Information and Advice on Coronavirus in Student Accommodation for Housing Suppliers This was last updated on 22nd July 2021 This update includes information on the following topics: The UK Accommodation Forum Students, Government Advice and the Summer Government Advice: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland End of the 2020-2021 Academic Year The 2021-2022 Academic Year Vaccinations for Newly Arriving International Students New and Returning Students Travelling from Overseas The 2021-2022 Academic Year and House-Hunting Student Satisfaction 2020-2021 Government Guidance (MHCLG) to Landlords and Tenants New How to Rent Guide Code Complaints THE UK STUDENT ACCOMMODATION FORUM Although the UK Student Accommodation Forum is taking a break until autumn it was planned to hold one Forum in each of July and August to provide updates on Covid-related developments and how this was impacting on accommodation demand from students. These are online Zoom meetings. These events are free and attended by around 40 participants from across the accommodation sector. These are one hour meetings held between 11.00am and midday and expert contributions (about 10 minutes each) followed by general discussion. Any “issues of the moment” also gets a 10-minute slot. Two events have now been scheduled, both at 11.00am: Wednesday 4th August 2021 - Reflections on the 2020-2021 letting year and How are Student Residences Responding to the current “opening up” Guidance? The forum will involve a panel of PBSA providers and outline what they are doing now in their accommodation and what plans they have for the future in the light of current Government Guidance. Thursday 19th August 2021 - The 2021-2022 Academic Year: What is Likely to Happen? The forum will look at how universities are planning to open up campuses and what arrangements they have in mind for the first term and what implications this will have for student residents. Details of these events will appear shortly on https://www.unipol.org.uk/training-and-events/all And booking can be made on line. STUDENTS, GOVERNMENT ADVICE AND THE SUMMER On 5th July 2021 the Prime Minister announced how Covid restrictions were set to end in England with the implementation of step 4 of the Roadmap with legal restrictions ending on Monday 19th July. His key message was “We must find a new way of living with the virus”: social distancing would end, facemasks would no longer be mandatory with no limits on gatherings and all venues currently closed could safely reopen with no capacity limits. The announcement can be consulted at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-sets-out-plan-to-ease-restrictions-at-step-4 A raft of Government Guidance followed on 19th July 2021 entitled Covid-19 Response: Summer 2021 which can be consulted at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-summer-2021-roadmap/covid-19-response-summer-2021 The detailed Guidance was less bullish than the “freedom day” announced by the PM and stressed that “Vigilance must be maintained and people will be asked to make informed decisions and act carefully and proportionately, to manage the risks to themselves and others.” and the approach is that “the ‘Working Safely’ guidance will continue to provide advice on sensible precautions employers can take to manage risk and support their staff and customers. Businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business. The way to do this is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risk of Covid-19, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks you identify.” The Guidance has a special section on education that reads: “The Government will change the controls that apply in early years, schools, colleges and higher education institutions to maintain a baseline of protective measures while maximising attendance and minimising disruption to children and young people’s education.” There is some unchanged specific advice entitled Higher education COVID-19 operational guidance to be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-covid-19-operational-guidance which states: “There are no longer restrictions on the approach to teaching and learning in higher education (HE) providers as a result of COVID-19. There is no requirement for social distancing or other measures within in person teaching. Providers are therefore able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision.” There is an accommodation section in the guidance and although this is geared to HE providers, the advice on cleaning and procedures for self isolation are still relevant to others. Most Members will already still be following these routines. There is further advice for employers which encourages to use of face masks and “reviewing entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors. Do this to minimise contact with other people.” Some supplier restrictions and one way systems are therefore likely to remain in student accommodation settings (although without compulsion) and many Members are currently updating their own risk assessments and working out what practical arrangements they wish to retain or enhance within their buildings. As Covid-19 cases rise, the numbers of students and staff required to self-isolate will also rise and there are already reports of staff shortages occurring in PBSA caused by high levels of staff self-isolation. From 16th August, double jabbed individuals and under 18s will no longer need to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19. The precise arrangements for this change have yet to be announced and it is clear that “vaccine passports”, however described, are back on the Government’s agenda as part of their plans to open up society. GOVERNMENT ADVICE: SCOTLAND, WALES AND NORTHERN IRELAND Scotland On 19th July the Scottish Government updated its information on Student Information Scotland https://www.studentinformation.gov.scot/coronavirus There are some important differences from England: number restrictions will apply with up to 8 people from 4 households meeting indoors. Up to 10 people from 4 households can meet outdoors face coverings are still required on public transport, in shops and in hospitality settings. The Scottish Government stresses: “With term starting in mid-September, there is still time to ensure that those of you who are 18 or over can have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before arriving on campus.” Some aspects of The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Act have been extended from 30th September 2021 to 31st March 2022. Included in this extension is the provision for students to terminate their tenancies. This means that student who entered into a student residential tenancy after 27th May 2020 can give 28 days’ notice to their accommodation provider until 31st March 2021. Students can only exercise this notice to leave periods for reasons relating to Covid-19. Wales Advice from the Welsh Government was last updated on 21st July https://gov.wales/current-restrictions-frequently-asked-questions In Wales physical distancing remains in place with face coverings mandatory for public transport. For indoor visits, members of an extended household, or a maximum of six people from up to six households (not including children under 11 from any of these households or carers of anyone present) or two households can meet indoors and stay overnight. There are no restrictions on gatherings outside with other households. Northern Ireland Advice from the Northern Ireland Assembly was updated on 5th July and