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Petition Enable all students to end university tenancy agreements early due to Covid-19.

Many students are currently tied into expensive agreements for rooms they do not need and would rather not use. Scotland has already legislated for this. We want all students to have the same rights. We were misled into thinking universities would be Covid-safe. The reality is that they are not.

More details

The government has already said that it “encourages universities and private halls providers to be fair in their decisions about rent charges...” We want them to place students at the heart of their decision-making and direct universities to review their agreements and policies to give students:
• a choice of exiting their accommodation agreement early so they can return home
• refunds for the time students are self-isolating
• the option to defer their accommodation rental agreement

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Government responded

This response was given on 23 February 2021

We do not currently have plans to legislate in this area. University and private providers are autonomous but we encourage them to be fair and consider students’ interests in their decisions.

The Government recognises that this academic year has been incredibly difficult for students. As a result of the current exceptional circumstances, some students are facing financial hardship, with some now incurring additional costs at their alternative address.

We will be making available an additional £50m of hardship funding, on top of the £20m made available to higher education providers in December. This support targets students with the greatest need.

Providers will have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to students in a way that will best prioritise those in greatest need. Support might include help for students facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location or assistance to help students access teaching remotely.

We will continue to work with the Office for Students to allocate these funds and will set out further detail.

The Government is also encouraging universities and large-scale private accommodation providers to refund a proportion of the rent they would usually charge for the term and welcomes the news that many universities and large accommodation providers have already offered rent rebates for students that have been asked to stay away from their accommodation.

Maintenance loans are available as a contribution towards a student’s living costs while attending university. The system targets the most living cost support at those from the lowest income families, who need it most.

Students undertaking courses that would normally require attendance on-site, but for which learning has moved either fully or partially online due to COVID-19, will qualify for living costs support in the 2020/21 academic year as they would ordinarily, provided they continue to engage with their higher education provider. This means that students who qualify are still receiving the same level of support for their living costs, including rent. This also applies when the student is prevented from attending the course physically and is required to study online due to shielding.

Tenants, including student renters, should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The Government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.

Tenants are able to end or surrender their fixed term tenancy early if they reach an agreement with their landlord. If tenants have a joint tenancy agreement, all tenants will need to agree to the surrender. Even if a tenant’s circumstances have changed due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, they still will not have an automatic right to leave early.

The Government encourages landlords to take a pragmatic, flexible approach and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.

Tenants should note that a property has not been fully vacated if they have not removed all of their belongings, and it is at the discretion of their landlord to agree to end the tenancy.

There is further information for tenants and landlords in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19) available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities.

If students think their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: https://www.thesac.org.uk/, https://www.unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain and https://www.rla.org.uk/about/nrla-code-of-practice.shtml.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cma-to-investigate-concerns-about-cancellation-policies-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic/the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-consumer-contracts-cancellation-and-refunds) on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by the coronavirus. 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 certain 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.

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/553285)

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At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament

Other parliamentary business

Original Government response: University and private accommodation providers are autonomous, but...

the Government encourages landlords to be fair and consider students’ interests in their decisions about rent charges and tenancies.

We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic.

We recently announced up to £20 million to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances, in addition to an existing £256 million universities can use to help those in financial hardship.

Maintenance loans are available as a contribution towards a student’s living costs while attending university. The system targets the most living cost support at those from the lowest income families, who need it most.

Students undertaking courses that would normally require attendance on-site, but for which learning has moved either fully or partially online due to Covid-19, will qualify for living costs support in the 2020/21 academic year as they would ordinarily, provided they continue to engage with their higher education provider. This means that students who qualify are still receiving the same level of support for their living costs, including rent. This also applies when the student is prevented from attending the course physically and is required to study online due to shielding.

It has been important to keep universities open during the pandemic in order to provide high quality education to students. We simply cannot ask young people to put their education and lives on hold indefinitely. The human cost in terms of lost opportunity and damaged social mobility would be immense.

We have drawn on the expertise of the HE Taskforce that we set up, and we have been providing robust public health advice and regular updates to the sector to help them to plan carefully to keep students and staff as safe as possible.

To help Higher Education providers make informed decisions about their provision, the Government issued guidance on reopening for providers in June and has routinely updated this based on the latest public health advice. We have published further advice on national restrictions, end of term guidance and return of students in spring term for the sector.

All universities have plans for managing and controlling outbreaks. We are increasing testing capacity. We are clear about limiting the risks. There is close working on the ground locally between universities and public health experts.

Tenants, including student renters, should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. 

Tenants are able to end or surrender their fixed term tenancy early if they reach an agreement with their landlord. If tenants have a joint tenancy agreement, all tenants will need to agree to the surrender. Even if a tenant’s circumstances have changed due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, they still won't have an automatic right to leave early.

The Government encourages landlords to take a pragmatic, flexible approach and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.

Tenants should note that a property has not been fully vacated if they have not removed all of their belongings, and it is at the discretion of their landlord to agree to end the tenancy.

There is further information for tenants and landlords in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19) available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities. 

If students think their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: https://www.thesac.org.uk/, https://www.unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain and https://www.rla.org.uk/about/nrla-code-of-practice.shtml.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by the coronavirus. 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 certain 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.

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

This response was given on 26 January 2021. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.

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