We appreciate that these are exceptional times and that students may be facing a range of accommodation issues linked to coronavirus, particularly as the University has indicated that attendance on campus will not be required for term three.
Our Advice Service has received many requests for support from students and we have produced the following to summarise our responses to some of the most common queries we have received. We hope this information is useful and encourage any student with further questions to contact our Advice Team at email@example.com.
Please note that this is an ongoing situation which is constantly developing. We will update this information as regularly as we can.
What is the University advising us to do about our accommodation?
The University has been sending regular email updates to students. Its general FAQs on coronavirus can be found here and specific advice on University accommodation is also available. These pages are updated regularly and, alongside your emails, they are likely to be the best source of information on the University’s current advice.
Email questions can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, but we would encourage you to read the FAQs before requesting specific advice.
Can I be released from my University accommodation?
On Tuesday 24 March, the University sent an email indicating that it would support requests from students wishing to be released from their accommodation contracts for the third term. Further details were sent out by email, including the process for applying for this release from contract. Students who made such a request by 10.25am on Monday 6 April should now have received a response. We hope that this has helped students who had returned home and do not plan to return to campus.
At the moment, the advice for students who are in their University accommodation, is to stay where you are and avoid non-essential travel. Further information is available from the University here, or by emailing our advice team.
Can I be released from my housing contract with a private provider?
Landlords are under no legal obligation to release tenants from their contracts, or to negotiate reduced rent payments. There are additional protections in place at the moment to prevent tenants who are struggling financially from being evicted; however this does not prevent landlords and lettings agents from taking steps to recover any debt owed, either from their tenants or their guarantors, and non-payment of rent can lead to County Court Judgments against a tenant, as well as damaging future credit ratings.
With this in mind, students wishing to be released from their housing contract with private landlords, purpose built student accommodation providers or lettings agents should contact them to discuss the possibility of ending the contract, or negotiating reduced payments. Whilst the landlord is under no obligation to agree to this, we are aware of examples where some students have secured good outcomes from these discussions. We are also aware of some providers (e.g. Unite Students) who have put in place helpful arrangements to allow students to surrender their contracts.
We have produced this letter to support students who are seeking to negotiate such arrangements and we have written to private providers to request a supportive response to students in this position – see more info here.
We have heard from a small number of students that lettings agents have refused to provide contact details for their landlords, which would enable them to make direct enquiries about release from contracts. It is worth noting that tenants have a legal right to this information – information on this right is available here.
You may also want to take a look at Shelter's housing advice for more information.
I am struggling to pay my rent. What support is available?
We appreciate that many students have lost work or been affected by other changes in circumstances as a result of the current situation, and that this can have a profound financial impact. The first piece of good news is that Government information indicates that term three student loans should still be paid as expected. The second is that the University has created a specific emergency fund to mitigate some of the financial impact to students who are in financial hardship.
?Please see this page for information about the fund, access to the application form and useful ‘Frequently asked Questions’. To ensure that those who need funds the most and quickly, the application process has been simplified.
The amount that can be applied for either as a loan or a grant, will be a capped at £1000. As with any application for assistance for financial hardship this is not a guaranteed award and we would expect that criteria for hardship will still apply. For example, if a student has savings that they can use, they would not be eligible. The most important aspect of an application for the fund is the supporting statement which is an opportunity to explain how your finances have been impacted by Covid-19 and to provide any evidence specific to this.
Email email@example.com for further advice about hardship funding.
I'm not sure whether to apply for accommodation for the next academic year. What should I do?
Ultimately, students themselves will have to decide whether to apply for accommodation at this point in time. Accommodation can be agreed now, but with the uncertainty posed by coronavirus, early agreements may pose an additional risk at this time.
For any students who do wish to proceed with accommodation arrangements now, we would ask them to note the possibility that current circumstances might mean a continuation of online teaching delivery in the 2020/21 academic year, meaning that at this stage, we do not know whether attendance on campus will be required.
We would also encourage students who wish to take out a tenancy agreement at this point to look carefully at their agreement before signing it. We would recommend that students seek a clause within their contract, allowing their release from the contract in the event that coronavirus means they are not able, in practice, to move into their property when the contract commences.
Where can I get further advice on accommodation issues and rights?
Students at the University can access our Advice Team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Useful information on housing rights is also available from a variety of sources:
- Legal advice can be sought from a solicitor. The Law Society has a search tool for solicitors who may be able to advise you.
- Shelter are providing specific housing advice relevant to coronavirus.
- The University of London Housing Services have provided this useful set of answers to questions they have received regarding housing and coronavirus.
What is being done to protect student interests with private landlords?
What have the Full-Time Officers and Guild been doing?
The Full-Time Officer team have been representing students’ issues on accommodation to University Senior Management. Additionally, the Officers co-signed an open letter to private accommodation providers, which has resulted in several providers reducing financial pressures for students. Katie, VP Welfare & Diversity, has been in contact with Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, who is supporting students’ interests. Ben has also signed an open letter to Minister of State for Universities, Michelle Donelan MP, which raises the issue of accommodation costs, as well as exams and lost earnings. You can read the letter here.
What have NUS been doing?
The NUS have been doing the following to support student accommodation issues:
- “We've met with the Student Loans Company to receive updates on their operations. While they have restored most services they are seeing fewer applications from both new and returning students than they would expect at this time and would like NUS and SUs support in encouraging applications to ensure no delays to student payments next year
- Zamzam and Eva met with Thangam Debbonaire MP, Shadow Housing Secretary, to discuss how to protect student renters during Covid-19
- The Labour Party backed our proposals for a student hardship fund to be established as part of a Student Safety Net
- We sent further information on our proposals for a Student Safety Net and the survey we conducted to MPs from all major parties
- We wrote a letter to the National Housing Federation regarding Housing Associations not releasing students from tenancy contracts
- We're gathering evidence to show that institutions' hardship funds are unlikely to be enough to sustain students financially during the pandemic, which is why we need a Student Safety Net. Help us by completing this quick form looking at hardship funds within colleges and universities.”