Information and Advice on Coronavirus in Student Accommodation for Housing Suppliers This was last updated on 21st June 2021 This update includes information on the following topics: The UK Accommodation Forum Self Isolation Affecting Students Leaving Their Existing Tenancy or Taking up a New One: Advice for National Code Members Students and the Summer Term Vaccinations for Newly Arriving International Students Where are Students Living Now? The 2021-2022 Academic Year and House-Hunting 2021 Rent Refunds and Agreeing to Terminate Contracts New and Returning Students Travelling from Overseas Government Guidance (MHCLG) to Landlords and Tenants Code Complaints THE UK STUDENT ACCOMMODATION FORUM The UK Student Accommodation Forum is now taking a break until autumn although it is planned to hold one Forum in each of July and August to provide updates on Covid-related developments and how this is impacting on accommodation demand from students. Details of these events will appear shortly on https://www.unipol.org.uk/training-and-events/all SELF ISOLATION AFFECTING STUDENTS LEAVING THEIR EXISTING TENANCY OR TAKING UP A NEW ONE: ADVICE FOR NATIONAL CODE MEMBERS There has been a significant increase in Covid-19 cases many suppliers are experiencing an increase in students having to self-isolate within their flats and houses. With the rise in self-isolation it may well be the case that some tenants find themselves self-isolating when they should have been leaving or taking up their new tenancies. Government advice can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak but the key parts of that advice are: "We encourage all parties to be as flexible as possible and be prepared to delay moves if necessary, for example if someone involved in the transaction becomes ill with COVID-19 during the moving process or has to self-isolate. You should not expect to move into any home where people are ill or self-isolating." “We encourage all parties involved to be as flexible as possible and to be prepared to delay moves, for example if one of those involved becomes ill with COVID-19 during the moving process or has to self-isolate.” On that basis, Code Members should not expect anyone self-isolating to have to move during that period. If this occurs this will obviously cause inconvenience to any new group of tenants who were planning to move into their house or flat. This will only happen in a small number of cases but it will certainly affect a few students and, because of the way in which the pandemic works, sometimes students will not know they have to self-isolate until very close to their leaving or arriving date. It will be important to stress to students that they must tell their housing provider if they are self isolating and cannot move. It should be stressed that this is important for the health and safety of incoming tenants, visiting parents and Unipol cleaners and maintenance staff. If self-isolation means tenants cannot move it is also important to remember that when the existing tenants do leave, a period of at least 48 hours must pass before their accommodation can be serviced and got ready for new students. Again, Government advice is: “The infection risk from a COVID-19 contaminated environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk from the virus, however, studies suggest that, in non-healthcare settings, the risk of residual infectious virus is likely to be significantly reduced after 48 hours.” Only after 48 hours is it safe for cleaners to work in the property. In certain circumstances this can speed this up by sanitising the property. Possible Scenarios If students are self-isolating and cannot leave then they should be allowed to remain, ideally rent free, for that period. Some students may find that they cannot move into their new property because it remains occupied. Government advice is to work with their landlord to make new arrangements about moving. In many cases, in PBSA, it may be possible to allow students to stay in their existing PBSA for a few days until they can make the planned move. It is up to housing suppliers whether they charge rent for any extension but suppliers are urged to be reasonable about this. If new or incoming tenants cannot move into your accommodation, suppliers should try and provide temporary accommodation over what will be a bridging period. If this happens students will need to move twice, once into the temporary accommodation and again, when they can move into their chosen house or flat. It should be stressed that students will need to make their own removal arrangements themselves because this delay is not the “fault” of the supplier but reflects complying with Government advice on maintaining public health. Conclusion The pandemic is still causing difficulties, just as it did last June/July. Last year, because tenants, parents and suppliers all worked together, things worked out fairly well with difficulties minimised and cleaning was undertaken to a high standard. Hopefully, this can be achieved again. Communications between students, parents and suppliers will be vital to achieving this. If any further Code guidance is required then feel free to contact the National Codes Administrator or the National Codes Coordinator who will be pleased to help. STUDENTS AND THE SUMMER TERM On 10th May 2021, as part of its announcement of implementing Step 3 of the roadmap, the Government updated its guidance for students returning to campus and this can be consulted at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses The new Guidance allowed students to return to campus “from 17th May, alongside Step 3 of the Roadmap.” although the vast majority of students were already living in the town or city where