Survey: quarter of UK students unable to pay rent during pandemic

National Union of Students calls on more accommodation providers to issue rebates

January 13, 2021
student accommodation
Source: istock

Nearly a quarter of students in the UK have found themselves unable to pay their rent during the pandemic, a study has found.

The National Union of Students surveyed more than 4,000 students and found that nearly a quarter – 22 per cent – had been unable to pay rent in full during the previous four months, while 27 per cent had been unable to pay bills.

The survey, conducted in November, following the previous rounds in April and September, found that 69 per cent of students were concerned about their ability to pay rent and that a third believed that they would not be able to leave their tenancy agreement during the pandemic.

It comes as more UK universities have announced rent waivers or reductions for students during the current lockdown. With in-person teaching delayed until at least mid-February, campaigns for rent rebates have ramped up among students who have been told not to return to campus because of the national lockdown.

Many students rely on part-time jobs in the service industry to pay for rent and bills, but these have been devastated by the pandemic.

On 11 January, Unite Students, one of the UK’s biggest providers of purpose-built student accommodation, said students would be able to apply for a 50 per cent rebate for four weeks, as long as they were up to date with payments and were not in their residence between 18 January and 14 February 2021.

Universities have also said they would offer students refunds, with the Royal Agricultural University joining the universities of Manchester, Cambridge and Exeter in confirming rent waivers. The University of East Anglia has offered students an eight-week rent rebate if they are not occupying their university accommodation.

The NUS survey also revealed that the proportion of students living with parents or guardians has risen since September 2020, from 21 per cent of surveyed students to 30 per cent.

The survey found that a quarter of students had to self-isolate during the autumn term, but more than half – 57 per cent – of those who had to self-isolate said they did not receive any support from their accommodation provider.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice-president for higher education, said it was “astonishing that the UK government has placed students under lockdown yet is still requiring them to pay rent for accommodation that they cannot legally access. It goes to show the level of disregard that this government has for students.

“We need rent rebates immediately to ensure that students are not out of pocket for rent from properties they are not living in. Over two-thirds of students are already concerned about their ability to make rental payments, and this will have only increased with the most recent lockdown announcement. Students deserve better than to be financially punished for following public health guidance.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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