Updated on 10th October  2020

This major update includes information on the following topics:

  • Hands, Face, Space Campaign - Government request and Resources
  • Details about the forthcoming meetings of the UK Student Accommodation Forum
  • Observations and Experiences of the Post-Arrival Period
  • Security, Discipline and Police Action
  • Observations and Experiences of the Initial Weeks of Terms
  • Lockdowns
  • Future Possibilities and Guidance on Covid-related Complaints 2020-2021
  • End of Term 2020
  • The 2020-2021 Academic Year - Government Advice
  • Rules on Social Gatherings
  • Self Isolation
  • Informing PHE’s Local Health Protection Team
  • Infection Control - Test and Trace
  • Student Accommodation Demand
  • Code Members and Flexible Contracts
  • New Purpose Built Student Accommodation Summer 2020
  • Complaints for the Academic Year 2019- 2020

HANDS, FACE, SPACE CAMPAIGN - GOVERNMENT REQUEST AND RESOURCES

Hands, Face, Space - The Government has produced a  student-focussed toolkit and campaign materials to encourage safe behaviours in and around universities. This toolkit allows you to subscribe to updates.

The government asks that you support the campaign at this critical moment by sharing and using the resources to keep universities and communities safe.

As we head into autumn and winter, with significantly more time spent indoors, a Government campaign is running across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to increase awareness and compliance of the three key hygiene behaviours that can keep people safe:

  • Hand washing
  • Wearing face coverings
  • Social distancing

You will find campaign images and key messages to help shape your own communications and assets that you can share across your own channels.

THE UK STUDENT ACCOMMODATION FORUM

Unipol has established an online set of Zoom meetings every two weeks entitled The UK Student Accommodation Forum. These events are free and attended by 40 participants from across the accommodation sector and Government. These are short 1 hour meetings held between 11.00am and midday and consist of two expert contributions (about 10 minutes each) followed by general discussion. Any “issues of the moment” also gets a 10 minute slot. Details can be found on Unipol's Training and Events Page.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday 22nd October starting at 11:00am and ending at 12:00pm and will focus on the topic of Lettings for Next Year - Has the World Changed? With the difficult start to the 2020-2021 academic year will students still be willing to look early in the year for their following year’s accommodation? This session will delve into:

  • How the next letting year might be affected?
  • What preparation and timescales are PBSA providers working to?
  • How much contract flexibility will be on offer?

followed by a Q&A and conversation session from attendees.

With two short session given by David Feeney (partner at Cushman & Wakefield) and Sarah Jones (author of  Student Accommodation: The Facts recently published by HEPI)

Future forums are planned for:

Student Accommodation and the New Normal - looking at what has changed and what has stayed the same following the pandemic.

Monday 19th November

Student Accommodation and the New Normal: What has changed and what has stayed the same following the pandemic.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) will give a single 20 minute session giving his invaluable insight into the higher education sector and how this might impact on accommodation providers.

Reflections So Far 2021-2022 - Thursday 3rd December 2020. Now that the dust has settled (?) this should be a good time to take stock on the current academic year and the challenges that lie ahead.

*These topics are subject to change to reflect needs and recent developments within the sector and further details can be found here.

OBSERVATIONS AND EXPERIENCES OF THE ARRIVAL AND POST-ARRIVAL PERIOD

The only students who have not yet returned to universities are from overseas where travel and visa delays are affecting return. A trickle of international students are expected to arrive across October. International student numbers are well down on previous years (between 50%-80%), Looking at the arrival process:

  • providers staggered arrival times of students with arrivers booking “slots” to move in over a longer period of time. This worked well and students and parents respected the move-in arrangements

  • there were few concerns from parents and students about cleaning and a Covid-secure environment and many were complimentary about the arrangements made
  • the “quarantine” or self-isolation arrangements for those returning or arriving in the UK worked (and continue to work) well, with arrangements being made to include daily support and food deliveries

  • messaging about Government advice and the hands, face space approach was good with students receiving regular messaging from both their accommodation providers and their institutions. It is difficult to see how this could be improved.

