Coronavirus: Students and Landlords

This note was issued on 1 July 2021. 

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

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Leeds Update: 52 week tenancies are common and often run from 1st July to 30 June the following year.  In practice, this means there is very little time to prepare properties between tenancies. 

As of 1 July 2021 positive cases of Covid-19 in the Hyde Park and Headingley areas remain significantly higher than the national average and as a consequence there are a large number of households self-isolating.  It is likely that this is affecting the tenancy changeover period 2021.  Landlords are recommended to keep in close contact with their out-going and incoming tenants to ensure that any change of circumstances is communicated as soon as possible. 

Nottingham update: Cases are rising in Nottingham - in the city centre in the seven days to 25th June there is 350 per 100,000 (remaining above the national average of 157 per 100,000).  This is higher in Lenton and Dunkirk (623 per 100,000).

Current cases can be tracked on the interactive map

Unipol has updated the FAQs on Moving in and out of properties to include questions involving the disruption to the tenancy changeover period.

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

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The roadmap to end the lockdown 

It was announced on Monday 21st June that the final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England is to be delayed until 19 July. It comes amid rising cases, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, which was first identified in India. The delay means limits remain on how many people can meet, with groups of up to 30 allowed to meet outdoors and up to six people or two households allowed indoors.

On 10 May 2021 the Government updated it's guidance for when students can return to campus for the summer term: HERE

“Following the review announced in the COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021 (Roadmap) of when all remaining higher education students can return to in person teaching and learning, the Government advises that these students can return from 17th May, alongside Step 3 of the Roadmap.”
 
Although the vast majority of students have already returned to their accommodation. 
 
Students living in their term-time accommodation should continue to follow the broader national guidance which is, from 17th May, that no more than 6 people or 2 households/bubbles are permitted to mix indoors. 

As usual 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). This guidance was last updated on 28th May 2021

The latest guidance states "You are free to move home, whether renting or buying, provided these are undertaken in line with latest guidance on (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions, public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation. This includes people moving permanently into new shared accommodation e.g. a shared flat or house in multiple occupation (HMO). Where moving into new shared accommodation, such as a shared flat or HMO, this will become the private dwelling where they are living for the purposes of any guidance. People who live in shared accommodation should continue to follow the relevant rules and guidance on meeting people from outside of your household."

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

The Situation in Accommodation (latest presented first)

May and June 2021

Final easing of lockdown has been delayed until 19th July 2021

The Government advice to educational providers has had little influence on where students are choosing to live. Many students started returning to live in their University town or city after January and the numbers continuing to live away from their home address has consistently increased to the present day. The average UK occupancy level in PBSA Code members was 69%.

It is clear that the majority of students have chosen to move back, with their friends, to their student accommodation, regardless of the Government advice relating to “returning to the campus”. It is also clear that most universities have responded to this return by opening communal facilities and libraries to provide those students with study options and as much support as they can give consistent with the Government Guidance they have been given.
 
Many students normally “drift off” after their exams in May. There is no sign this will happen and many students are planning to stay in their accommodation until the end of their contracts. This is a mixture of trying to get their money’s worth, better weather and greater external socialisation and the opening up of hospitality in towns and cities making life more rewarding.
 
It is now clear that many universities and students’ unions are keen to try and give their students some opportunity to meet others before they leave for the year. The boldest move comes from Sheffield Students’ Union who are effectively planning a series of events that effectively operates as a late freshers’ week after 21st June: these events are already fully booked so those providing accommodation in Sheffield can expect students to remain to the end of their current contracts. 
 
Most universities are unable to hold their degree graduation ceremonies (either postponing them until 2022 or holding them on line) but some universities are putting together a number of social events around the time that graduation ceremonies would normally have taken place to enable as much socialising as possible and providing a sense of occasion before students leave for summer.

April 2021

As many accommodation providers will know, after a fall in occupancy when some students returned home for Easter, students are now choosing to return to their accommodation and occupancy rates are expected to reach pre-Easter levels over the next few days. Travel restrictions were eased on 29th March when the “stay at home rule” ended.

Many universities will be disappointed at the further delay to the return to campus.  A recent HEPI blog by Professor Graham Galbraith, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth says: "Throughout the pandemic the overwhelming majority of students have behaved very well and, like you and I, can now go to the pub, get a tattoo or drive cross-country for a self-catered holiday. The only thing most cannot do is access in-person teaching – an activity that, as it occurs in highly managed COVID-secure environments, is far safer than almost anything else they can now do....The ONS estimates that about three-quarters of students are already at their term-time address. Any mass return has already happened and seems to have gone unnoticed. "   Read the full Blog HERE

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.

