Students with Families: Advice, Housing Supply and Demand

Thursday 7th April 2022, 11.00am – 12.05pm

Speakers: Martin Blakey (CEO – Unipol Student Homes), Ed Naylor (Head of Accommodation and Student Living – Liverpool John Moores University), Steve Musham (Head of Resident Services  - Zebra Housing), Nicola Brown (Assistant Chief Executive – Hub Services – Unipol Student Homes)

This forum explored:

  • What family and couple housing is available?
  • What advice can be given to these students (often on a tight budget)?
  • How is this new demand being met?

This forum will look at what housing supply exists and what kind of help and support can be given to this important specialist group.


The recording of this event can be viewed here.


Martin Blakey – Unipol in Leeds

  • Most UK students with families tend to study locally or commute
  • Unipol houses around 205 students with dependents, mainly families
    • family housing is generally uneconomic, attracting around 20% of rental income of shared student flats
    • this limited rental income does not cover both running costs and construction costs
    • in Unipol’s case the buildings above have either been gifted or provided at less than full economic cost
    • these  arrangements for each site are complex and considerable time is required to negotiate new arrangements
  • Lancaster University built some family flats
  • There are four sources of family accommodation supplied that Unipol manage/operate:
    • provided directly to Unipol by Leeds City Council
    • provided by Leeds City Council via a Registered Social Landlord
    • provided by the University of Leeds to Unipol
    • provided directly by Unipol
  • Grant aid was previously available but is no longer possible.
  • Special factors:
    • Continuous occupation – family housing is almost permanently occupied with only 25% of the units turning over across a single year, this makes programmed refurbishments quite complex
    • Higher management load – families are fairly demanding tenants, very cost conscious and often wear and tear is higher
    • Difficulty in increasing rent – unlike single student housing there is not an annual turnover
    • Rent increases generate much lower sums of money
    • Rent does not cover energy – because of significant variations of levels of energy used
    • More variety in what is included with the rent
    • Tend to be fully occupied all of the time, 75% was the lowest occupancy in the middle of the pandemic
  • Advice links:
  • Advice is bespoke to the city and changes regularly.
  • We have no family accommodation in Nottingham, our role here is only to give advice.


Steve Musham – Zebra Housing

  • London is a really specific market, Zebra is a very unique organisation. There are not many providers of international family accommodation, we were set up in 1959, originally set up to house African students.
  • Family accommodation is just not there in London, it is not cost effective in comparison to single student cluster flats.
  • Uneconomic to buy land in Zones 1 and 2 in London.
  • Through the pandemic, accommodation was 90% full. Some students and families were told to go home by Universities, and then told by their sponsors their funding was being withdrawn and therefore returned.
  • 150 properties. One of the largest providers of family accommodation in Zone 1 and 2.
  • Development in Tufnell Park acquired from LSE – comprising at the time of 18 useable flats, now 26 flats on site with more 2 bedroom accommodation.
  • Applications show an increase in students arriving from South America.
  • Housing students from around 50 different countries.
  • Rents include all utilities excluding electricity.
  • Monitoring and communicating about energy use at the moment.
  • Decarbonisation is a huge area. Some flats after 2025 won’t be allowed to let due to their EPC ratings, work needs to be done involving insulation, double glazing and different energy sources. Difficulties of being in London prevent certain types of heating options.
  • 20% of flats have one of the couple studies whilst the other works, and then at the end of the course they may swap, resulting in a 5/6 year tenancy.
  • Tenancies were extended a little during Covid for students that were not able to get back home or leave.
  • Affordable move on options can be really challenging for students when they finish their course.
  • Looking to the future – further development is really based on luck.


Ed Naylor – Liverpool John Moores University

  • Not a massive international recruiter despite clear advantages High % from poorer countries or with restrictions on moving funds
  • Offer partner hall rooms – unconditional guarantee
  • Most halls want full payment without guarantor but more flexibility now
  • Strong, good value and regulated HMO sector (Liverpool Student Homes)
  • High % of new Int students do not take halls due to the cost
  • Increased focus plus post study work visa –> increasing applications
  • Highlighted during Covid when students were taken to their accommodation – poor quality of some of the HMOs.
  • Showed some properties were used by many students.
  • High number of January 2022 arrivals.
  • There is an assumption of high demand for September 2022, postponed arrivals and the visa change effects.
  • There is a risk for the institution when there is nothing we are able to offer.
  • Difficulties of responsibility for the children and their safety in properties.
  • We have had a Families Officer in the past, do we need one again now?
  • LSH used to manage a few family properties but due to the work involved and financial risk these were let go.
  • Working with external guarantors schemes were considered in the past but is unlikely to be enough in the case of families.
  • Possible solutions:
    • Attractive to house families in a redeveloping area
    • Students want to live centrally
    • Guarantor schemes/leasing/underwrites require significant investment and/or acceptance of risk


Nicola Brown – Unipol in Bradford

  • Unipol has been working in Bradford for 15 houses, working closely with University of Bradford and Bradford College, we also run an on campus advice hub.
  • 1500 international postgraduate students were due to arrive in January 2022, with 300 intending to bring their families.
  • Bradford has always had a strong local undergraduate recruitment pattern, these made up 88% of acceptances in 2021.
  • Up to last year, market was seeing occupancy rates of 60% in some PBSA buildings.
  • Many have left the student sector and leased buildings to housing associations.
  • We have seen a fall from 75 landlords in 2011 to 21 landlords in 2021.
  • We had to advise these students to look to other markets such as Zoopla etc.
  • We started to look at other cities such as Huddersfield and Leeds for any referrals, Huddersfield were too seeing a shortage in this kind of accommodation.
  • Unipol told the University to advise students as soon as possible and advise them to come as individuals in the first instance.
  • We set up a dedicated available accommodation page and advice page online for these students.
  • The council in Bradford were also struggling to accommodate families, with many families accommodated in hostels.
  • Students arriving in February had no accommodation booked in advance, and although advice had been given not to bring dependents many still did. Many are staying in hotels, hostels, Airbnb etc. Many are commuting from as far as the midlands and North East.
  • Students are increasingly frustrated in trying to secure accommodation alongside studies and childcare.
  • Student support services are seeing many students distressed about the situation and the impact on finances and studies.
  • This continued high acceptance rates will lead to more pressure on support services, may lead to higher rates of non-continuation and negative feedback based on the poor housing experiences.



  • It is a similar situation in Lincoln. Changing demographic, University is moving very much into Pakistani, Nigerian and Indian markets for PG Taught.
  • Many students are living in Airbnbs, hotels and hostels.
  • In the middle of selling a large property in the town for staff accommodation, but are now leasing it back for family accommodation. They are looking for further options to solve this.