Unite is offering a four week, 50 per cent rent refund to students kept away from uni

Tenants have called it ‘a really measly effort’

Unite Students, the country’s largest private halls provider, has offered a four week, 50 per cent rent reduction to students unable to return to uni.

As unis across the country offer full refunds to students kept away from campus by new lockdown rules, Unite has also given its tenants the option of a free four-week extension to their contracts at the end of term.

However, students renting from Unite say the offer is not good enough. “I’m thoroughly disappointed with the offer after seeing other university students get lockdown rental costs frozen,” Alicia, a Bath Spa student who lives in Unite’s Charlton Court halls, told The Tab.

Unite took a £120m financial hit to let students out of contracts early during the initial lockdown last year, saying any students who didn’t plan to return would not have to pay rent.

This time around, the rent refund applies to students who won’t be in halls between 18th January and 14th February. The UK’s third lockdown came into force on 5th January, and will end in mid-February at the earliest, and students were told to return home from university for Christmas by 9th December.

Gemma Dilkes, a student in Unite halls at Aston – where the company owns all halls on offer – says the four week offer falls flat for her when students have been kept away from uni for far longer. “I think it’s a joke quite frankly, a really measly effort,” she told The Tab.

Amid talk of a rent strike among Unite tenants, the refund is only available to those who are up to date with the rent. “This is quite obviously just trying to get all rent strikers to stand down and give up because they’re not willing to offer us a deal that we demand,” says Alicia.

Liverpool student Lottie Cooke hasn’t been back to her room in Unite’s Horizon Heights since September. She’s struggling to find the money to pay her next rent instalment and feels the four week refund doesn’t go far enough. “If I am leaving with the same amount of debt as someone who left university in 2018, I want the same education, the same accommodation and the same resources,” she told The Tab.

“If I had any belief that it would have lasted this long I would have never signed onto an accommodation contract. No one could have predicted this and I appreciate what a contract ‘means’ but under these circumstances those contracts need to be overruled and students wishing to live at home, where perhaps it is safer, should be able to end their contact without a huge fine.”

Unite says students signed legally-binding contracts against a “known backdrop of Covid-19″.

Richard Smith, Unite’s Chief Executive, said: “We recognise that this is again a particularly challenging time for all students which is why their health, safety and security has been our priority since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are now providing a 50 per cent rent discount for a four-week period and an additional complimentary four-week contract extension at no extra charge, in recognition of the challenges and disruption that students face following the Government’s latest lockdown announcement. We feel this is the right thing to do.

“Working through this decision has had its challenges as there are a range of varying circumstances to consider in different parts of the country and across different universities. Universities remain open, unlike the first lockdown, and we continue to have thousands of students living with us as of today. Some students studying specific subjects have already returned to university and more will be returning for face-to-face tuition during January as per Government guidelines, while for other students our accommodation is their only home. All our properties across the country remain open and operational.

“Against the backdrop of the Government Covid-19 guidelines we are working closely with our University partners. We will continue to support students and maintain our focus to keep all students and staff safe across our properties during the pandemic.”

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