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 latest Government guidance for universities on 20 May 2021 covers social distancing on campus, face coverings and the re-opening of buildings and campuses.   

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.

An Additional £15 Million support package for students announced

Students will benefit from an additional £15 million to support them with financial pressures from the pandemic, the Universities Minister has announced. The announcement is in addition to the £70 already distributed in the previous financial year and is open to international and postgraduate students as well as domestic undergraduates. 
 
The new funding means that universities can continue 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 to delay the return to campus and the additional financial burden this may place on some students.  

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.

Assessments

On 6 January 2021, the government confirmed that in summer 2021, students taking GCSE, AS and A levels regulated by Ofqual, should be awarded grades based on an assessment by their teachers.

The U-turn on A levels in summer 2020 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

Moving In and Out of Properties

In Leeds, 52 week tenancies are common and often run from 1st July to 30 June the following year.  In practice, this means there is very little time to prepare properties between tenancies. 

As of 1 July positive cases of Covid-19 in the Hyde Park and Headingley areas remain high and therefore there are a significant number of households self-isolating. This is having an impact on the tenancy changeover period in 2021.  Landlords are recommended to keep in close contact with out-going and incoming tenants to ensure that any change of circumstances is communicated as soon as possible.  Current cases can be tracked on the interactive map.  

Q: My landlord has contacted me to say that i cannot move in to my new property as the current tenants are self-isolating - what should I do?

Unfortunately with cases rising this is becoming more common, particularly when there is no gap between one tenancy ending and another beginning.  In this instance you should get as much information about when you will be able to move in and how the property will be prepared and cleaned beforehand.  Your landlord is following the Government guidance around self-isolation and although you do have a contract, public safety is paramount in this situation.  Your landlord should deduct the rent for the period you are not able to live in the property.   You should ask your landlord if they have any where temporarily for you to move in to during this period. Unipol has been working with the universities to make available some temporary accommodation, you can access further information on this HERE

The Government Guidance says "We encourage all parties involved to be as flexible as possible and to be prepared to delay moves, for example if one of those involved becomes ill with COVID-19 during the moving process or has to self-isolate.....You should not expect to immediately be able to move into any home where people have COVID-19 or are self-isolating."

Q: Can my university help if i can't move in to my new accommodation on 1st July?

Unipol is liaising with the universities in Leeds about the current situation.  Details of how the universites can help is detailed below.   

University of Leeds

Students not currently living in university residences can apply for temporary accommodation with the university if they are unable to move in to their new accommodation with a private provider due to the current residents self-isolating.  You can apply HERE. Please note that this should be available from 1st July 2021 and the university will be as flexible as possible for the period you require the accommodation.

For students currently staying in University residences, you should get in touch with the Accommodation Office and they will look to extend your contract in your current room or find you appropriate temporary accommodation to cover the period where you cannot move to your new property. Email accom@leeds.ac.uk or call 0113 343 7777.

Leeds Beckett University

Students not currently in Leeds Beckett tenancies at risk of being unable to access accommodation with a private provider due to residents self-isolating can contact the Accommodation office to discuss your circumstances.

Self-isolating students at risk of eviction at the end of a private tenancy please contact your landlord urgently to clarify your position and keep the Accommodation Office informed of your circumstances.

Students in existing Leeds Beckett tenancies who are currently self-isolating, unable to access their accommodation with a private provider or unable to complete their move-out due to flatmates self-isolating will be able to arrange a short-term extension of their accommodation contract. You should receive an email detailing the next steps so please check your University email account. You can also contact the Accommodation Office to discuss your circumstances.

Contact the Accommodation Office: E-mail: accommodation@leedsbeckett.ac.uk Tel: 0113 812 5972 (Mon-Fri 09.00am-5.00pm)

Self-isolation support: Remember, if you are self-isolating, the University have services to support you. Please contact the Student Advice Hub via:

Further information can be also be found on https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/covid-19/students/

Unipol Housing

If you are a current tenant or a new tenant with Unipol you will have received an email from us explaining how this current situation may affect you.  This will outline how we intend to support you over the changeover period. You can also view this information on the Unipol Housing website - Tenancy Changeover June 2021
 

Q: I am currently self-isolating in my student property and my period of self-isolation 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. At the very least your landlord will be expected to return rent to the incoming tenants for the period they are unable to occupy the property and this will include several days after you leave to enable appropriate cleaning to take place.
 
