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Students waste £1bn on unusable accommodation

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Student accommodation costs have caused ‘concern, anxiety and confusion’ for many students during the pandemic.

The National Student Accommodation Survey found the average student has spent £1,621 on an empty room this academic year.

The survey, by Save the Student, estimates that UK students have spent almost £1bn (£933,270,890) on unused accommodation so far in 2020/21.

Almost half (46%) of students questioned said they would have chosen different accommodation had they known what to expect from the pandemic.

About half of students weren’t happy with how their accommodation provider had handled the pandemic, with only 6% of students with a private landlord getting a refund.

Compared to the previous year, at the start of 2020/21 there were actually fewer students living with their parents or guardians, down from 12% to 10%.

With only one in 10 students at home, the majority were either living in university halls or in a property with a private landlord, with a further 15% in private halls.

But, when students were asked where they were currently living, the results were quite different.

After the Christmas break, 52% were 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. Very few were still living in university accommodation or private halls.

Although about 42% of students in the survey had been able to spend the entire time in their properties, 43% had spent three months or less there.

Among all students in the survey who pay rent, about two in five had asked for a refund.

In university accommodation, as many as two-thirds had asked for a refund. This compares to just under one in five students with private landlords who had made the same request.

University accommodation providers that have offered rent cuts or refunds include Unite and Student Roost.

Overall, about a third of students in the survey were offered a refund on rent, with 9% offered a full discount, and 23% offered a partial one.

Jake Butler, Save the Student’s money expert, said: “£1bn 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.”

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education, said: “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.

“This survey makes clear that the £50m in hardship funding is a drop in the ocean compared to the eye-watering costs that students are facing. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students, the amount needed would be more than £700m.

“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.”