The largest private provider of student accommodation in the UK, Unite Students, is offering a 50% reduction in rent to tenants unable to return due to coronavirus restrictions.
Unite Student’s announcement is expected to benefit 50,000 students, or two-thirds of its tenants, who are not able to occupy their residences between 18 January and 14 February.
This marks the first significant action taken by private providers of student accommodation towards supporting students through the pandemic. It follows rent freezes and waivers in university-owned halls as a result of ongoing student protests and rent strikes.
Unite Students had also been under pressure from tenants such as Liverpool John Moores student Suhail Accad, whose rent strike post on Instagram gained him 3,000 followers and amassed 8,000 shares within only a few days.
A number of universities, including Warwick, have told students living in on-campus accommodation that they will not need to pay rent while they are not living on-campus.
20% of students rent accommodation from private companies such as Unite Students, 20% of students live in university-owned residences, around 25% are commuter students and 30% rent from private landlords. Most students who rent accommodation from private landlords still have to pay full rent costs.
It is simply unacceptable that students are being told not to live in housing they have paid for, on public health grounds, yet are receiving no government support
– Hillary Gyebi-Abiabo
The National Union of Students (NUS) appealed for “government-led action” and financial support to provide full rent refunds for all students, as well as the ability to break from their contracts.
Hillary Gyebi-Abiabo, vice-president of the NUS, says: “It is simply unacceptable that students are being told not to live in housing they have paid for, on public health grounds, yet are receiving no government support.”
Two other private providers of student accommodation, Campus Living Villages and Sanctuary Students, told the Financial Times that they would continue to charge full rent.
Unite Students estimates that its decision would result in an £8 million loss in revenue. Chief executive Richard Smith says that despite its challenges, it is the “right thing to do”, and that Unite Students would be in a strong position for the next academic year.
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said: “We are currently looking at what more we can do to support students and we strongly encourage providers and accommodation providers to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, transparent and have the best interests of students at heart.”