To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the November 2020 study by the National Union of Students that found that three in four students were anxious about paying their rent; and what financial support he is providing to students in relation to rents during the covid-19 outbreak.
This has been a very difficult time for students, and we urge universities and private landlords to review their accommodation policies to ensure that they are fair, clear and have the interests of students at heart.
We recognise that in these exceptional circumstances, some students may face financial hardship. The department has worked with the Office for Students to clarify that higher education (HE) providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for the 2020/21 academic year, towards hardship support. We have also made an additional £70 million of student hardship funding available to HE providers this financial year (2020/21).
HE providers have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to students, in a way that best prioritises those in greatest need. Support might include help for students facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location. The funding can be distributed to a wide population of students, including postgraduates (whether taught or research) and international students. We will continue to monitor the situation to look at what impact this funding is having.
There is further information for tenants and landlords in the context of COVID-19, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by COVID-19: 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. This guidance sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and 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. 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 the 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.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for Higher Education can consider complaints about student accommodation in England and Wales, but only where an HE provider is involved in the provision of that accommodation. The OIA cannot consider complaints where students may have concerns about accommodation in the private rented sector.