Looking at the immediate post-arrival process:

It is clear that there was a burst of social activity primarily from many first year students living in PBSA when their “freshers' week” would normally have taken place. This resulted in partying and sometimes significantly sized groups gathering outside or in communal social areas. The staggered arrival arrangements and the good weather towards the end of September added to this mix.

Most freshers’ weeks consisted of very little activity and the “rule of 6” and local restrictions meant that many of the limited actual social events planned by universities and students’ unions were cancelled - which meant that students had nothing to do other than create their own social events - which many did within their accommodation.

There is also a view that the 10.00pm restrictions on night-life meant that socialisation was thrown further back on PBSA.

Summarising initial sector-wide observations on students that have an accommodation requirement:

  • newly arriving students tried to make their own “freshers' week” by partying and trying to meet others
  • some students with Covid symptoms did not get tested especially if it leads to self-isolation for them and their friends
  • many students saw Covid-19 as a low risk to them and their peers and regarded catching it as “inevitable”
  • some students (and parents) on the other hand, were genuinely scared and needed reassurance.

Most PBSA suppliers increased their security and took a more interventionist role (detailed below) and this restricted excessive social interaction.

There is an interesting article on the BBC website detailing a good range of student experiences which can be consulted at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-54391143

SECURITY, DISCIPLINE AND POLICE ACTION

Most providers have increased their security and now have “differentiated security teams” consisting of front of house security and roving “bouncer” type security. This has worked well and has enabled a more pro-active stance to be taken in stopping larger gatherings before they build up. Most PBSA have extensive CCTV systems and so it is easy to spot large “in flat” gatherings and request tenants to move on.

The National Code would support reasonable attempts to take a more visible role if it fits within the context of mitigating the spread of the virus and most suppliers are united in their opinion that large gatherings and parties need to be reined in.

In the current circumstances suppliers must do the most they can through their own security systems:

  • ensure that their own Covid-secure processes are in place and high-risk staff working in halls are protected against the risks involved
  • keep messaging students with what they need to do
  • inform the educational institution if a student tests positive and fails to self-isolate
  • inform the Police if there are flagrant and repeated beaches of the rules on the size of social gatherings.

Private accommodation providers have no disciplinary powers or the ability to fine students and, if that is deployed, it must be through an institution or the Police who have both powers and procedures to address student behaviour. Having said that, no institution will find disciplining large numbers of their students either effective or feasible - so these mechanisms must be regarded as useful either to ensure:

  • other students know that action is taken on repeat offenders
  • compliance through a “stick” approach.

It is important to see institutional or Police involvement as only applicable to those who are clearly determined to break the rules and where persistent persuasion has failed. Under normal circumstances these would have been a small minority of students who would have been picked up through their association with anti-social behaviour and where provider, institutional or Police involvement would normally have been necessary.

Many educational institutions are now operating their disciplinary procedures to tackle students who are identified as “repeat offenders”. There are reports of action being taken at Exeter, Aberdeen, Manchester and Northumbria. There tends to be a correlation between the amount of disciplinary action being taken and the media profile of Covid at those institutions.

Unipol, on behalf of the Code, has raised with DfE and UUK the following improvements that should be made:

  • guidance should be given to universities to share information with PBSA accommodation providers where they know of Covid positive tests. This would be the name of the student. This should remain confidential with the provider (and a short agreement could be entered into with the provider confirming that this data would remain confidential by email) and, based on other guidance obtained from the Information Commissioner, this would enable the provider to check that self-isolation was taking place and inform the flat that there was a Covid positive tenant living there and the flat should self isolate. No personal data would be revealed.

  • Universities should be encouraged to ensure that this information was made available in public health interests.

Generally, links between accommodation providers and institutions have become closer since term began with much more coordination on information and student support. Where there are formal links between a University and an accommodation provider and where there already is a data-sharing arrangement in place this has normally been extended to allow the confidential flow of important information between the University and the provider about Covid positive tests, the need for flats to self isolate and to know the overall numbers of students isolating or testing positive within a given building.

Where links between private providers and universities are less formal then information flows are much more difficult. It is still the case that universities know of Covid positive tested students living in households in private sector PBSA buildings and are not informing those providers of those cases in a meaningful way citing GDPR advice. It is therefore impossible for those accommodation providers to be advising students who ought to be self isolating. At present the only information flows on Covid to those suppliers is from the student directly to them - if that is not forthcoming the provider will not know.

