.  In this option the landlord would be in the property and the viewer would connect to the call and could ask questions during the viewing.

To find out more please see the current Government Guidance on viewings available here

Q: Will i need to book a move-in time slot to ensure social distancing is achieved?

A: The majority of suppliers are asking students to book timeslots ahead of their arrival, with many also making contactless arrangements for the collection of keys and making of any payments required.

A number of providers have issued videos to help explain to students what to expect, both on arrival and throughout the period of their stay.

If you are moving in soon contact your supplier and ask what arrangements are in operation.

Q: Will any other restrictions be placed on my parents or friends helping me to move in? 

A: Most PBSA suppliers have indicated that they would be restricting numbers who could accompany students on arrival, some were going to allow just one parent whilst others would permit two.

Most providers had ceased offering assistance to students with the movement of belongings on their arrival.

For off-street properties it is important that you take precautions and that help from parents and friends is kept to a minimum once you reach the property and due care is taken such as following guidelines for the cleaning of hands and wearing face coverings as appropriate.  You are forming a new household with your fellow housemates and your parents and friends are not part of that household so appropriate precautions should be taken.

Q: Will I be able to move in to my new student home after vacating my current one?

The Government guidance issued on 21st May and last updated on 7th January states: 

In terms of preparing properties for incoming tenants the Government advice states:

"Moves into student accommodation are allowed. Letting agents, universities and accommodation providers should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins, following the latest public health advice and taking reasonable steps to reduce transmission.

There is no specific Government advice for student accommodation.  However there was some advice issued on 16th October 2020 for decontamination in non-health care settings which states:

“The infection risk from a COVID-19 contaminated environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk from the virus, however, studies suggest that, in non-healthcare settings, the risk of residual infectious virus is likely to be significantly reduced after 48 hours.”

So although it not mandatory for properties to be deep cleaned before new tenants move in, Unipol has recommended an approach to landlords that takes in to account this guidance.  In any case it will be important to communicate any cleaning arrangements to incoming tenants in advance of the start of the new tenancy.  If you are intending to take up residence in your new accommodation from the first day of your tenancy it would be really helpful to communicate with your landlord so they can make plans to prepare the property for you.

Q: I will be moving in to a new property with friends who will all be coming from different households, is this permitted?

A: The current Government advice envisages people moving house and the formation of new households. Although you are from different households you are essentially joining and becoming one new household and therefore social interaction is permitted. This means that interactions with others outside of the household must follow the guidance issued in respect of visitors. This will change over time but social activity with other houses, flats or parents falls under guidance for visitors. Even where local lockdowns are in operation students are still permitted to take up residence in their new accommodation.

After you become a new household there are number of things to consider:

If you join a new household and someone develop symptoms you should self-isolate at home for 7 days from when the symptoms started. In line with Government guidance, all other residents of the home must also stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days, providing they remain well for that time. Should they develop symptoms they should then self-isolate for 7 days from the onset of symptoms or longer if symptoms persist. Where possible, individuals should not go out even to buy food or other essentials, and any exercise should be taken within your home. 

If you share facilities or common areas with other people, all residents should always do their very best to follow guidance to stay at home and away from others. Everyone in the household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces. 

Travel between your new household and parental or previous home. An area of public health concern relates to the interplay between the old household (parental home or previous residence) and the new household. Again, the guidance is quite clear: the household is the main viable unit and conditions for visitors are laid down.  

From 5th January the Governemt introduced the third national lockdown. 

To see the full guidance click here

Q: My accommodation provider is pressuring me to travel back to my room to pick up my belongings. What should I do?

A: On the 21st May 2020 the Government further amended the guidance for moving home and made it clear that people who wished to move home are now able to do so as long as the necessary public health guidance is followed.  Wider travel in England is permitted but restrictions remain in place in certain areas of the UK.  If you are living in England you are able to come and collect your belongings.  If you have not already received information from your accommodation provider on the moving out procedure it is strongly recommended that you contact them before coming to collect your belongings however now that travel is permitted you should make sure that you collect your belongings and arrange to clean the property before the end of your contract.

Transport will be almost entirely by car and some parents/students will have a long “there and back” drive with only limited opportunities to stop for refreshments and toilet facilities. Many parents travelling long distances frequently break their journeys by staying part-way in a hotel and that will not be possible. Those returning should be aware of the lack of facilities en-route. Motorway service stations and their toilet facilities are, however, open

Q: I cannot get back to collect my belongings before the end of my tenancy.  What should i do?

If you are unable to return you will need to get in touch with your landlord to let them know. You should arrange for your possessions to be packed and sent to your home address.  If you don’t have anyone locally who can help you there are companies who can make the necessary arrangements.  There are costs involved so you need to check how much the service will be and you will have to arrange with your landlord a suitable time when they can let the company have access to the property.  You will need to ensure that your belongings are removed by the end of your tenancy agreement or the landlord may charge you rent/storage costs and may dispose of anything if you have not been in contact with them.  

Q: Will I still be expected to clean my property?  All my housemates went home at the beginning of the lockdown and will not be back together again.

 A: Most landlords will have already issued end of tenancy information detailing what you need to do concerning cleaning and returning your keys.  If you have not received this information you are recommended to get in touch with your landlord so you understand what is expected of you. In shared properties it will be important for you to communicate with each other and decide how any required cleaning will be split and agree the timings for your visit to ensure social distancing is maintained.  

Unipol will expect our own properties to be clean.  Our guidance to our tenants states:

  • Ensure your room and the communal areas of the property are left in a reasonable condition, free of waste and that the keys are returned in a timely manner.
  • Remove all waste to the outside bins.
  • If an item is unwanted, please take this home with you to recycle/re-use to avoid being charged for waste removal.

