National survey reveals nearly £1 billion spent by students on unused accommodation in the UK

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By Filiz Emily Gurer, News Editor

The 2020/21 results of the National Student Accommodation Survey published today and carried out by ‘Save the Student’ reveal the financial toll of the pandemic related to students’ living situations.

Based on its calculations, ‘Save the Student’ estimates a total of nearly £1 billion (£933,270,890), has been spent by students on unused accommodation in the UK in the 2020/21 academic year so far.

The UK-wide survey polled over 1,300 university students between 20 January 2021 and 8 February 2021, to explore the realities of how student living has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Findings from the survey showed a 10% drop in students who view their accommodation as good value for money, with 1 in 2 students feeling their accommodation is poor value for money.

With the uncertainties of the last few months resulting in the non-occupation of student accommodation, the survey found that 32% of students questioned had been offered a refund on their rent, of which 9% were offered a full discount, and 23% offered a partial one.

There was also a notable difference in the number of students’ approaching their halls for rent rebates and those asking for rent rebates from private landlords. In university accommodation, as many as two-thirds have asked for a refund, compared to just under one in five students with private landlords.

UK students have this year been engaged in the largest rent strike in decades, with the University of Bristol rent strike becoming the largest in history, after amassing over 1800 pledges from students promising to withhold their rent.

The UK-wide survey explored the realities of how student living has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic| Savethestudent.org

In response to student strikers, the University of Bristol confirmed a 100% rent rebate for 10 days leading to the end of the first term, and in December conceded to a further 30% rent rebate from 19 December until early February, with this being extended to 26 March for students forced to remain at home due to the Government’s national lockdown guidance.

The survey results confirmed how students’ living situations have been impacted and dominated by Covid-19 this academic year.

The report shows numbers on where students have been living since the Christmas break.

After returning home during the government’s ‘student travel window’ at the beginning of December, students were hit with restrictions requiring them to stay where they were.

The figures show that overall very few students are currently living in university accommodation or private halls.

52% of students are still in the same living situations as originally planned, but a third of students in the survey had moved back home to live with their parents or guardians.

| Epigram / Lucy O’Neill

The national survey shows that since the start of the 2020/21 academic year, around 43% of students have spent three months or less in their properties and revealed that if students had known what would happen this year, over two in five would have chosen their accommodation differently.

Save the Student’s report calculated the cost of unused accommodation finding that on average students spent £1,621 on empty rooms to which they haven’t had full access to this academic year.

Epigram spoke to University of Bristol students about how their living situations have been affected over the last few months.

2nd year UoB student Millie explained that she had left her private accommodation in the second lockdown in November but after deciding to move out of her accommodation all together for the year had found it ‘complicated’ to return to Bristol to ‘safely move out’.

Millie, who has been advertising her room since December, trying to find a replacement tenant ever since, says that she understands that ‘the situation has been difficult’ for ‘people living at home who are trying to make up their mind about whether they want to move back’.

Speaking to Epigram, a 2nd year international student who has returned to their home country also stated they had been looking for someone to take over their tenancy and said that it had been ‘an extremely difficult, stressful process’.

Facing difficulties with attempting to get their ‘private sector accommodation to mediate between [her] and the landlord’ the student explained that the process has been complicated by the landlord not accepting to rent to professionals, whilst the demand for accommodation by students has dropped.

Another Bristol Uni student spoke to Epigram and cited that the University had told students at the start of the first term ‘if [they] could be in Bristol, [they] definitely should be’, however said that ‘considering how expensive rent in Bristol is’, they did not think that the little in-person teaching they had had in reality was ‘worth it’.

The student stated that they felt ‘slightly conned by the University as to the importance of being in Bristol this academic year’.

Robert Kerse, The University of Bristol’s chief operating officer, last week told the Financial Times that he appreciates that this has been ‘a particularly difficult’ time for students, stating that ‘we believe the university has gone above and beyond to provide support during this stressful and challenging period’.

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Bristol alumni, now NUS Vice President for Higher Education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio commented on the National Student Accommodation Survey's results saying: ‘Students have been consistently exploited and ignored during this pandemic.

‘We are seen as cash cows, with many stuck paying extortionate rents for properties they either cannot use or cannot afford.

‘COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated fundamental flaws in the student housing sector but there are deeper problems rotting at the core. We have inherited Student Finance and student housing systems that see students as pound signs rather than people.’

Featured Image: Georgiana Scott


Are you still paying rent for student accommodation you are not living in? Let us know.

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