Students privately renting are being ignored by their landlords, universities and government

“I just wish they would at least acknowledge us and the troubles we are facing”

Despite the scramble from universities to offer some level of support for students unable to return to campus, those living outside student accommodation are continuing to be failed.

The Tab investigated how students who fall under this category are coping during the pandemic, particularly with many having their normal university accommodation compromised by the third lockdown. Many of the effects seem universal, with students from across the country highlighting similar issues.

Students from Newcastle, Warwick, Edinburgh, Birmingham, UCL, KCL and Arts Bournemouth University spoke about struggling to pay rent, contact their landlords or negotiate contracts. Whilst others feel trapped in their living situations and many vulnerable and first-time renters have heard nothing from their universities.

Save The Student carried out a survey last year that found privately rented housing was the UK’s most popular options for students but also the most expensive. In light of the third lockdown, it has also become clear that this group are the most vulnerable to huge financial losses because of the pandemic.

Megan, Newcastle University, said: “we were instructed to go home early from university after the Covid tests by the government so currently I have been not living there [my apartment] for 5 weeks and with the lockdown, we don’t have the right to return currently”. 

Although by now universities have announced policies and support for those living in student accommodation, there has been little to none for those in Megan’s situation. She went on to tell The Tab: “I haven’t tried to communicate to terminate my contract or reduce the rent…I feel like [the estate agents] don’t have much respect for us as students.” 

In response to what measures are in place for students in a similar position to Megan, a spokesperson for Newcastle University said:

“We have been urgently examining how the latest lockdown affects our students and staff.  Any student in University or managed accommodation won’t be charged for the weeks they are not in Newcastle. The President of Newcastle University Students’ Union and the Vice-Chancellor have written a joint letter requesting private accommodation providers, who have contracts with Newcastle University students, to offer their residents similar assurances for the remainder of this academic year.  We are actively working with other universities to raise this issue with the government and the housing sector.” 

Megan is not alone in her situation.

Lucy, Warwick University, told us that she reached out to her estate agents in October but was ignored: “I wish the university had a service to help students, in general, living in private rented property.”

“I just wish they would at least acknowledge us and the troubles we are facing”

A spokesperson from the University of Warwick said the following:

“The University has, of course, announced a rent waiver in relation to its own campus as detailed here.  The University has also engaged with private sector landlords to see if they would also be willing to take similar action, but we obviously cannot require them to do so. Our principal and immediate focus is on student hardship, ensuring that students with real financial support needs can access the support they need through the University’s student hardship scheme.”

Lucy believes this doesn’t address the crux of the problem which is about wider support for privately renting students.

This problem has also impacted students living in the most expensive city in the country, London. Ursula*, a UCL student, told The Tab, “My landlord has been aggressive and rude from the jump – he’s the typical old posh guy with multiple London properties and made it very clear that he’d take me to court if I failed to pay rent before I’d even finished signing the contract.” Despite this, she told us she has received zero help from UCL. 

She went further to criticise the Higher Education sector, describing it as:

“the bloated profit-driven university and the government who cares more about the old and comfortable landlord class than the young people who are supposedly the future of this country”.

Ursula has found support through a student group claim for UCL Students which you can look into here.

UCL told The Tab:

“As confirmed in December, UCL students in UCL-managed or UCL-contracted Halls of Residence will not be charged rent for the period that their room is uninhabited. This period is from a pre-Christmas departure date through to the end of reading week February 21.

“To support those in privately rented accommodation, UCL Student Support and Wellbeing has issued letters to students explaining the decision to move to majority online teaching until February 15; we understand some landlords will accept this and offer some form of rent reduction or the option to be released from their contract early without a penalty.

“For further support, UCL Student Funding are available via askUCL to offer funding advice and support through the Financial Assistance Fund for those students who experience financial difficulty due to unforeseen circumstances.

“The Student Union UCL Advice Service is also on hand to support students with legal matters related to a student’s tenancy agreement and can advocate on behalf of students.