It is important to remember that communal areas need cleaning as well as your bedroom. Unipol's end of tenancy information can be found here

Q: I am currently self-isolating and will not be finished by the end of my contract, what should i do?

You should stay where you are in line with the current Government guidance but you should contact your landlord as soon as possible to explain your situation and update them on the date your isolation period will end.  It is likely that your landlord will have contractual responsibilities to incoming tenants so this will cause a significant level of inconvenience. You will be expected to pay rent for the period you are remaining in the property.

Living in a student property

Q: I need a repair doing in my home, what should I do?

A: It is important to report repairs to your landlord as you would normally do.  Tradespeople can visit people’s homes to carry out any work or maintenance provided it is carried out in accordance with guidance for professionals working in people’s homes. Further guidance on visits to properties to make repairs

If you are not shielding or self-isolating, you can allow your landlord or contractors access to your home in order to carry out a range of works. This includes:

  • routine inspections, including annual gas safety checks;
  • essential and non-essential repairs and maintenance;
  • planned maintenance activity inside and outside the home.

Services should be designed to ensure appropriate social distancing is maintained (insofar as possible) and hygiene procedures should be followed. Some landlords will have a backlog of repairs that they will need to address, so it may take longer than normal to carry out more non-essential work.

Q: My landlord wants to carry out viewings, do i have to let them in?

Your safety will be your letting agent's and landlord's top priority. Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, or where they have been determined clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding. In other cases, where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings.  

Q: I live in a shared student property, some of my house mates are symptomatic and my landlord is refusing to find alternative accommodation for me.  What can I do?

A: Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus. Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.

If you are living in accommodation which you share with other people, or share facilities with other people, you should follow current Public Health England guidance.

You can find Government guidance on cleaning your home to minimise the risk of infection.

The Government has issued guidance for households with possible coronavirus (covid19) infection. The same guidance applies to occupants of shared properties. All the occupants of the home should behave in the same way as a single household if one or more occupants have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

And on what to do if you are in a shared home with someone who may have the virus

Q: My landlord wants to arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out what should I do?

A: Gas safety inspections save lives. Landlords should take all reasonable steps to carry out annual gas safety checks at this time as failure to do so could put tenants at risk of serious illness or fatalities from gas explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly as people are spending all or most of their time at home.

If you are clinically vulnerable, but have not been asked to shield, you should inform your landlord. Before undertaking the check, prior arrangements should be made to ensure that appropriate social distancing is maintained during the visit. 

If you are self-isolating or shielding, you should inform your landlord. The gas safety check can be delayed until after your isolation period has ended. Your landlord will be best placed to determine whether an inspection is required – further guidance is available from Gas Safe the regulator. In such circumstances, prior arrangements should be made to avoid any face to face contact and the engineer must follow the latest guidance on working safely in people’s homes.

Q: My neighbours/other tenants in the property are disrupting my life with their anti-social behaviour. What can I do?

A: If you have already attempted to resolve instances of anti-social behaviour or feel uncomfortable resolving the matter yourself, you should contact your landlord, the local authority and the police to report anti-social behaviour. You can also contact ASB Help who can provide specific advice on dealing with anti-social behaviour.

Local authorities and the police have strong powers to tackle anti-social behaviour available through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. These include the use of Civil Injunctions, Community Protection Notices, and Closure Orders, 24 which can be used to address instances of anti-social behaviour. We expect these powers to continue to be used during the period affected by coronavirus.

If you or the tenant causing the problem live in a licensed House in Multiple Occupation, the landlord will be required by their licence to take action to prevent and alleviate the effects anti-social behaviour in the property. You should therefore contact your local authority regarding your concerns. 

Q. How can I avoid spreading coronavirus to people I live with?

A: If you are self-isolating because of coronavirus, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of spreading any infection to the people you live with.

Try to stay away from people you live with

If you have symptoms, you should stay away from other people you live with as much as possible.

If you can:

  • stay on your own in one room as much as possible and keep the door closed
  • avoid using shared spaces (such as the kitchen) at the same time as other people – eat your meals in your room
  • use a separate bathroom - otherwise, use the bathroom after everyone else and clean it each time you use it, for example, by wiping the surfaces you've touched using strong household cleaner (disinfectant).

How to reduce the spread of infection in your home

DO

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (such as door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products.
  • Consider wearing a face covering when in shared spaces.
  • Keep windows open in the room you're staying in and shared spaces as much as possible.

DON’T

  • Do not share towels, including hand towels and tea towels.

Q.  What should my household do to try to do stop the virus spreading?

A:

  • Use a different bathroom if possible. If you use the same bathroom clean it each time after you use it. Wipe all surfaces you have touched using strong household cleaner (disinfectant).
  • Use different towels.
  • Do not share a bed.
  • Do not use the kitchen at the same time.
  • Clean surfaces that you often touch several times a day. Use household cleaner (detergent).
  • Use a dishwasher. If this is not possible, wash and dry each person’s things separately. Use a different sponge and tea towels for each person.
  • Do not shake dirty washing before putting it in the washing machine. If you do not have a washing machine, wait 3 days after your staying at home period ends before taking it to be washed.
  • Put rubbish such as tissues and disposable wiping cloths into rubbish bags that are tied shut. Then put these bags inside a second bag. You should wait 3 days before you put them outside for the rubbish collection.

Q.  What are the new rules from 5th January 2021? Can I see my friends and family?

A: This will depend on what your local COVID alert level is.  Find out here

Q: Do I have to socially distance from my partner/boyfriend/girlfriend?

A:  People in an established relationship do not need to socially distance. If in the early stages of a relationship, you should take particular care to follow the guidance on social distancing. If you intend to have close contact with someone, you should discuss how you can help to prevent risks of transmission as a couple, for example, by ensuring you are both avoiding close contact with people you do not live with.