Students: Rented Housing

Department for Education written question – answered on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what guidance the Government is giving landlords of student accommodation on collecting rent on unoccupied accommodation.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

As both my right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19.

We expect universities to communicate clearly with residential students on rents for this period and to administer accommodation provision in a fair manner.

While it is for universities and private accommodation providers to make their own decisions about charging rents to absent students, we encourage them to consider the fairness of doing so and to clearly communicate their policies to students. We are aware that a number of universities and large companies have waived rents for the summer term or released students early from their contracts.

Students who are tenants with individual private landlords can discuss the possibility of an early release from their lease. If they face financial hardship and struggle to pay their rent, support is available: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-support-available-for-landlords-and-renters-reflecting-the-current-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak. In the first instance, a student should speak to their landlord if they think they will have difficulty meeting a rental payment, and in this unique context, tenants and landlords are encouraged to work together to put in place a rent payment scheme.

Information published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) gives guidance on the COVID-19 outbreak’s effects on consumer contracts and may be helpful to students, including those who have already paid deposits for accommodation: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cma-to-investigate-concerns-about-cancellation-policies-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic/the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-consumer-contracts-cancellation-and-refunds.

The guidance sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses treat their customers fairly. Students may be entitled to refunds from certain accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. If students need help, organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support.

If a student thinks their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: https://www.thesac.org.uk/; https://www.unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain and https://www.rla.org.uk/about/nrla-code-of-practice.shtml.

To support landlords who are experiencing a temporary loss of income, mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to 3 months where this is needed due to COVID-19-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. On 2 June, the Financial Conduct Authority confirmed that borrowers can apply for an extension to any holiday already taken while extending the window for new applications to 31 October. Landlords should contact their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss if the payment holiday is a suitable option for them.

We have also amended the COVID-19 regulations to make clear that people who wish to move home can do so. Landlords can now advertise and let properties where they are empty or where the current tenants have agreed to move. Landlords are also encouraged to contact their local authority homelessness departments or private rented sector procurement team who can discuss renting their property to a homeless household, which may guarantee an income during this time.

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