they study, the Guidance says: The Guidance has a section on accommodation which summarises the Step 3 rules from 17th May which is: “Once students have returned to their term-time accommodation they should follow the broader national guidance…. no more than 6 people or 2 households/bubbles are permitted to mix indoors)…” This relaxation allows for greater social activity such as (to give a few student-related examples): overnight stays are allowed in groups of up to six people or two households pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can reopen indoors adult indoor group sports and exercise classes can restart indoor entertainment such as museums, theatres, cinemas, bingo halls, and sports stadia can reopen. Full details of Step 3 of the Roadmap can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/further-easing-of-covid-restrictions-confirmed-for-17-may Educational providers are required to have Outbreak Plans to respond in the event “that there is an increase in the number of cases, or an outbreak associated with your setting, when you may have to adapt elements of your provision at very short notice.” Those plans include the scenario of “a localised outbreak in student accommodation”. In these cases educational providers “should work with the Director of Public Health in your local authority to control and manage any outbreak”. The Guidance also updates the restrictions applied to students arriving from overseas (under the ‘traffic light system’) depending on level of risk (see the section on this later). At present there is no evidence to suggest that this guidance has resulted in any additional students returning to their accommodation. Step 4 of the Roadmap is now likely to take effect from 19th July 2021. The social distancing review, which is a key aspect of how teaching can be delivered by universities in future, which was to have reported at the end of May has been delayed until further data has been obtained about virus transmission in the light if the India variant. VACCINATIONS FOR NEWLY ARRIVED INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS The vaccination programme has been extended to newly arriving international students International students who will not be charged for vaccination against COVID-19. Students should make sure they are registered with a General Practitioner (GP), who will contact them directly to book their vaccine via an online or telephone system when it is appropriate to do so. WHERE ARE STUDENTS LIVING NOW? AprilA survey conducted of PBSA Code Members gave occupancy levels on 29th April 2021, covering 187,985 bed spaces (again using fob activations) and average UK occupancy was then 69%. MayThe Office for National Statistics reported that between the 4th-12th May 2021, 86% of students said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020. JuneThe ONS undertook a further survey reporting between the 24th May-2nd June 2021 when 81% of students said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020. 38% of students reported they had at least one Covid-19 test in the previous seven days and this was an increase on the 30% who reported this is April. 33% of students had already received at least one vaccine dose, an increase from 28% in April. Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to increase at 5.9 (out of 10) in late May 2021, following the improvements seen in April 2021 (5.8); however, average scores remained significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (7.1). Further details can be found at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandhighereducationstudents/england24mayto2june2021 This monthly survey is now being paused until September 2021. Along with ONS, Unipol has evidence that student occupancy is falling as students are returning home. The pausing of Step 4 from 21st June by four weeks into July means that many social events planned have had to be scaled back and the spread of the virus and the possibility of increased self-isolation means that the majority of students, although staying at their term-time address longer than a normal year, are now expected to return over the next couple of weeks. THE 2021-2022 ACADEMIC YEAR AND HOUSE-HUNTING Government Guidance makes it clear that universities “should make sure that continuing and prospective students receive clear, accurate and timely information to make informed decisions about their academic future.” Although higher education providers are planning the next academic year, until there is some clarity on social distancing it is difficult to provide detailed information. House hunting for 2021-2022 began for many students in November. Although there has been a slightly slower start to this process this year, house hunting for returning students is still continuing. A few national observations can be made: for students looking to move into shared houses in the community (referenced as off-street properties) the market is moving slower (down around 10%) caused by students waiting to find out about their teaching options next year or because they were not present in their University town or city lettings or next year in PBSA are significantly slower (down 15%-20%) than normal with an initial reduction in retained tenants, perhaps reflecting a reaction against the tighter social controls operated, particularly on first year students, by PBSA providers student preferences seem to be favouring both larger shared houses and those with good outdoor space (no doubt as a reaction to previous lockdowns and periods of self-isolation) some PBSA suppliers, and universities, are letting a higher number of rooms to returning students to mitigate the possible risk of reduced demand from new