As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to bite, UK students are being offered additional support with their rent from the government and Unite Students, the largest student accommodation management firm. However, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has questioned the government's strategy of providing additional support for student renters only and not all renters.
While there have been various types of support across the UK's lettings sector, the longer lockdown continues, the more tenants - particularly in the private rental sector (PRS) – begin to struggle with rent payments. This means that while its welcome news that student tenants are receiving additional support, it would make sense that all tenants in the UK had access to extra financial support too.
Government Finds £50mn for Student Renters
Earlier in February the government announced it had allocated £50 million to support university students struggling with rent and living costs during the pandemic. This was in addition to £20 million allocated for the same purpose in December 2020.
Announcing the £50 million, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that during this difficult time the government wanted to support students studying in the UK to be able to continue to work hard on their studies. She added that the funding will allow universities to provide help for students affected in a variety of ways by the effects of the pandemic, including helping them to pay rent while they’re unable to work part-time.
Meanwhile, Unite Student’s additional support, also announced in early February, will see students living in Unite’s accommodation gain a three-week extension to the four-week 50% rent discount provided in January.
“We have now extended the rent discount period for an extra three weeks. This is due to the continuation of national lockdowns across the UK,” Unite Students said. “Eligible students will now be able to make use of a 50% rent discount for the period from 18 January 2021 up to 8 March 2021.”
This is positive news for students across the UK whose focus is on studying and who have likely been disproportionately affected by the national lockdown which means many part-time employers are also closed and unable to pay their staff a full wage.
However, while the government recognises the hardships many student tenants are facing, some hold the view that this recognition should be extended to all tenants living in the UK.
All Tenants Deserve Additional Govt Support
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is among those who think the government should extend this additional student tenant support to everyone who rents a home in the UK. The body’s chief executive said student tenants and other tenants should not be treated differently during the pandemic which is making it difficult for many people living in the lettings sector to pay their rent.
“Our figures suggest that seven per cent of private renters have built arrears due to coronavirus whilst the government has admitted that private renters have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the NRLA.
“The Chancellor needs urgently to develop a package to help tenants pay off arrears built since lockdown measures started last March just as is happening for students. This is the only way that tenants and landlords can sustain tenancies and ensure renters do not face the damaging consequences of their credit scores being severely impacted,” Beadle added.
Of course, the government has put some measures in place to support renters and the lettings industry. However, for many who are furloughed and earning less than usual or those unlucky enough to have lost their jobs due to companies going out of business, that support is not enough. Nor is there considered to be enough government help for private rental sector (PRS) landlords coping with tenants going into arrears which affects their mortgage and bill payments.
While the vaccination programme is continuing apace and there is hope the economy will begin to re-open more meaningfully from March, that is still weeks away. This means there is time for the government to extend additional support to all renters and landlords during this tough time.