You are therefore likely to be asked to pay rent for the period of your overstay (or possibly longer), plus cleaning costs .  Please read below for more information.
 

Q: I have told my landlord that I need to self-isolate after the end day to my contract and they have said I need to pay a full month's rent, what should I do?


At the least, you will be expected to pay rent for the period you need to remain in the property.  The legal position in normal circumstances is that when you do not vacate a property on time at the end of a fixed term AST, a statutory periodic tenancy arises.  The period of this new tenancy is the period for which rent was last payable under the fixed term tenancy (if your last payment was quarterly, then this will be the period of your statutory periodic tenancy).  Therefore if you are paying rent monthly, you would have a monthly statutory periodic tenancy.  You would be liable for one month’s rent and would have to give at least one month’s notice to end the tenancy. 
 
However, these are not normal circumstances, and although Unipol and the Unipol Codes can only have a limited role to play in how landlords charge rent, it may be helpful here to outline how the Unipol Codes will approach this were a complaint received about a member:
 
  • Setting unreasonable conditions for tenancy options. This would particularly be the case if a room had to be vacated/or remained in to comply with government guidance, and a landlord was charging rent beyond the period in which a room was occupied to comply with this guidance.
  • Unnecessarily rigid and inflexible conditions have been set by a landlord in matters relating to the tenancy which fail to appreciate the individual circumstances of the complainant
     
Any student making a complaint within these areas will be asked if they think they have any exceptional circumstances where their case should be considered individually by a supplier. Charging for a few extra days after the student(s) move out to allow for proper cleaning of the property prior to the new tenants moving in would not be considered unreasonable as this would be in line with the recommended cleaning guidelines in non-healthcare settings following a period of self-isolation and/or a positive Covid-19 infection.
 
If the Codes Complaints Investigator feels that the exceptional circumstances merits individual consideration they will forward these to the landlord for such consideration and it is expected that these representations will be properly considered and responded to in a timely manner by the supplier. Exceptional circumstances must relate to the individual circumstances of the complainant and could include a need to self-isolate in line with government guidance (with appropriate evidence of why this is necessary provided), they cannot simply state a sense of entitlement that contracted rent should not be charged in the light of the pandemic.
 
If your landlord/ managing agent is not a member of the Unipol Code it may still be helpful to show them these FAQs. However, ultimately it will be down to your landlord/agent to agree an approach with you. 
 
Giving Notice
 
If your landlord is demanding that you pay a full month's rent it is important for you to serve notice before the end of June.  If you are still in occupation on 1 July, you won’t be able to give a clear month’s notice to end the tenancy on 31 July, and you could be held liable for August’s rent as well.  An email expressing your intentions should be sufficient. Remember if you are in a joint contract (for example, a property with 5 occupants) under the law you are considered as one tenant so it is important that your notice states the intention of all of you to end the tenancy.
 
Unipol recommends that landlords and tenants try to be reasonable in what is a very challenging time and negotiate a reasonable approach that reflects actual costs/lost rent incurred.
 
It is likely that students who find themselves needing to self-isolate were unaware of the additional financial obligations they could now face.  It will be important that landlords and students take a reasonable approach and are prepared to put in place a payment plan where necessary. 
 
Some students may also be eligible for a one-off payment of £500 through the NHS Test and Trace Support Payment scheme, if they are required to self-isolate. Information is available: HERE

Q: I am not currently in my student property, but am having to self-isolate.  Therefore, I cannot get back to remove all my belongings before my tenancy ends, what should I do?

 
Although this is a difficult situation and you cannot leave your current place of isolation you do still have responsibility to arrange to remove your possessions and vacate your student property on time. If you are in a shared property and you are part of a joint tenancy then you are treated as one tenant within the law.  This means the whole group is responsible for making sure the property is returned on time to your landlord. Your landlord has obligations to their incoming students and will need access to the property as soon as possible to prepare for the new tenants. Please see above for the possible consequences if you do not vacate your property on time.
 
You should arrange for your possessions to be packed and sent to your home address or stored with friends as appropriate.  If you don’t have anyone locally who can help you there are companies who can make the necessary arrangements.  You should also consider asking friends or family that are not local to help you.  If you are arranging for an external company there will be costs involved so you need to check how much the service will be and you will have to arrange with your landlord or the other residents a suitable time when they can let the company have access to the property. 