Recently, (6th October 2020) Universities UK has issued helpful guidance on best practice for supporting students who are required to self-isolate. The guidelines do not set prescriptive rules for universities but instead “identifies key considerations” for them to consider. One of these is:

“Engaging with private accommodation providers to help them understand the specific needs of students in self-isolation and, seeking consent from students, to share information about students’ COVID-19 status.”

Private providers may wish to write to the Registrar or Company Secretary of the institutions whose students they house seeking an assurance that their University will endeavour to do this.

The full guidance can be found at https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2020/uuk-checklist-support-self-isolating-students.pdf

OBSERVATIONS AND EXPERIENCES OF THE INITIAL WEEKS OF THE TERM

Now that the academic year and teaching has begun things have settled down. Students have also now met their peers and so the need for indiscriminate socialising is diminishing. There is about a two week difference to first term starting times so some universities are at a later stage in this “settling down period” than others.

In this “settling down” phase a few observations can be made:

  • partying has significantly reduced
  • many of the in-household social events are now having a positive effect
  • the number of students seeking tests has increased
  • social isolation is now taking place properly.

LOCKDOWNS

There has recently been considerable publicity about major closures of whole student buildings, particularly, in Glasgow and Manchester, often termed a “lockdown” and Unipol/ANUK are offering advice on this, should it affect suppliers:

  • it must be clear who is suggesting or ordering a “lockdown”. If this is a public health authority its advice or order should be in writing and should state clearly what a “lockdown” means and what it is designed to achieve in public health terms. This will be important in giving messaging to students about the desirability of them following relevant procedures

  • those suggesting a lockdown should be able to demonstrate whether this fits into a wider strategy in which blocks of flats occupied by non-students are being treated in the same way. Sometimes there is a misconception that “University halls” are all traditional, single corridor halls with communal lounges and eating. Only HEIs have this kind of accommodation and then it is only 9% of their stock) the rest is clustered flat accommodation where households exist behind a defined “front door”, no different from any other occupied dwelling

  • messaging to students should be clear about the public health need for any “lockdown” and should include a statement from the relevant public health authority. Such electronic messaging should be followed up within 24 hours by flat-to-flat calls to answer any questions and ascertain any specialist support needed

  • if a building is locked down then additional security will be needed at all fire exits and at the main entry to the building to advise students to follow relevant procedures. On no account should fire exits be restricted

  • advice should be offered to students about how they get tested for Covid-19 without leaving the building

  • considerable support will be needed to be put in place if a building is “locked down” including a plan to providing food, medication and other forms of mental health and wellbeing support

  • accommodation providers have no powers to keep students within a building if they wish to leave and any attempt to do this would be in clear breach of both the law and the Codes.

Jake Berry MP (Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen (and a former MHCLG Minister) recently asked a written question asking “what the legal basis is for the detention of students within halls of residence at Manchester Metropolitan University who are not displaying symptoms of covid-19 and have not tested positive for the disease.”

The Universities Minister, responded:

“The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in higher education (HE) is always our priority. The government is doing all it can to minimise the risks to those working and studying in our HE providers in this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on education.

“Students should follow the latest health advice, meaning that they should stay in their accommodation in the event that they, or anyone in their household, develops symptoms or are otherwise required to self-isolate.

“Decisions on which measures to apply should be made by the local public health team, based on the information received through NHS Test and Trace. HE providers should work with Public Health England to agree on which instructions they provide to students and should ensure that students understand what is required of them if they need to self-isolate.”

Unipol can see no defined public health benefits from “locking down” a hall of residence but can see many downsides in terms of student isolation and mental health outcomes.

Student Minds issued an important statement on 30th September 2020 in which it said

“Students should not be subject to more stringent self-isolation measures than other groups of the population” and that “Mental health and wellbeing considerations must be accounted for at every stage of the decision-making process. The detrimental mental health impacts of self-isolation have been central in public discourse for the last six months. There is no excuse not to account for the potential harm to mental health that lockdown restrictions can inflict.”

