This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Most students live away from home during term time in either university owned or privately rented accommodation. During the coronavirus pandemic Government measures have significantly impacted on how students live – lockdowns, closure of campuses and rules around the movement of students have resulted in many students leaving their rented accommodation and returning home – in many cases leaving their accommodation before letting contracts had expired. This has given rise to numerous questions about liability for rent, refunds and evictions. Below are some of these FAQs.
Do I have to pay my rent if I’ve moved back home?
Purpose-built student accommodation
Many university-owned halls of residence and privately run Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) have allowed students who have left university accommodation due to the coronavirus to terminate contracts early without any charges. Some have waived or discounted rent for all students, regardless of whether they are still in their accommodation. (Office for Students briefing: Student accommodation (April 2020)). Students should contact their university for advice.
If a student thinks that 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:
- unipol.org.uk/the-code/how-to-complain; and
Private rented accommodation
Students with a private rented tenancy agreement (contract), as a rule, remain liable for rent payments until their contracts expire. See section 1 of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants.
Some landlords/agents have negotiated rent reductions or agreed to early release from contracts for students but there is no obligation on them to do so.
What if I cannot live in my student accommodation?
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.
Information published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) gives guidance on the COVID-19 outbreak’s effects on consumer contracts and may be helpful to students. The guidance sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their contractual rights and to help businesses treat their customers fairly.
Can students who have left halls get a refund/discount on their rent?
Whether or not a student can get a refund/discount will depend on the university halls of residence provider. Students should contact them directly to find out.
Library briefing , Coronavirus: student accommodation issues, 25 January 2021 discusses the issue of refunds in detail.
Is there any additional help with rent payments?
The Government has not introduced specific financial help for student rent payments. The student maintenance loan is intended to help cover living costs while at university, including rent. When asked about assistance with rent payments, the Government said students would receive scheduled tuition and maintenance loan payments for the remainder of the 2019/20 academic year. These payments are continuing in the 2020/21 academic year irrespective of where the student is living.
Students who are struggling to pay their rent, e.g. because they cannot work should contact the accommodation provider (university, halls of residence manager or private landlord/agent) to find out what, if any, arrangements can be made.
Students may also be able to access help from their university’s hardship funds. 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 has also made available a further £20m to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. The funding has been distributed to approved fee cap providers, who have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to students in a way that will best prioritise those in greatest need. [PQ 137247, 20 January 2021]
Any student who is worried about their financial position should contact their university to find out what support is available. Certain students may be able to access benefits, including assistance with rent payments. Government guidance: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants, provides information for private tenants who are struggling to pay their rent.
Can the landlord force me to leave my private rented tenancy?
Some students haven’t left their privately rented homes and are struggling to pay the rent. Government measures ensure from 29 August 2020 most tenants in the private sector are entitled to at least six months’ notice (there are some exceptions for substantial rent arrears and anti-social behaviour). This notice period applies until 31 March 2021. When a notice expires, the landlord must seek a court order to evict. There are restrictions on the enforcement of eviction warrants by bailiffs up to 21 February 2021 (some exceptions apply). Evicting a tenant without a court order can amount to illegal eviction, a criminal offence. Tenants in this position should seek urgent assistance from organisations such as the local authority or Shelter.
Can universities ask students to leave halls of residence?
No, any students remaining in halls should stay there in accordance with current stay at home advice
Can students move back home, or can those at home go back to university?
Following a second national lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Government asked students in England to return to their family home for the winter break during a student travel window from 3 to 9 December 2020. Following the winter break, and a third national lockdown announced on 4 January 2021, the Government asked Higher Education providers to deliver all courses online until at least mid-February 2021, with the exception of those courses which are most important to be delivered in-person in order to support the pipeline of future key workers (e.g. those on medical, veterinary, teaching or social work courses). The Government’s coronavirus guidance asks students who are not on those courses to “remain where they are wherever possible”. The guidance also states that “If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time.”
The Commons Library constituency casework page on Coronavirus: Advice on home moves provides guidance on when moving house is permitted during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Office for Students: Student accommodation
- Universities UK: Student accommodation
- University websites
- Citizens Advice: Student accommodation: what are your rights?
- Shelter: Housing advice: coronavirus (COVID-19)
- MoneySavingExpert: Can students claim a rent refund as they’re told not to return to uni? What you need to know, 4 January 2021
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.