international students some universities (particularly the post-92 institutions) are experiencing volatility in their acceptances for 2021-2022, making them nervous about making any further PBSA underwrite commitments for their first year students there are concerns that, owing to the difficulties in international travel that international student numbers for 2021-2022 will be affected. Survey of House Hunting in Leeds 18th April-19th May 2021 781 respondents took part from 6 institutions. The initial results are: 67% of respondents would normally have a part time job to supplement their income, of these: 64% had not been able to find work 8% had been furloughed 28% had found work. 29% had said their work situation had affected their housing choice for next academic year. 36% of respondents had concerns about looking and signing a contract for a property far in advance of when they would move in, of which (respondents could choose multiple answers): 54% had financial concerns or worries about whether their circumstances may change 30% were worried about the group breaking up or that they may change their mind 50% found the cost of renting challenging 29% said the situation was challenging due to their changeable personal circumstances. 26% of respondents had not yet signed a contract and 10% did not require accommodation due to a placement, being a commuter student or graduating. Of those who had not yet secured accommodation: 36% were waiting to find out about teaching delivery next academic year 13% were waiting on the outcome of a placement 12% were searching for cheaper rents 5% didn’t have money for the deposit 3% couldn’t find anyone to house hunt with. It was thought that students may look to finalise their accommodation position before returning home over the summer but letting is still at a low level and student occupancy is falling indicating that those students are likely to wait until late August before renting. All this simply demonstrates that there is still turbulence and change in the letting market and that is making predictions difficult as to exactly how students will behave. 2021 RENT REFUNDS AND AGREEING TO TERMINATE CONTRACTS Refunds All refund arrangements ended on 17th May 2021 as Government Guidance changed, From information known about rent refunds made by PBSA suppliers, this would indicate that the vast majority of refunds came from those suppliers with very few off-street smaller landlords making such refunds. Refunds - PBSA Providers Many PBSA providers (estimated at 60%) have refunded students with half rent from 4th January until 17th May being common. Other providers have given a lump sum refund. The cost of refunds is always difficult to estimate but Unipol has made an estimate of cost since September 1st 2020, based on the following assumptions. Taking the 374,868 bed spaces in the National Codes with occupancy at 56%, refunds for non-occupancy would be 44%. If refunds were made of 50% of the rent due and 60% of PBSA suppliers offered a rent refund for at least a 12 week period, and basing the rent level on the average room rent in the Unipol/NUS Accommodation Cost Survey for 2018 inflated by 3% for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 giving an average room rent of £155.95 then: 98,965 bed spaces refunded at 50% of average rent level for 12 weeks would see an estimated cost of £93 million. Tenancy Releases Many private providers have released tenants from their contracts because of their individual circumstances. Unipol estimates that releasing students from contracts has cost more than rent refunds. Unipol has some data which implies that around 5% of all tenants were voluntarily released from their contractual obligations since September 1st 2020 and, based on the average annual rental of £6,753.69 with a release covering 75% of the year that would mean the estimated cost was £95 million. In any future discussion about supplier refunds it would be better to concentrate on flexible tenancy options and voluntary release which targets help most where it is needed, rather than just paying a minority of students to stay at home. Although in Scotland, under their Coronavirus legislation, students could give notice on their accommodation and leave, there is no indication that more than 5% of students have done that and the pattern of leavers from PBSA in Scotland is no different from that in England and Wales. From this is could be implied that most students wanted to retain the flexibility to return to their accommodation when they wished and so giving notice and leaving altogether was not an attractive option. NEW AND RETURNING STUDENTS TRAVELLING FROM OVERSEAS From 17th May, there are different restrictions applied to students arriving from overseas (known as the ‘traffic light system’) depending on level of risk. Risk will be based on factors such as the level of community transmission, variants of concern, levels of testing, genomic sequencing and reporting. This will provide the UK government with flexibility to adapt to the evolving health situation around the world whilst keeping borders open. Countries have been sorted into three categories: Red list countries: High-risk countriesAmber list countries: Moderate-risk countriesGreen list countries: Low-risk countries The new Guidance is detailed and complex and needs to be consulted directly at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/984848/Higher_education_coronavirus__COVID-19__operational_guidance_v3.pdf and is not summarised here. ScotlandOn 25th May the Scottish Government updated its information on Student Information https://www.studentinformation.gov.scot/coronavirus In Scotland students who live in halls of residence and PBSA can give