The full statement can be consulted at https://www.studentminds.org.uk/latestnews/student-minds-responds-to-disproportionate-social-distancing-measures-targeted-at-students

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

It is likely that, following the “arrival stage” which will seems to have seen infections spread across the student population, that the number of those self-isolating will peak in the next few days and then cases are expected to reduce.

Although face-to-face teaching is unlikely to have been responsible for the virus’ transmission, a few universities have adjusted their blended learning to reduce face to face teaching further. A handful of universities have stopped face to face teaching where this can be done. A few universities have stopped face to face teaching altogether - although this is again likely to throw students back onto their residential settings even further.

Some universities have reduced rent to students where a so-called “lockdown” has been implemented, often in the face of media and student criticism of their actions. These rent refunds are effectively “sweeteners” and leave the key question of academic fee refunds in the case of lower than expected face-to-face teaching unanswered. For private accommodation providers, where their main business is sustained by rent (rather than academic fees paid to HEIs) it is unlikely that the rent refunds that took place in the previous academic year will be repeated.

A number of complaints are being 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

In concluding this section, the existing evidence is that:

  • few students are leaving universities and attrition is currently limited
  • students are accepting of the “new normal” although are disappointed at the lack of face-to-face teaching
  • students are now socialising within their households and within the rule of 6 where applicable
  • support for students within PBSA has improved considerably.

END OF TERM 2020

On the 29th September 2020 the Secretary of State for Education made a statement to the House of Commons saying:

“I know there has been some anxiety about the impact safety measures will have on the Christmas holidays. Students are important members of the communities they choose to study in. We expect them to follow the same guidance as those local communities. We will work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to do so. It is essential that we put in place measures to ensure that that can happen, while minimising the risk of transmission. Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term, and we will be working with the sector to ensure that will be possible, including by ending in-person learning early if that is deemed to be necessary. My Department will publish this guidance shortly, so that every student will be able to spend Christmas with their family.”

This guidance is awaited but it is clear that there will be some enhanced testing of students before they leave for Christmas.

THE 2020-2021 ACADEMIC YEAR - GOVERNMENT ADVICE

There are now two tiers of advice, local and national. About one third of the UK is now under some kind of tightened measures and there are significant differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The BBC has a helpful interactive web page where a postcode can be inserted and the relevant restructions and rules are displayed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54373904

The last national Government guidance was issued on 22nd September entitled Coronavirus (COVID-19): What has changed https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-covid-19-what-has-changed-22-september The guidance tightened some of the previous restrictions and applies to England.

It is worth looking at these most recent changes, as they affect student accommodation, first:

The Government’s expectation is the measures described above will need to remain in place until March 2021.

On 10th September 2020 the Government issued additional guidance for higher education on reopening buildings and campuses and this still has significant content for accommodation providers. It can be consulted at www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses

The guidance recognises that the reopening of campuses for 2020-2021 will bring about a mass movement of students from across the UK and overseas and the creation of many new student household and that this brings with it a degree of risk. The guidance lays out reasonable actions intended to help minimise this risk.

The guidance stresses the central role of higher education providers in being the main channel of communication to students about Covid-19 and its implications and how they should communicate to students the importance of adopting safe behaviours generally, It also stresses how HEIs should also work alongside local authorities and other agencies to ensure that they have the right plans in place to control and manage any local outbreaks.

The guidance highlights the importance of maintaining social distancing on campus and of implementing “segmentation” (such as, the creation of small, sub-networks of students and staff) on campus.

Matters that are Applicable and Useful to Accommodation Providers

A number of additional protective measures are given, some of which can usefully applied by accommodation providers to their services:

  • enhanced cleaning measures, especially for frequently used areas, surfaces, touchpoints and washrooms
  • increased availability of handwashing and hand sanitisation facilities where handwashing facilities are less readily available
  • reducing congestion
  • managing entrance to, exit from and movement around buildings, as well as signage with such measures as one way entrances, exits and staircases.

The guidance makes clear that on campus “Face coverings should be worn as an additional risk mitigation measure by students, staff and visitors, where social distancing is difficult to maintain outside of teaching situations, such as in corridors and communal areas.” and this may mean that many accommodation providers consider this in certain communal areas of PBSA.

