Students at ‘bottom of the pile’ as they lose thousands on empty accommodation

Johnny Jenkins and Emily Braeger
Johnny Jenkins and Emily Braeger
13:12pm, Wed 14 Apr 2021
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University students have described feeling “bottom of the pile”, with many having lost thousands of pounds on accommodation they have been unable to stay in during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government has announced that in-person teaching in England will not return until May 17 at the earliest.

By that point many students will have already spent several months away from the properties they are paying for, with little recourse for compensation or additional support.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that the return to universities has been delayed. Universities are safer than pubs and the Government are neglecting us yet again,” University of Warwick student Johnny Jenkins, 20, told the PA news agency.

“They’ve told me when I can go back to a nightclub. They haven’t told me when the classrooms open, which I think is really quite telling.”

Mr Jenkins told PA he left his accommodation before Christmas and has stayed at home for four months.

In total, he has paid around £3,000 to a private landlord for his unoccupied room.

I remember crying on the phone to one of them as I literally had no means to pay the rent at that time

“University really does seem to be the bottom of the pile,” he added.

“There are over a million students in university in the UK, and there’s no support there for either their fees or their private accommodation costs in it. It does seem to be a big black hole in Government policy.”

Around two-thirds of students were unable to return to their term time accommodation following the Christmas break, according to an NUS study, and more than a fifth (23%) were unable to pay their rent in full over the past four months.

While some accommodation providers have offered to fully or partially refund students unable to return, the picture is inconsistent across the country, particularly when the properties are privately owned.

Emily Braeger, 20, who is studying English literature at Nottingham Trent University, has paid full rent of more than £3,300 since March 2020 on a property that nobody is living in.

Emily Braeger, 20, said being unable to get a refund had been a 'huge blow' financially (Emily Braeger/PA)

“Financially, it has been a huge blow,” she said. “I already find myself at a disadvantage as I am only eligible for the lowest maintenance loan which doesn’t even cover my rent.

“The fact that they have chosen for students to return to university on May 17 is ludicrous to me, as my last taught class before I graduate is May 13.

“Having an empty flat that I can’t return to at this moment in time, and knowing that I am paying so much for it, is disheartening.”

Lisa (not her real name) moved to a private student house in Leeds in September 2019 but left when the pandemic hit last in March. She was also unable to get a refund.

“I remember crying on the phone to one of them as I literally had no means to pay the rent at that time, and I didn’t want to put my dad in a financial situation. But the letting agent honestly didn’t care, she was very dismissive and quite obnoxious,” the 22-year-old Leeds Beckett student told PA.

She added: “I find it ridiculous how we have online classes until May 17, it doesn’t help whatsoever. I feel like I’m paying all that money for nothing at all.”

My mum being recently made redundant due to Covid couldn't help either. It just caused quite severe anxiety and stress at the tim.

Daniel Calder, 19, an aerospace engineering student at Sheffield Hallam, told PA: “Having no rent discount or refund made me feel stressed, worried and anxious about money.

“My mum being recently made redundant due to Covid couldn’t help either. It just caused quite severe anxiety and stress at the time.”

Mr Calder has lived in Central Quay in Sheffield since the start of this academic year. He moved away in December and never returned to his flat.

He asked for a rent discount in January, but said his request was refused by Host, the company managing Central Quay.

Host did not respond to requests for comment.

Larissa Kennedy, NUS national president, said: “Students have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the exorbitant costs of accommodation are pushing them to the brink financially.”

She added that students are often “left to fall prey to landlords and accommodation providers’ predatory practices”, such as “locking them into tenancy contracts up to a year in advance”.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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