notice to leave a contract. This means students: who have entered into a student residential tenancy before 27 May 2020 and have occupied the property, can give 7 days’ notice to their accommodation provider who have already entered into a student residential tenancy before 27 May 2020 but have not yet occupied the property, can give 28 days’ notice to their accommodation provider who enter into a student residential tenancy after 27 May 2020 can give 28 days’ notice to their accommodation provider. Students can only exercise these notice to leave periods for reasons relating to COVID-19 and for so long as the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 is in force. The Act will be in force until 31 March 2021. There are helpful FAQ’s relating to this at https://www.studentinformation.gov.scot/coronavirus/term-three Accommodation made vacant for reasons relating to Coronavirus is exempt from council tax in Scotland (page 38 of the Act). WalesAdvice from the Welsh Government was last updated on 8th April and advice on returning for the third term can be found at https://gov.wales/higher-education-coronavirus-guide In Wales higher education institutions are responsible for the planning and delivery of their provision, including determining what educational services to provide in person. Northern IrelandAdvice from the Northern Ireland Assembly on returning for the third term can be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-student-movement-and-plans-new-term Their Guidance says “students are encouraged to stay at home until required to be at University.” GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE (MHCLG) TO LANDLORDS AND TENANTS Updated guidance was issued on 21st June 2021 and can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-landlords-and-tenants There are a few key points in this guidance worth highlighting. The most recent update sees significant changes in the areas of eviction and repossession. The section on student accommodation is out of date. Phasing Out of Emergency Restrictions Relating to Evictions The Government has announced measures to phase out emergency restrictions around evictions which includes: from 1st June, notice periods that are currently 6 months will reduce to at least 4 months. Notice periods for the most serious cases that present the most strain on landlords will remain lower: anti-social behaviour (immediate to 4 weeks’ notice) false statement (2 to 4 weeks’ notice) over 4 months’ accumulated rent arrears (4 weeks’ notice) breach of immigration rules ‘Right to Rent’ (2 weeks’ notice). Notice periods for cases where there is four or more months of unpaid rent, will reduce to 2 months’ notice from 1st August. Further details can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/support-for-renters-continues-with-longer-notice-periods Rent PaymentsThe guidance continues to stress that “Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability…Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. In many if not most cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. If your ability to pay will be affected, it’s important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.” RepairsIt also stressed that “Landlords can take steps to carry out repairs and safety inspections across all tiers provided these are undertaken in line with public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation.” Moving inThe Guidance makes clear that: “You are free to move home, whether renting or buying, provided these are undertaken in line with latest guidance on (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do, public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation. This includes people moving permanently into new shared accommodation e.g. a shared flat or house in multiple occupation (HMO). Where moving into new shared accommodation, such as a shared flat or HMO, this will become the private dwelling where they are living for the purposes of any guidance. People who live in shared accommodation should continue to follow the relevant rules and guidance on meeting people from outside of your household.” Viewings for LettingsHouse viewings can proceed across all tiers provided these are undertaken in line with public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation. Any relevant local advice should also be followed. Tenants’ safety should be the priority of letting agents and landlords. Where possible, virtual viewings should be used before visiting properties in person in order to minimise public health risks. If any member of either the household being viewed, or the household undertaking a viewing is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or is self-isolating, then an in-person viewing should be delayed until the viewing is able to take place.” CODE COMPLAINTS A number of complaints are being received by the National Code Administrator about rent refunds in the 2020-2021 academic year and guidance has been given to students about how these complaints will be approached. This guidance and information can be consulted at https://www.nationalcode.org/make-a-complaint Additional information on the number of complaints received can now be consulted on the National Codes website at https://www.nationalcode.org/complaints-data From 1st September 2020 to 28th May 2021 the National Code Complaints and Enquiries received 278 complaints (compared with 189 at the same time in 2020) and the top 5 causes of complaint were: Seeks release/refund 160 Condition upon arrival 26 Repairs 14 Customer Service 12 Contract/rent 9 247 complaints have been resolved (180 by the supplier and 67 by the investigator, 1 case has been resolved by a Tribunal and 30 cases remain open).