Here are some examples of companies that provide this service:

Lovespace – shipping and storage

PingLocker – packing, storage and shipping

PACK & SEND – packing, storage and shipping  

Please be aware that Unipol do not endorse any one company, and we would strongly recommend that you research any company you do choose to use.

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 after a period of time if you have not been in contact with them.

Q: I am currently self-isolating and i've informed my landlord that i cannot move out at the end of my contract but have been told that i still have to vacate the property on time.  What should i do?

 
It is likely that your landlord is worried about the disruption this will cause to in-coming students but you should remain where you are for the period of your self-isolation.  This is a public health issue.  There is help available for landlords and students who may need to arrange temporary accommodation and this is detailed above.  It is important that you remind your landlord of the advice surrounding moving home and self-isolation.
 
"Landlords should avoid moving tenants who are showing symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating." and "We encourage all parties involved to be as flexible as possible and to be prepared to delay moves, for example if one of those involved becomes ill with COVID-19 during the moving process or has to self-isolate.....You should not expect to immediately be able to move into any home where people have COVID-19 or are self-isolating."
 
If your landlord is unclear of the rules around self-isolation and moving home and would like further advice please refer them to the guidance available here and if it will help please ask them to get in touch with Unipol for further clarification.
 
Do read above for the legal position on overstaying the end of your fixed term AST (Your contract).
 
Q: Do i need to tell my new landlord that i can't move in to my new property on the contract start date as i'm self-isolating?
 
It is a good idea to inform your new landlord of your circumstances as well as informing your current landlord.  This helps them to plan for your arrival.  You will still need to pay your rent for your new property.  If the rest of your housemates will be still be moving in on that day it is advisable to let your new landlord know.   

Q: I do not have a positive Covid-19 test result but someone in my household does.  Our tenancy comes to an end soon and I need to vacate my property, what should I do?

 
It is important to inform your landlord as soon as possible, particularly if the period of self-isolation for the household is likely to continue past the end date of your tenancy.  To protect yourself and other members of the household who have not received a positive test it is important to continue to minimise contact.  Government guidance on how to limit close contact can be found HEREFor example: If you have more than one bathroom in the property you should ask the person with a positive result to use a different bathroom. 
 
You should continue to follow the self-isolation guidelines until all members of the household are no longer symtomatic (at least 10 days from when their symptoms started or from the day they had the test, if they do not have symptoms).  
 
Please see above for the legal position on staying beyond the end of your fixed term AST (Your contract).

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

The Government guidance issued on 10th May 2021 states: 

"You are free to move home, whether renting or buying, provided these are undertaken in line with latest guidance on (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions, public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation. This includes people moving permanently into new shared accommodation e.g. a shared flat or house in multiple occupation (HMO). Where moving into new shared accommodation, such as a shared flat or HMO, this will become the private dwelling where they are living for the purposes of any guidance. People who live in shared accommodation should continue to follow the relevant rules and guidance on meeting people from outside of your household."

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

"Letting agents, HE providers and accommodation providers should also consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies agreed while broader measures remain in place, taking care to follow government advice on social distancing."

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. 

Repeat or frequent temporary changes in household unit will increase the risk of
disease transmission and staying within the same household unit will facilitate test and
trace activities in the event of COVID-19. Those forming new households should take
account of the guidance on meeting people from outside your household for advice on
household interactions.

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 10 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 10 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. 

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 to check the current social distancing rules.  Help from parents and friends should be 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: 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?  Not all my housemates are here and we 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

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 pandemic 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 re-considered what it could do in this area and wrote 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 10th May 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 further £15m support package for students facing financial hardship on 14th April 2020.  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 its latest guidance on 7th April 2021 which states:

"Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability…Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.
 
In many if not most cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. If your ability to pay will be affected, it’s 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.”

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.

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.

Students will benefit from an additional £15 million to support them with financial pressures from the pandemic, the Universities Minister has announced in mid-April 2021. The announcement is in addition to the £70 already distributed in the previous financial year and is open to international and postgraduate students as well as domestic undergraduates. 

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: 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 social distancing restrictions.  Unipol are recommending to landlords 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 are now increasinig and will need to adhere to the current Government Guidance on viewings available here

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.  

Living in a student property

Q: I'm self-isolating and my landlord says they need to carry out a repair, what should I do?

No work should be carried out in the home where a tenant or the household is self-isolating because one or more family members has symptoms unless it is to remedy a direct risk that affects the safety of the tenants, their household or to the public.  Any routine repairs can and should wait until the social isolation period has ended.

The Government has recently updated it's "Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)"

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 self-isolating 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?

  • 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.