The 2021 Accommodation Cost Survey - The Main Findings and Behind the Headlines Notes

Tuesday 8th February 2022, 11am – 12.05pm

Speakers: Martin Blakey (CEO – Unipol Student Homes), Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed (Assistant Chief Executive – Standards – Unipol Student Homes), Sarah Jones (Cushman and Wakefield).

You can view the recording of this event here.

This survey covered 474,000 PBSA bed spaces from both educational institutions and the private sector. Aside from accommodation costs, the survey provided essential information about:

  • the type of accommodation now available
  • the shape of the sector
  • letting lengths and conditions of letting
  • how rents were set
  • how effective institutional and private sector supplier links were.


The full survey report can be accessed online here.


Martin Blakey – An Overview of the Sector:

  • New British Standard Institute Code of Practice (PAS 9980) for Fire Risk Appraisal of External Walls (FRAEW) started on 31st January. Methodology for the fire risk appraisal of external wall construction.
  • Buildings in Scotland – the government is looking at a bill (Coronavirus Recovery and Reform Bill) – likely to be passed by April 2022 which means that those running student accommodation have a duty to have regard to public health advice.
  • Scottish Scoping Survey – the government is undertaking a policy review of PBSA.
  • 60,310 rooms in Scotland shown by Cushman and Wakefield Tracker; the ACS surveyed 67% of these rooms.
  • 2:1 private sector to institution – complete reversal over the last 10 years.
  • The general view is that students were slow to return to campus in January, much slower in 2021 when they feared lockdown. This is reflected in slower January lettings for next year and quieter campuses (dealt with in the next forum).
  • Some institutions have had a number of PGTs arriving in January.
  • In Bradford around 600 students have arrived – ended the housing surplus there.
  • In international recruitment:
    • EU students have continued to decline
    • Greater numbers from India
    • Increasing number of couples and families on tight budgets
    • Travel, particularly from China is still difficult and there are still visa delays
  • The National Code for Private Providers – new national code coming in, once approved members will be asked to sign a new declaration.
  • 3 changes to the code considerable:
    • Changes to the way in which students with disabilities and specified characteristics are charged for their rooms
    • Automatic compensation to students who suffer disruption because of late construction
    • Better help and support in terms of mental health
  • The Renters Reform Bill is likely to have important provisions on ending no fault evictions under Section 21 and provisions for redress.


Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed – Assistant Chief Executive Unipol:

  • Main findings from the ACS: Survey takes place every 3 years consistently for the last 40 years. Only focuses on PBSA. As well as looking at cost, it also asks lots of questions related to different aspects of provision.
  • Record response rate for the ACS this year – we had 473,684 bed spaces which is 68% of the sector across the UK.
  • Average rent by room type:
    • PBSA £7374 per year in 2021/22, 16% up on 2018/19
    • £6,593 University owned and managed
    • £8,002 direct lets
    • £7,058 incorporated private beds
    • £10,943 studio rent
    • £15,422 London studio rent
  • PBSA continues to get more expensive, since 2011 the average rent has increased from £4581 to £7374.
  • Rents continually outstrip RPI. Rent setting methods are less likely to be pegged by RPI. Institutions lack influence to gain control of rents.
  • Comparing PBSA and rental increases are considerably higher than rental increases in the general rental sector and above RPI.
  • Standards in the market have been increasing and older stock is being replaced with newer stock.
  • Most respondents replied that they set rents by looking at competitors in the market, not necessarily based on what it costs to run the accommodation or inflation. This is problematic when compared to what is happening to student incomes, maintenance loans do not increase at the same rate.
  • This year is the first year where RPI is running ahead of PBSA increases.
  • Loan remaining after rent: in 2011 students had average 55% of their loan after paying rent. In 2021, students on average had 28% left of their loan. Students are more and more reliant on other sources of income to fund their university experience, this was particularly prominent during the pandemic when part time work was scarce.
  • On average after paying rent, students had £69.52 per week to live on in England, £38 in London, £22.42 in Scotland, £104.55 in Wales, £29.30 in Northern Ireland.
  • Average rent per nation:
    • Northern Ireland: £5256
    • Wales: £6168,
    • Scotland: £6853,
    • England: £7536.
  • Average weekly rents:
    • University owned and managed:, London: £212, rest of UK: £160.
    • Direct let: London: £259, rest of UK: £170.  


Sarah Jones – Cushman and Wakefield:

  • Bristol:
    • £8,122 average rent per year
    • 10% more expensive than the rest of the UK
    • Huge undersupply of accommodation in Bristol
    • 56.9% rent growth over 11 years in Bristol
  • Liverpool
    • £6,080 average rent
    • 18% less expensive than UK average
    • Large proportion of students who are returning students
  • The data shows an increasing reliance of institutions on private sector over time. Between 2020 and 2021 there was a slight decline in this reliance, a reduction of 8.9%.
  • The most growth we can see is in the direct let market.
  • In 2021, only 16% of institutions let more than half of their accommodation to returners. For private providers the figure was 63%.
  • Universities are cherry-picking the PBSA beds which work best for them.
  • Welfare responsibilities of the private sector have increased – they are recording more information about student welfare, mental health first aid training, PBSA providers are moving beyond just being a landlord.