RULES ON SOCIAL GATHERINGS

The English guidance makes clear:

  1. you do not need to socially distance from anyone in your household, meaning the people you live with

  2. when seeing friends and family you do not live with you should meet in groups of 6 or less both indoors or outdoors. Above this number is against the law and the police will have the powers to enforce these legal limits, including to issue fines (fixed penalty notices) of £200, doubling for further breaches up to a maximum of £6,400.

    Someone who is working is not counted as part of the gatherings limit, for example, a tradesperson can go into a household of six without breaching the limit, if they are there for work.

  3. you can stay overnight in someone else’s home, but only if you do not form a gathering of more than 6 people.

  4. Where you cannot stay 2 metres apart (with people you do not live with) you should stay more than 1 metre apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe. For example:
  • wear a face covering
  • move outdoors, where it is safer and there is more space
  • if indoors, make sure rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open.

Comment

Groups up to six are allowed within a household, but if those households have over six occupants they can receive no visitors from other households either inside or outside.

This means that in PBSA, larger flats can have no outside visitors (unless some students are away) but smaller flats will be able to. The complexity of operating this system means that many providers (mainly universities) are operating a “no visitors policy” throughout every flat in their buildings although that often means no visitors external to the hall rather than visits between flats within the building is to be remembered that many cities now have special restrictions (Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, Newcastle and Leeds to name a few) which means visiting outside of the household is prohibited in any case.

There are a significant number of exclusions in the guidance related to specified purposes and it is Unipol’s view that PBSA communal lounges can be used by more than six people so long as social distancing applies and COVID-secure guidelines are followed.

Section 3 of the above guidance Rules in other venues and activities makes clear that “venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines will be able to continue to host more people in total - such as religious services in places of worship - but no one should mix in a group of greater than 6. This includes places like a pub, shop, leisure venue, restaurant or place of worship". It is Unipol’s view that this also applies to centrally-managed communal areas (including gardens) in halls of residence. In these instances the Guidance is clear:

"Follow the limits on the number of other people you should meet with as a group - no more than six people unless you all live together (or are in the same support bubble)

Avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know

Provide your contact details to the organiser so that you can be contacted if needed by the NHS Test and Trace programme.”

It is Unipol’s interpretation that this means that properly organised events, outside of the household, where groups of 6 can socially distance are permitted but it is necessary to have contact details of those attending. In many cases, there will be CCTV present that would allow for the easy identification of residents but where this is not the case names and contact details must be taken.

Businesses now need to display the official NHS QR code posters so that customers and visitors can ‘check-in’ at different premises using this option as an alternative to providing their contact details once the app is rolled out nationally (from 24 September). It is Unipol’s view that QR code posters should be displayed in all PBSA foyers, visible on entry.

SELF ISOLATION

Students travelling from countries not on the exemption list need to self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days. During this time there needs to be systematic arrangements for the provision of food and drink to avoid the necessity of them leaving their room or accommodation.

Most suppliers have self isolation care packages, which enables international students to move into their room early (often rent free) so they can self-isolate before their courses begin. This package can also include airport pickup, food delivery service, rubbish removal, and regular online welfare calls with staff.

Students living in halls of residence, or HMOs, who develop symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) must self-isolate in their current accommodation. It is made clear that students should discuss this with their HE provider and with the manager of their halls if they are privately owned, or the landlord of their HMO. This guidance may be of particular use to accommodation providers where students (either those isolating or those living in a flat with another who is self-isolating) request that they should move during the period of self-isolation.

If a resident has coronavirus symptoms all residents in that household must isolate for 14 days.

Current guidance (Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on isolation for residential educational settings) covers these matters for University and college halls of residence and houses in multiple occupation for students aged 18 and over.

This guidance places responsibility for student welfare in these circumstances with universities and colleges: “Students living in halls of residence or houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) who develop symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate in their current accommodation.”

The new guidance https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses stresses “Students living in halls of residence, or HMOs, who develop symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should self-isolate in their current accommodation.” and so students stay where they are to self-isolate and all residents in the household also have to do this.

INFORMING PHEs LOCAL HEALTH PROTECTION TEAM

The guidance is clear that:

  • where students are living in halls of residence where someone else has symptoms of coronavirus, their institution will discuss the situation with PHE’s local Health Protection Team

  • where students are living in private halls students should inform their hall manager so they in turn can inform PHE’s local Health Protection Team.

