Coronavirus: Students and Landlords

This note was issued on 24th July 2020 updating that previously issued on 9th, 2nd, 1st July, 25th, 18th, 10th, 6th, 2nd, 1st June, 28th, 22nd, 14th, 5th May, 23rd, 15th, 9th, 8th, 6th April and 31st March 2020.

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

Take me to the FAQs - Rent and ContractsMoving in and out of properties and living in student properties

The Current Situation

The COVID19 pandemic has left many students, parents and landlords feeling worried and uncertain about the future.  

Many students have been concerned about arrangements for collecting their belongings and moving in to their new student home for the next academic year.  The Government issued guidance around the collection of belongings on 21st May and this can be accessed here

The 2020 - 2021 Academic Year

The many concerns of students, parents and accommodation providers alike have been compounded by the uncertainties around what the 2020 – 2021 academic year is likely to look like.  Most universities have now announced their plans adopting a blended/hybrid approach that includeds both online and face-to-face teaching. Some institutions are looking to delay a proportion of their postgraduate programmes until January 2021. 

The latest figures from UCAS issued on 18th June show a 1% rise in applications from the UK to 410,420.  A 12% rise in applications from Outside the EU was also seen.  A small decline in applications from the EU (-1%) was reported and is likely to be a combination of Brexit and COVID-19.  Interestingly, there are fewer students this year opting to take a year out, down 1% when compared with 2019. This is despite the blended teaching approach announced by most universities.  It is likely that many students have accepted the current situation, see limited opportunities for travel and work if they defer and just want to get on with their education.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

"Students have made their decisions and are ready to take up the life-changing opportunities that higher education can bring. Today’s numbers will also be welcome news for universities and colleges, and show their announcements on the blend of online and face-to-face learning most are planning to deliver have been building confidence ahead of the start of term.

We are publishing these headline offer-acceptance statistics for the first time, to provide the clearest possible picture of students’ behaviour at this moment in the application cycle."

Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis, said

"It is very positive to see that the number of students planning to start university this autumn is on the rise, especially those from the most disadvantaged areas, and that the number choosing to defer has fallen from this time last year.

University remains an excellent choice for students. Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, students can expect a high-quality experience this autumn with most universities planning to deliver teaching, student support and social activities in-person."

Nottingham Trent University was one of the first institutions to annouce their plans on 21st May, stating all their campuses will be open for the Autumn Term.  This is likely to have brought relief to many of their students.  They will be offering a mixture of on-campus, in class teaching alongside online learning.

NTU's Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Peck said

This blended approach has always been our aspiration as our future model and as far as possible we are accelerating its development. At every step we will be sure to protect the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and students and we will follow all government advice: the safety of our students and colleagues will always remain our priority.”  

On the 28th May the Vice Chancellor, Professor Shearer West from the University of Nottingham has also issued an encouraging statement:

"For our undergraduate students and many postgraduates, our new academic year will start, as planned, on 21 September 2020. A number of postgraduate courses may commence later than this and we will confirm these very shortly. We will welcome new and returning students back to our UK campuses in line with whatever national measures are in place at that time."

The University of Bradford like other universities has confirmed it will be opening its campus on 28th September and will be adopting a blended approach.  Shirley Congdon, The Vice-Chancellor has said:

"We are committed to delivering outstanding education to all our students while continuing to offer a campus-centred experience through a blended approach to learning. This means that all our courses will be delivered through a combination of educational technologies and face-to-face teaching on campus."

The University of Leeds has been late in providing details of its approach but the latest information announced on 10th June by Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice Chacellor states:

"Teaching in 2020-21 will be delivered through a hybrid of online and on-campus teaching, with a bias towards face-to-face teaching wherever possible (defaulting to online delivery if there is a period of further ‘lockdown’, locally or nationally)." 

Key points of note in their approach are:

  • The undergraduate year will follow the normal pattern, commencing on 28 September.
  • Intake for most postgraduate taught students (PGTs) will be in January, but with some programmes starting in September and with some opportunities for a dual offer (i.e. both September and January starts offered). In practice, this is likely to mean that most home PGTs will start in September, and that most international PGTs might start in January.  
  • At least while social distancing requirements remain in place, all large group learning and teaching activities will be delivered online, with smaller classes and personal tutorials being provided face-to-face where that is possible.

Leeds Beckett University have announced their learning and teaching plans for September 2020 and like others are looking at a blended approach.  There are no firm plans other than:

  • Our academic year will begin at the normal time, which for many of our students will be week commencing 21 September (please note some courses have different term dates, this information can be found on the online prospectus on the relevant course pages).
  • We’re investing more, so you’ll have access to the technologies you’ll need, ensuring you’ll be able to access online learning where it is necessary.
  • We are working to adapt our campus to enable social distancing, so that small-group teaching can continue where possible.

A useful link with regular updates on what universities are planning for the 2020 - 2021 Academic Year from Student Crowd can be found here

Social Distancing, Visitors and Social Interaction

Social distancing will reduce to 1 metre+ and this means that accommodation operators will need to make a number on ongoing adjustments to maintain this: things will not simply “go back to normal”.  Special arrangements need to be made in lounges and communal areas, lift management and reception and office facilities to ensure social distancing is maintained.

The Government published new guidance for universities on 3 June 2020 looking at reopening buildings and campuses. There is some useful sections on social distancing on campus, social isolation and wellbeing.  The accommodation section has mainly being covered by prior guidance already detailed below on cleaning in non-healthcare settings and moving homes.

