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Students unhappy with private landlords’ response to Covid


Survey suggests students gave higher marks to purpose-built accommodation providers last year

Just one in four students living in shared houses were satisfied with how their private landlords reacted to the coronavirus pandemic last year, according to a survey of more than 30,000 current students.

The survey, carried out by UK admissions body Ucas and property consultancy Knight Frank, found that while 69 per cent of students living in purpose-built student accommodation—operated either privately or by a university—said they were pleased with their provider’s approach to the pandemic, just 25 per cent of those in shared houses rented privately said the same. 

The survey canvassed 43,000 university applicants and 31,000 students between February and November 2020, and found that an ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were some of the reasons for greater contentment among those in purpose-built accommodation compared with other settings. 

Nearly three-quarters of first-years (72 per cent), most of whom live in purpose-built student accommodation, said they had stopped paying their rent in the summer term after Covid-19 restricted campus access, while 71 per cent of those in other years, who were more likely to be co-renting a house, were still paying full rent despite not being allowed on campus.

Respondents based in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

Matt Bowen, head of residential investment research at Knight Frank, said the higher education sector should be “proud of the way it has responded to Covid-19, with our survey confirming that operators of private purpose-built student accommodation have responded positively in the eyes of the students they accommodate”.

However, today’s survey results pre-date a nationwide rent strike which began this month, and is currently affecting students in purpose-built accommodation at more than 40 universities. On 5 January, prime minister Boris Johnson admitted that “there are going to be issues to do with the cost of [student] accommodation [during the lockdown] that we will have to look at as a government”. 

Private accommodation firm Unite Students announced earlier this week that it has offered its renters a 50 per cent discount during lockdown, while Student Roost—a London-based accommodation provider operating across the UK—is to offer any residents who are away from their room or flat the opportunity to apply for a discount of up to six weeks’ rent.