  • the situation is less clear with student houses in multiple occupation but there appears to be no obligation, at present, to inform PHE’s Local Health Protection Team. The guidance currently says “Students in HMOs will need to discuss their circumstances with both their landlord and their institution, who should work in tandem to ensure that necessary support is in place.”

In reality, HEIs are likely to ask their students to inform them of all positively tested cases so that they can inform PHE’s local Health Protection Team. An example of this approach can be found in this sample poster from the University of Leeds.

INFECTION CONTROL - TEST AND TRACE

Full details for HEIs of the process for testing and contact tracing are set out in Higher Education COVID-19 Test and Trace Handbook at assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/916655/HE_Test_and_Trace_Handbook_10.9.20.pdf

Anyone who displays symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can and should get a test as soon as possible. It is important to only get a test if you have coronavirus symptoms or have been asked to get tested. This will help make sure people who need a test can get one.

HE providers should ensure that staff and students are aware of all their options to access a test if one is required. If a person is symptomatic, has tested positive (with or without symptoms), lives with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, or has been identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace, they should self-isolate immediately.

OTHER GOVERNMENT ADVICE

The Civil Procedure Rules Committee agreed rule changes to be applied to possession proceedings once the current stay on proceedings comes to an end on 23rd August 2020 and these have now been extended by four weeks to 20 September 2020. These are unlikely to affect many students but they can be consulted here.

On 10th September 2020 the government confirmed that although court proceedings for evictions in England and Wales would restart on 21 September, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs if a local area is in lockdown that includes restrictions on gathering in homes and bailiffs will be told that they should not enforce possession orders over Christmas, other than in "the most serious circumstances", such as cases involving domestic abuse or antisocial behaviour.

COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities was updated on 29th August and is available at assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/913299/Landlord_and_Tenant_Guidance_August_update.pdf

This guidance reflects the latest advice for clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) individuals, advising that routine repairs and maintenance may take place in their homes from 1 August 2020. The landlord and tenant guidance also includes additional advice on dealing with anti-social behaviour and the abandonment of properties, whilst encouraging landlords and tenants to consider mediation as a way to resolve disputes.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). This 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 accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. If students need help, organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support.”

STUDENT ACCOMMODATION DEMAND

On 24th September 2020 UCAS reported that around 95% of undergraduate students had been placed by this point. Overall demand for higher education increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with 515,650 students with a confirmed place – up 4% on last year. The proportion of students with a confirmed deferred place is similar to last year (5.7% in 2020, 5.4% in 2019).

Accepted applicants from the UK are up 4%, to 441,720.

International acceptances from outside the EU are up by  9% to 44,300

EU acceptances have decreased by 2%, to 29,630.

The problem with these international acceptance figures is that the reality of international, students actually arriving for their courses is very significantly down.

Some courses are not beginning until January and many students are travel problems, particularly from China there are also very significant visa delays with students being told visas are likely to be issued between mid-September and mid-October.

Many suppliers report that although they are letting rooms, these additional lettings are being balanced by a similar number of rooms being returned to them as no longer required. One supplier summed up the position as “we are running to stand still”.

Unipol’s own judgement (from confidential figures supplied) is that most large operators are, on average, 83% occupied.

Attrition (students leaving University mid-year) is also predicted to be higher later in the year, although, at present, attrition is mirroring a typical year.

The UKCISA website is worth consulting on detailed matters relating to international students.

DEALING WITH COMPLAINTS

Covid-19 Related Rent Refunds for 2019-2020 - Deadline set

The Codes set an operational deadline for receiving complaints relating to Covid-19 rent refunds relating to the 2019-2020 academic year six months from lockdown on 23rd March 2020 and that took effect at midday on Friday 25th September 2020.