The guidelines on visitors and social interaction will be changing constantly but both students’ unions and the educational institutions themselves will have an important role in communicating expectations to students. Some institutions are developing “Community Responsibility Agreements” (or something similarly titled) to encourage appropriate behaviour.

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.

What's happening more generally in the HE Sector?

On 4th May 2020 the Government announced a package of measures aimed at supporting students and the HE sector. There is a web link to the Government measures here and the full statement can be accessed here.

The guidance issued on 21st May 2020 for HE Providers builds on the announcements from the 4th May and covers the collection of belongings, student number controls, Clearing arrangements and a number of other areas.  during the coronavirus outbreak  The measures still appear to envisage the next academic year progressing.  More information on this can be accessed through our National Codes Website, along with the amounts of rent refunded or forgone in the PBSA sector to date, 

The Universities Minister Michelle Donelan sent a message to students through UCAS on 4th May 2020.

Rent and Contracts

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

Unipol, along with many landlords has received requests and questions from their tenants and their parents about paying rent.  Unipol's Board has now met and decided a number of measures affecting rent across the Summer period and next year's tenancies.  Find out more here: Unipol's current position on rent reductions

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

Q: Some of my friends who are in university accommodation have been released from their contract. I live with a private landlord; will my landlord release me?

A: Some universities have decided to release students in their residences from rent obligations but their position is very different to that of many landlords.  The universities mainly have deep (or deeper) pockets and the larger PBSA suppliers will take the hit.  For universities their accommodation operation is a side-line to their main business of teaching and income generation, whereas landlords operate primarily on rental income.  The smaller suppliers, Unipol included, has needed to take a more measured position. It is therefore difficult or in many cases impossible for landlords to just release their tenants from their contracts or give rent reductions.

It is our understanding that many landlords will not be in a position to offer any rent reductions.  A few landlords have indicated that they may consider a small rent reduction but 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."

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. Suppliers are understandably nervous about what will happen to the next academic year because if that failed then insolvency, without help, would loom for many.  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.

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: 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 Covid19 for our own tenants

Q: Should my landlord stop charging rent during the Covid19 outbreak?

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."

Unipol has written to accredited landlords and managing agents in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham to explain our own decision and the model adopted by our Board of Trustees.  Unipol's decision is its own and it therefore follows that there is no legal or other obligation on other landlords to follow suit.  As stated above 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.

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 for next academic year 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: Should i sign a contract when i don't know what is happening to my course in the next 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.  The National Code has written to its members to ascertain how prevalent this practice is and from responses already received some level of contractual flexibility has been built into 40% of members’ contracts affecting some 144,524 tenants . Unite have recently announced “If your university term dates change, tell us and you won’t be charged for those weeks”.

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 new 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.

Moving In and Out of Properties

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

Read the latest FAQs from the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan issued on 21st May 2020

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: My accommodation contract is about to end and I’m worried about being made homeless.

A: It is important that providers operate a ‘non-eviction’ policy during this difficult time, so that no student is required to leave halls if their contract is up. This is particularly important in the case of international students, care leavers and estranged students.

If an accommodation provider is unable to accommodate a student they should work through local partnerships, such as with the local authority and lettings agents, in order to prevent students being made homeless. Emergency legislation has been introduced to protect residential tenants

In Leeds, Nottingham and Bradford Unipol may be able to help so get in contact.

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.

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 states: 

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

"Letting agents and landlords should take steps to ensure any properties are prepared ready for new tenants, this may include cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the virus in line with government advice. Letting agents and landlords should 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 to minimise possible spread of coronavirus.  Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover."  

There is no specific Government advice for student accommodation.  However there was some advice issued on 15th May 2020 for decontamination in non-health care settings which states:

“The infection risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) following contamination of the environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk. However, studies of other viruses in the same family suggest that, in most circumstances, the risk is likely to be reduced significantly after 72 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.

To see the latest information provided to Unipol landlords and to read Unipol's approach to the tenanch changeover click here

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.

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 may relate 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.  This may continue to be relaxed as the R rate reduces.

With the UK moving to level 3 of the COVID-19 alert system you can now: 

  • meet in groups of up to two households (your support bubble counts as one household) in any location - public or private, indoors or outdoors. You do not always have to meet with the same household - you can meet with different households at different times. However, it remains the case - even inside someone’s home - that you should socially distance from anyone not in your household or bubble. 
  • you can stay overnight away from your home with your own household or support bubble, or with members of one other household (where you need to keep social distancing)

You cannot:

  • attend or organise gatherings (such as parties) of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces). 

The current Government guidance (as of 9th July) states: You should only be socialising in groups of up to two households indoors and outdoors or or up to six people from different households outdoors. If attending a place or event that is following COVID-19 Secure guidelines, you should take care to limit your interactions with anyone outside of your group and you should continue to maintain social distancing from those that you do not live with. It is critical that you follow these guidelines to keep both yourself and others safe.

It is likely that further guidance will be forthcoming, advising students not to move backwards and forwards frequently between two different 'homes'. 

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 allow a two-metre distance to be 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 avoid any face-to-face contact, to ensure social distancing guidance is followed and that appropriate steps can be taken to maintain good hand hygiene for example, when answering the door.

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. If you are shielding, an inspection or repair should only be carried out if there is a direct gas safety risk to you that affects your safety. 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.