Students: Housing

Department for Education written question – answered on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what representations he has made to providers of accommodation on behalf of university students who wish to terminate their contracts early in order to be able to go home to study online.

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

We are committed to ensuring students receive high-quality education. Higher education (HE) providers remain open and face-to-face teaching has continued throughout the period of national restrictions. We are only asking HE providers to move online by 9 December for the remainder of autumn term to enable students to return home prior to the winter break, safely following the national restrictions, and to still be able to continue their studies.

The government plays no direct role in the provision of student residential accommodation whether the accommodation is managed by universities or private sector organisations. We urge accommodation providers to be fair in their decisions about rent charges for this period. A number of universities and large companies waived rents for the summer term or released students early from their contracts.

If students face financial hardship and struggle to pay their rent, support is available. 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. Many HE providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, providers will support them through their own hardship funds.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. This sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and help businesses treat their customers fairly. This guidance is available here: 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.

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.

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