a summary can be seen at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2021-07/coronavirus-covid19-your-guide-to-what-you-can-do-5-july.pdf Up to six people from two households can mix indoors and a household of six or more can mix with one other household (maximum of 10 people). END OF THE 2020-2021 ACADEMIC YEAR There was a significant increase in Covid-19 cases in late June, particularly amongst younger people and that meant some tenants found themselves self-isolating when they should have been leaving or taking up their new tenancies. The National Code issued advice saying that Members should not expect anyone self-isolating to have to move during that period. Many providers reported a number of students needed to stay beyond their tenancy and a few students had their move into their chosen flat delayed, although alternative accommodation was normally provided. Overall, Members dealt well with this final challenge of this academic year and amicable solutions were found to deal with even the most difficult cases. There have been no complaints about suppliers not making special arrangements, when needed, and there have been many compliments from tenants about the standard of cleanliness for new students moving in. There were a number of Parliamentary Questions asked about this and the main two (asked on 2nd and 5th July 2021 can be read HERE) Although there was some negative media comment about off-street landlords (an example can be found at https://www.nottinghampost.com/news/nottingham-news/anger-nottingham-students-forced-pay-5602316 there was none (to Unipol’s knowledge) about PBSA suppliers. In some cases tenancies do not end until late July and the evidence is that occupancy is around 30% and will be until the very last day, caused by the opening up of society and the good weather. Members should congratulate themselves of ending the year on a positive note and working hard to deal with the self isolation and end-of-term events. The 2021-2022 ACADEMIC YEAR UCAS issued its latest figures on 8th July 2021 and that showed the applications for home undergraduates were up 6% to 551,620. EU students were down by 43% on 2020 (28,400) but non EU international students were up by 14% (102,000). Not all of this will convert into students requiring accommodation and it is anticipated that the number of home commuter students will increase this year, although there may be some students who chose to study from home last year re-entering the student housing market. The jury is very much out on how many international students may arrive. Generally international students are very optimistic about coming to the UK to study and are not bothered about periods of self-isolation or quarantine as they plan to stay for at least a year. There are three main areas of concern: the rising Covid-19 infection rate in the UK has received considerable negative comment in China, the top sending country (less so in India) and it is difficult to know what impact that may have. Over the next few weeks housing suppliers are likely to have a clearer idea of intentions as deadlines for withdrawing from contracts occur in July and August the airline industry still has only limited capacity and there are fewer flights and they are more expensive so travel will be more difficult the current red list quarantining rules (which currently applies to India but not China which is on the amber list) would see serious strain placed on the current hotel-based quarantining system. An article outlining the problem can be consulted HERE. BPF and the National Code will be making representations on this matter to DfE. VACCINATIONS FOR NEWLY ARRIVED INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS The vaccination programme includes 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. new and returning students travelling from overseas There are different restrictions applied to students arriving from overseas (known as the ‘traffic light system’) depending on level of risk. Risk is based on factors such as the level of community transmission, variants of concern, levels of testing, genomic sequencing and reporting. Countries have been sorted into three categories: Red list countries: High-risk countriesAmber list countries: Moderate-risk countriesGreen list countries: Low-risk countries The Guidance is frequently updated and is detailed and complex and needs to be consulted directly at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england#red-list and is not summarised here. STUDENT SATISFACTION 2020-2021 The Higher Education Policy Institute’s (HEPI) annual Student Academic Experience Survey 2021 was issued on 24 June 2021 https://www.hepi.ac.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2021/06/SAES_2021_FINAL.pdf This survey revealed that students’ perception of the value they have received throughout their academic experience has fallen significantly to the lowest levels seen. Just over one-in-four students (27%) felt that they had received good or very good value (a figure that is close to half of what it was in 2012), against 44% perceiving poor or very poor value. There were a further 29% who felt they had received “neither good nor poor” value. Whilst this reflects a very difficult and disrupted academic year with almost no face-to-face teaching for many students, this outcome is still not good news for the sector. This year’s report, rather disappointingly, had only one reference to accommodation and that was “When saying you received poor value/very poor value, what were you thinking about?” and accommodation quality was rated at 19%. There is no comparative figure for the previous year but 1 in 5 students reporting negatively on their accommodation after a year of disruption, self-isolation and calls for rent refunds, could be regarded as a relatively favourable result. 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.” House hunting for 2021-2022 began for many students in November 2020. Although there has been a slower start to this process this year, house hunting for returning students continues. A few national observations can be made, although there are very significant regional variations: 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 still significantly slower (down 15%-20%) than normal 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. 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 lettings remained at a low level and 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. GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE (MHCLG) TO LANDLORDS AND TENANTS Updated guidance was issued on 20th 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 Payments The 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.” Repairs It 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.” Previous Guidance on Moving in and Viewings for Lettings has now been removed. New How to Rent Guide MHCLG has updated its how to rent guide. It can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-rent 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 30th June2021 the National Code Complaints and Enquiries received 297 complaints (compared with 219 at the same time in 2020) and the top 5 causes of complaint were: Seeks release/refund 167 Repairs 26 Condition upon arrival 14 Contract/rent 13 Customer Service 11 283 complaints have been resolved (197 by the supplier and 85 by the investigator, 1 case has been resolved by a Tribunal and 14 cases remain open). The number of complaints received in June has slowed and this slowdown has continued in July.