The Situation in 2019

Unipol launched an investigation into late buildings in October 2019 in response to a significant number of developments being late and affecting students start to the academic year. The investigation looked into compliance under the Codes but in addition looked at information about any inconvenience payments or additional assistance that the providers had made available to tenants.

Areas of non-compliance were mainly around failure to notify the National Codes and students of delays in an acceptable timeframe, and what steps were being taken to mitigate or compensate for these. It was also observed that the majority of these providers did not feel it necessary to notify their local institutions as to whether any of their students would be affected by late building delivery. Full details of this investigation can be found here.

COVID-19 and the Updated Late and Refurbished Development Protocol

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been great difficulty in the construction of many new PBSA developments. Lockdowns, reduced staff on site and disruption to supply chains had slowed progress on many projects, and therefore has made completion and occupancy dates difficult to meet or determine.

As a result of the 2019 late building investigation and COVID-19, The Nationals Codes produced a revised version of the Late New and Refurbished Developments Protocol. Under the terms of the protocol, members were required to seek written assurances from both the developers and contractors of newly built/refurbished student accommodation that the accommodation would be ready for occupation at the start of the tenancy agreement, and were required to do so at four set dates before that occupancy. The protocol also sets out what action the Code member will take when they are notified that all or some parts of a development will not be available by the date of occupation.

All providers who had new buildings due to open for this academic year were contacted to offer support and to seek assurances that the protocol was being followed, to avoid the issues of 2019 and ensure the best outcomes for students during an already difficult year. There were 37 providers opening new buildings, with 88 new developments in total due open in 2020.

The Situation in 2020

Overall, there has been a significant improvement in the delivery and response to late buildings from providers across the board, in most cases fully compliant with the protocol. All students that were affected were informed and offered adequate alternative accommodation, with extra features and goodwill gestures included. The main improvements to note are:

  • Clearer and transparent communication – this took place at much earlier stages with students and affected educational institutions that were affected by late buildings, which allowed for greater levels of co-operation and ensuring students were given a range of options to choose from
  • Alternative accommodation – providers were much better at arranging and offering alternative accommodation in advance, limiting the amount of time/numbers of students having to stay in hotels
  • Financial compensation – there has been an increase in the frequency of monetary goodwill gestures being offered to affected students, which appears to have had an positive impact in compensating for delays and mitigating complaints

The response by providers to the enquiries made by the National Code about new and late buildings was on the whole good. Providers were forthcoming with information regarding number of students affected, the extent of possible delays and how these were been mitigated. It is clear that providers have utilised the lessons learned from the issues that arose in 2019, taking a more pro-active approach with clearer communications being sent to students who were affected by late delivery, and students being offered a range of alternative options (e.g. contract termination) at an earlier opportunity than last year. There was also a marked improvement on Providers taking early decisions to delay occupancy until 2021 to prevent major disruption to the student experience at the start of term.

It is important to remember that Code Members have a responsibility to notify Unipol of any new developments they are opening, and of any potential issues with late delivery. Some providers over the Summer sent regular updates every 2-3 weeks, which proved extremely helpful in maintaining records and tracking progress. Maintaining good communication with Unipol on these issues will also help when dealing with (and mitigating against) any potential complaints that could arise from a building being late.

Unipol would like to take this opportunity to thank all providers who have worked incredibly hard to mitigate against delays and made sure students are not losing out, whilst also regularly responding to and updating Unipol over a busy Summer period.