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£1 billion wasted by UK students on unusable accommodation in 2021

Survey highlights the urgent need to support student renters

Each year, Save the Student’s nationwide accommodation survey highlights the financial and emotional struggles that students face when covering the cost of rent.

But this year, with so many young people shelling out thousands for accommodation they can’t even access, it’s evident that urgent support is needed.

Nearly £1 billion has been wasted by UK students on unusable accommodation so far this academic year – that’s the estimate from Save the Student, based on results from the National Student Accommodation Survey 2021. At £933,270,890, the estimate is a dizzying number, involving an incomprehensibly large amount of money that has been spent by people who are generally young and without a full-time income. 

2022 students £100 million worse off than those eligible for government’s full support package

The survey polled over 1,300 students and found that among those who haven’t had full access to their accommodation, the average spend on empty rooms has been £1,621. For any student, this would be concerning – but it’s particularly worrying as 13% of people in the survey described keeping up with rent as a ‘constant struggle’, with a further 37% saying they ‘struggle from time to time’.

Rent refunds for students

At the beginning of the academic year, only 10% of students were living with their parents or guardians, with the majority choosing to live in a property with a private landlord (39%), university accommodation (34%) or private halls (15%). But, in the spring term of 2020/21, over a third of students in the survey had moved back home.

It’s important to recognise that some accommodation providers, particularly university halls, have been proactive in offering refunds and discounts to students who have been unable to stay in their accommodation.

Among students in the survey, 32% were offered a full or partial rent refund, with students on average receiving a rent discount of £75pw. These averages are based on all students’ responses in the survey. 

However, when comparing the rent refunds for students in university accommodation with those renting from private landlords, it becomes evident that there is a huge imbalance.

As many as 63% of students in uni accommodation were offered a full or partial refund, but this compares to only 6% of students with private landlords who were offered one.

It’s more worrying still that only 8% of students in the survey had a break clause. This would mean the vast majority would not have a legal right to end their tenancy early simply because they’re unable to access the property, unless their landlord/accommodation provider decides to offer this to them.

Promisingly, around a third said they plan to ask for a break clause next year, but ideally this figure would be higher still. 

What support is needed for student renters?

It’s important for education providers to ensure students understand their rights as tenants and encourage them to take steps to prepare for any eventuality where they might need to move out before their tenancy agreement has finished. A great starting point is encouraging them to always ask for a break clause in their rental contract.

But, while this would help in future, more support is urgently needed from the government to support those students who are contributing to the £1 billion spent on empty accommodation. This is particularly necessary for student renters with private landlords who, on the whole, are not receiving much, if any, discount on rent for properties they can’t access.

Jake Butler, Save the Student’s money expert, comments:

“£1 billion is a huge price for students to pay and the total will keep going up, making it clear once again that students are among the worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“You can see from our stats that students feel let down and helpless when it comes to looking for support with their accommodation costs.

“A lot of accommodation providers, particularly universities, have reacted well but many students, mostly those renting from private landlords, have been left without a leg to stand on.

“Time and time again the government has promised to look at the poor situation students are in but we’re yet to see any effective action. I would urge the government to work with landlords and universities to offer students financial support to cover any rent payments for accommodation that cannot be accessed.”

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