Closed petition Reimburse student rents for all accommodation not used during this academic year

Government needs to reimburse students who have paid for university or accommodation rented from private landlords they have not used during the Covid-19 outbreak. This is to include rent, utility bills and standing charges relating to the rented property. Students are least able to bear the losses.

More details

Higher education students for 2020-21 were advised that universities would be open for business. Tuition was to involve varying degrees of face-to-face learning. Given that learning is now exclusively online and that students are often unable to access library areas in which to do self-study, universities are far from open. Social activity is nil. Students now have no need to remain in accommodation and should be free to return home without incurring financial (rent/bill) losses going forward.

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Government responded

This response was given on 2 March 2021

Accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting rent agreements. We urge them to ensure policies are fair and have students’ best interests at heart.

Read the response in full

Since universities and private accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting their own rent agreements, the government plays no role in the provision of student residential accommodation.

This has been a very difficult time for students and we welcome the decision from many universities and accommodation providers to offer rent rebates for students who need to stay away from their term-time address, and we urge all large providers to join them and offer students partial refunds. We ask all providers of student accommodation including universities, to make sure their rental policies have students’ best interests at heart and are communicated clearly. Government has no plans to reimburse student rents at this time. We will continue to monitor the situation to look at what impact our funding is having. Whether a student is entitled to a refund or to an early release from their contract will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider.

We recognise that in these exceptional circumstances some students may face financial hardship. The Department for Education has worked with the Office for Students to clarify that providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards hardship support. The Government is also making available an additional £50m of hardship funding this financial year. In total we have made £70m of funding available for student hardship given the £20m made available to higher education providers in December.

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.

The Government wants to make sure all students receive the right amount of student support to complete their studies. Students who have been awarded the maximum loan for living costs for 2020/21 do not need to do anything, as they will receive the maximum level of support as planned. Students who have applied for a loan for living costs for 2020/21 and have been awarded a lower amount than the maximum and believe their household income for the current tax year (2020-21) will drop by at least 15% compared to the household income they provided when they were initially assessed, can apply for their entitlement to be reassessed. Information on entitlement and how to apply can be found online at https://media.slc.co.uk/sfe/currentyearincome/students.html. Students and their parents should read the guidance fully before making an application or phoning Student Finance England.

Because of the changing position relating to face-to-face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home; meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances.

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 also applies when the student is prevented from attending the course physically and is required to study online due to shielding.

If students have concerns about their accommodation fees, they should first raise their concerns with their accommodation provider. If their concerns remain unresolved, and their HE provider is involved in the provision of the accommodation, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for Higher Education to consider their complaint. If a student needs help, organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support.

If a student thinks 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

Department for Education

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/560735)

Other parliamentary business

Original Government response

Accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting rent agreements. We encourage them to ensure policies are fair. Government has made extra hardship funding available.

Whether a student is entitled to a refund or to an early release from their contract will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider.

This has been a very difficult time for students and we encourage universities and private landlords to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, clear and have the interests of students at heart. The Universities Minister wrote to providers in March 2020 and encouraged them to be fair in decisions about rent.

We recognise that in these exceptional circumstances some students may face financial hardship. The Department for Education has worked with the Office for Students to clarify that providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards hardship support. The Government is making available up to a further £20m to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students facing difficulties as a result of COVID. We are considering what more we can do to provide further support to students.

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.

Maximum living costs support increased by 10.3% in cash terms for eligible new students on the lowest incomes in 2016/17 compared to the maximum support available for new starters in 2015/16 under the previous system. Further inflationary increases in living costs support have been made in each academic year since with an increase of 2.9% announced for the 2020/21 academic year and 3.1% for the 2021/22 academic year taking the support available for the lowest income students to record levels in cash terms.

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 also applies when the student is prevented from attending the course physically and is required to study online due to shielding.

If students have concerns about their accommodation fees, they should first raise their concerns with their accommodation provider. If their concerns remain unresolved, and their HE provider is involved in the provision of the accommodation, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for Higher Education to consider their complaint.

If a student thinks 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

Department for Education

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.

MPs question Government on lost teaching and rent for university students

On Thursday 15 April, MPs asked the Government about its recent announcement on when university students would be able to return to campus, and whether the Government would provide financial compensation to university students for lost teaching and rent during covid-19.

You can watch the question and the Government's response on Parliament TV:
https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/d068cda1-70f8-42c2-9aca-2ce1ed142610?in=10:32:42&out=11:12:59

You can read the question and the Government's response on the Hansard website:
https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-15/debates/4AA7E147-B9DA-4E7F-BE59-DD93DB98DAD4/UniversityStudentsCompensationForLostTeachingAndRent
 

Why was the question asked?

If an urgent or important matter arises which an MP believes requires an immediate answer from a government minister, they may apply to ask an urgent question.

Find out more about Urgent Questions here:
https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/urgent-questions/

MPs hold evidence session on covid-19 and higher education

On Wednesday 27 October, MPs on the Education Committee questioned Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan MP and leaders from the sector. The Committee asked about the impact of covid-19 on higher education and how universities have been adapting to the pandemic.

Watch the session: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/270879ab-f237-441d-899a-451531c7ab15

Read a transcript of the session: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1542/universities-and-the-pandemic/publications/

The Committee questioned the Minister and sector leaders on the decision by some universities to continue with aspects of online and remote learning despite an announcement in the summer that in-person teaching could resume.

It questioned them on the effect of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of students and staff, and what is being done to support disadvantaged students, widen participation and improve graduate outcomes.

What are evidence sessions?

Evidence sessions are public meetings with experts, officials or people with personal experiences of the topic being examined. Evidence sessions help Committees to understand how Government policies are working in the real world, and what needs to change to make things better.

What is the Education Committee?

The Education Committee scrutinises the work of the Department for Education and its associated public bodies. It examines government policy, spending and administration on behalf of the electorate and the House of Commons. It's a cross-party committee and is independent of the Government.

Find out more on its website: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/203/education-committee/

You can get updates on its work by following the Committee on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/CommonsEd

This is a ‘select committee’. Find out how Select Committees work:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_2RDuDs44c

You can also sign up to the UK Parliament newsletter for the latest information on how to get involved and make a difference: https://learning.parliament.uk/en/your-uk-parliament-newsletter-sign-up-form/