“UCL student support during COVID-19

“Denise Long, UCL’s Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, said: “The health and wellbeing of UCL’s students is our highest priority. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a challenging time for us all, particularly our students, who have shown exceptional flexibility and resilience. Lockdown measures can heighten feelings of loneliness, isolation or anxiety; now more than ever, it is extremely important to look after our mental health and wellbeing and to look out for each other. Since the very start of England’s first national lockdown in March, UCL’s support services, centred around our Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) department, have continued to be available to all our students – wherever they are located.”

  • “Students can very easily speak to one of our advisers in SSW’s Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing (DMHW) team over the phone or online in a same-day appointment. More than 1,200 students have already done so in this academic year.
  • “Counselling remains available from SSW’s Student Psychological and Counselling Services (SPCS) team, with only a short waiting time to be seen. The team have increased capacity with extra term-time staff, and students still have access to additional counselling over the phone and online, provided by our partner organisation Care First.
  • “Those in halls of residence have access to additional peer-to-peer support from SSW’s team of Student Residence Advisers (SRAs). Students who have needed to self-isolate, whether in halls or elsewhere, have been further supported with a programme of events from SPCS, including guided mindfulness and exercise sessions – these sessions are now open to all students during lockdown.
  • “Our website hosts a wide range of information and resources to help students manage their mental health and wellbeing effectively. This includes the UCLcares student blog platform and the various initiatives under the #WeAreUCL community campaign.
  • “We have also recruited a number of student ambassadors to provide peer-to-peer support over the phone in our outreach campaigns. So far, we have called students in halls, our first-year undergraduates, and those who have indicated that they are in quarantine or self-isolation. The Keeping in Touch campaign has reached thousands more students based in London.
  • “Beyond SSW, there is even more support on offer from Students’ Union UCL, including the Advice Service, as well as student societies and the Volunteering Service, which we strongly recommend to help with any feelings of isolation or loneliness.”

Zazie, King’s College London student, shared these grievances, telling The Tab: “luckily I’m in the privileged position that I’m able to afford the rent, however, it’s still such a waste of money especially with London rent prices. So I really feel for those who aren’t in my position and hope they’re able to find some sort of resolution.” She echoed what many others have said: “I have had virtually no communication or support about this except for those in uni accommodation”.

A King’s College London spokesperson said:

“We recognise the uncertainty the pandemic is causing for all of our students and the difficulties our students living in private residences may be facing.  We are working with a number of partners and higher education bodies such as the University of London and UUK to ensure private landlords are flexible and understanding towards our students in private residences, given government restrictions have meant they are unable to return to their accommodation. We also offer financial support to students who are experiencing hardship, and our Student Housing Advisers are available for further advice and guidance on specific situations.

All students living in King’s residences who have not been able to use their accommodation because of the impact of travel restrictions during the national lockdown will not be charged for the period they have not stayed with us. Additionally, since September we have ensured a range of flexible options and support for our students living in King’s accommodation. This includes the option to defer and cancel their accommodation contracts in line with the teaching plans for the semester, reimbursement for any periods of self-isolation and the delivery of food care packages. All students, wherever they are based, are also able to access a wide range of sources of support for their mental health and wellbeing.”

Habeeba, Birmingham University, believes at the least universities should provide: “help and advice for negotiating pay freeze/refunds. Landlords won’t take us seriously unless mandated by a higher authority”. Whilst, one student from Edinburgh University suggested:

“I’d like the government to cap tuition fees for this year at a lower price… by lowering tuition it means more money can be spared for rent.”

Amongst the failure by government and many universities to support their students, there has also been positive change. Last Friday, University of Salford announced a £1,000 rent rebate for students, even those living in private accommodation. Another student from Arts University Bournemouth, told The Tab of her experience: “my university has been extremely helpful and has offered meetings with student services and a variety of advice/guidelines in order to be able to do the work to the best of our ability.”

Some might say that students are adults who shouldn’t require leniency from government or universities, but as Megan said: “we aren’t treated as adults with our own accommodation so why must we pay when we do not even have the right to be in the house?” It is more urgent than ever that universities follow this lead and start taking the concerns of the majority of their students more seriously.