MSE News

Unite Students and Student Roost offer rent refunds to students delayed returning to university

Unite and Student Roost - two major university accommodation providers - have agreed to offer rent refunds to tens of thousands of students whose returns have been delayed due to Covid-19. But crucially, you need to apply for these discounts - they won't be applied automatically. 

Here's what's happening: 
  • Unite Students: Students can get a 50% discount off their rent for a total of four weeks - but crucially, you have to apply for it. You'll also get an extra four weeks rent-free added to your tenancy. Unite Students claims to be the UK's largest purpose-built student accommodation provider letting out rooms to 76,000 students.

  • Student Roost: Students can get a refund for six weeks' worth of rent - but again, you need to apply for this discount. Student Roost provides accommodation to 20,000 students at 20 different locations across the UK. 

Most students across the UK have been told to avoid physically returning to university for now due to coronavirus concerns – with a few exceptions, such as those on medical, vet and teaching courses.

But while students have no more right to a rent reduction or payment freeze than any other renter – and this applies to those renting both university-provided accommodation and private housing – a investigation earlier this month found some universities are offering rent refunds, although most private university accommodation providers had dragged their feet until now. 

See our Students Section for guides with more help on everything from student loans to budget planners and a round-up of student bank accounts.

How to get a four-week 50% rent refund from Unite Students

Unite Students says tenants will be eligible for a 50% refund lasting four weeks as long they fulfil the following criteria:

  • Pay their rent directly to Unite Students
  • Have a valid, current and continuing tenancy agreement for the academic year 2020/2021 with a tenancy start date prior to 15 February 2021
  • Will not be in residence for the four-week period between 18 January and 14 February 2021
  • Are up to date with rent payments

Unite Students is emailing all students and guarantors informing them of this discount and inviting them to apply for it. So take action, otherwise you won't be refunded. If you haven't paid for your year's rent upfront in advance the discount will be credited to students' payment accounts in March 2021 and taken off future rent payments. If you paid your rent upfront at the start of the tenancy, the discount will be refunded when the tenancy finishes.

In addition, students will be offered a free four-week extension of their tenancy if they have a contract end date prior to 1 August 2021. This means you can get an extra four weeks rent-free added to the end of your tenancy. You'll need to claim this when you apply for the rent rebate; further info can also be found on the Unite Students website.

How to get a 100% six-week rent refund from Student Roost

Student Roost says students can get a full rental refund for up to six weeks as long as they:

  • Have been away from the property they live in since 5 January 2021
  • Are affected by the current advice not to travel by the UK government and devolved authorities
  • Are up to date with rental payments

Again, discounts won't be provided for automatically - you need to apply for the scheme using an online form by 23:59pm on Monday 25 January 2021. Student Roost says refunds will be given as credit and the balance deducted from future rent payments. Further details of the discounts can also be found on the Student Roost website.

I live in private rented accommodation – what can I try and do to get a refund?

Around 30% of students live in private rented accommodation, according to March 2020 data from the House of Commons Library. A further 20% live in university owned halls, 18% in their own residence and 8% in private sector halls.  

Private rented accommodation can include anything from big blocks managed by companies to homes let out by individual landlords or estate agents – but here it's likely to be much harder to get any money back as there's no duty of care as with universities.

1. Speak to your accommodation provider or landlord. Both landlords and tenants may be financially hurting due to the pandemic, so forbearance, tolerance and meeting in the middle is best for both. But it's worth asking for help.

When it comes to individual landlords, those with mortgages can apply for a payment holiday if their tenants are struggling to pay – so have the conversation. Yet it's important to understand that private tenants, including students, don't have a right to a payments holiday as mortgage holders do. See Renters' Covid Help for more.

2. Check your tenancy agreement. You signed a rental agreement contract and the fact you're not able to make use of your accommodation is not the fault of a private landlord. But it's worth double-checking to see if your tenancy agreement includes any clauses about whether you may be entitled to a rent rebate or discount for any time your can't spend in the property.

I live in university accommodation – what can I try and do to get a refund?

Here's what you can try and do to get a refund if you live in university-provided accommodation:  

1. Check if your university has a refunds policy in place. There's no legal requirement on unis – or private landlords for that matter – to give your money back, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government in England "will have a look" at uni accommodation costs to ensure students are being treated fairly.

That said, it's still worth contacting your uni in the meantime to find out if it will offer refunds. When we carried out a straw poll of nine major universities three - University of Bristol, University of Manchester, and Manchester Metropolitan University - said they'd offer some form of rent refund or discount, and another (University of Cumbria) told us before the English lockdown announcement (on 4 January 2020) that it would do the same, although we're checking this hasn't changed. 

If your uni does provide help, ask how much of a discount or refund you'll get and how it'll work – for example, if you need to continue to pay your rent and then claim it back at a later date, or if it'll be taken off a future rent bill.

2. Check your tenancy agreement. If your uni initially says no, check your tenancy agreement to make sure there definitely is no get-out clause. It's unlikely, but look to see if your tenancy agreement includes any clauses on when you may be entitled to a rent rebate or discount for any time you can't spend in accommodation.

3. Lobby your university or student union. If your uni has no policy in place and there's no provision for a refund in your contract, it might be possible to argue that your contract has been "frustrated" – ie, it is impossible to perform if you can't access your accommodation because it is impossible or illegal to travel. That's because the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) views on consumer protection law also applies to higher education providers.

Given many universities say their policies are under review, it's worth trying to lobby your university to offer refunds using this clause or by explaining your own circumstances. The National Union of Students (NUS) says students can contact their student union or student association to find out how best to go about campaigning for this.

However, charity Citizens Advice warns that the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means legal arguments on student contracts haven't been tested in court yet, so it is not clear to what extent this 'frustrated' argument might succeed. This argument is also less likely to stand up where accommodation is available but you decide not to take it up.

Check if you qualify for other support

If you can't get help on rent directly from your accommodation provider, it's worth checking if you qualify for any other support. For example, if you're a student living in rented accommodation in England, Scotland and Wales (council tax doesn't apply in Northern Ireland) and everyone else living with you is a student, you can get a 100% council tax discount.

Meanwhile, the Government has announced a fund of up to £20 million to help students studying in England who are most in need of support during the coronavirus crisis. This is to cover exceptional hardship. You can apply for it by contacting your university and asking about its hardship fund. Outside England, it's also worth asking if your uni offers similar support.

See our round-up of Student Discounts and Deals for further help cutting costs.

When can students return to university?

Here's when you can expect to return to university based on where you're studying:

  • English universities: Students to study from home until at least mid-February. The only exceptions are those studying medicine, dentistry, subjects allied to medicine/health, veterinary science, education (initial teacher training), social work or courses which require professional, statutory and regulatory body assessments and/or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and can't be rescheduled.

  • Northern Irish universities: Return dates staggered with practical and placement students expected to return first. Exact return dates will be determined by unis and communicated to students.

  • Scottish universities: Returns will be staggered with the vast majority of students not expected back on campuses until the start of March.

  • Welsh universities: Return dates will be staggered and students should not return until they are notified by their university.

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!