Covid-19 related complaints relating to 2020-2021can see the guidance provided on this website at https://www.nationalcode.org/forms/making-a-complaint

CODE MEMBERS AND FLEXIBLE CONTRACTS

Many Code members have provided options for tenants to flex their tenancy arrangements or withdraw from them if COVID-19 affects teaching and lockdown reoccurs. The National Code Administrator wrote to all suppliers and most (around 70%) PBSA providers are offering some sort of flexibility, normally falling under three areas:

  • travel bans affecting the ability to arrive at the property
  • visa restrictions stopping or affecting arrival times
  • those who did not achieve their required grades.
  • Most have either updated or extended their usual cancellation policy.

Many suppliers are also offering flexible tenancy start dates, ensuring that they can offer students a range options. These have proved popular due to some semester/course start dates being delayed or amended. In some cases Universities are starting postgraduate taught courses in January.

WI-FI 

The provision of reliable Wi-Fi, with sufficient capacity to cope with its mainstream use for both reaching and leisure, is vital.

CONTRACTORS

Almost all suppliers have enhanced the procedures that they have in place for contractors when they need to access buildings. The most common requirement will be that external contractors would need to have completed a risk assessment and abide by a given protocol agreement.

A number of providers tell students that they needed to vacate any room and/or area in which contractors were assessing or completing a repair in. In most cases contractors would be required to wear PPE.

SCOTLAND - STUDENTS CAN GIVE NOTICE TO LEAVE A CONTRACT

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020 provides for:

  • a 7-day notice to leave period for those currently tied into a student accommodation contract; and
  • a 28-day notice to leave period for new agreements entered into.
  • Accommodation made vacant for reasons relating to Coronavirus will be exempt from council tax in Scotland (page 38 of the Act).

NEW PURPOSE BULID STUDENT ACCOMMODATION SUMMER 2020

Figures given are correct as at 8th October 2020 on a UK basis excluding universities signed up to the UUK Code

As signalled last year, the Codes have concentrating on ensuring that they know how many students are inconvenienced by late construction and what arrangements have been made to minimise the effects on their studies.

There are 87 new developments providing an additional 25,088 bed spaces.

49 buildings are on time or already opening housing 14,669 students (58% of the total)

15 buildings are sufficiently late are will not be occupied until completed in 2021 (4,382 bed spaces)

Those that have caused dislocation to students are:

10 buildings are opening late with 2,301 bed spaces which is inconveniencing 596 students

13 buildings will be partially completed which house 4,329 students with 1,466 students are affected.

The total number of students who will be inconvenienced by a late building will be 2,062 (8% of the total).

All partially occupied buildings are being visited to ensure they fully comply with Code standards in October. All students affected have been informed and offered alternative accommodation and The National Code Administrator is satisfied that arrangements have been made in line with the Code. Unipol has checked the communications given to students to verify this.

This year’s performance on new buildings has seen a big improvement upon the previous year with:

  • much better communication taking place with students and affected educational institutions
  • better arrangements for alternative accommodation being made in advance
  • better financial compensation being offered to those affected.

Unipol would like to thank members who have “raised their game” on this over a difficult summer period.

The UUK Code does not collect figures on late buildings nor does it centrally monitor how educational institutions deal with students who are inconvenienced.

COMPLAINTS FOR THE ACADEMIC YEAR 2019-2020

The number of complaints received increased from 103 in 2018-2019 to 262 in 2019-2020 (of which 111 were Covid-19 related). In 2019-2020 254 of those complaints were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant by the Complaints Investigator and 8 were referred to the Tribunal for resolution. Tribunal outcomes can be consulted at www.nationalcode.org/Pages/Category/complaint-outcomes

The National Code received complaints about the condition of properties upon arrival and repairs taking too long, but also a high proportion of complaints regarding an accommodation provider’s perceived failure to deal with inter-tenant disputes, antisocial behaviour and mental health issues. 

Many enquiries are motivated by a desire for tenancy release or compensation. These are contractual matters for the courts of law to decide and not within the remit of the Code although often financial voluntary recompense is part of obtaining a resolution to a complaint 

Complaints about Coronavirus

The vast majority of the 111 complaints concerned rent refunds. One member in particular attracted a substantial number of complaints (30) from their tenants which led to an investigation by the National Codes. As a result of the investigation, and with the co-operation of the provider, almost all of the students who complained were successful in obtaining a rent refund and the supplier undertook a thorough overhaul of their complaints handling process.