BSU Housing Campaign

What are we doing and why?

We know that students are under increasing pressure during the current crisis. With teaching moving online, many have returned to their family homes, others are caring for their children or relatives and many have lost their part-time work that supplements their student loans to help them pay for their rent.

We are asking for landlords and letting agents to support their student tenants at this time of crisis by either allowing students to break their contracts without any fees or reduce, subsidise or waive rent for tenants who have experienced a detrimental financial impact as a result of COVID-19.

We are lobbying for change on a local and national level and we know private sector accommodation is an ongoing concern for students, especially during these anxiety-inducing times. In addition to this campaign, we will be closely looking at the underlying issues within the student accommodation sector, including unfair contracts and terms and conditions to ensure that you are protected.

We are pleased to confirm we have saved thousands for students since its launch, and have seen a tremendous amount of support and engagement from Brighton & Hove City Council, Councillors, MPs and the Shadow Secretary for Education. Beyond financial burdens, we recognise this has caused students stress and worry. For those who are still waiting for a resolution, we are working hard behind the scenes to get a result from your landlord, agency or student accommodation provider.  

Sarah Hogg, Director of Student Operations and Support says: "The University of Brighton recognises that these are financially challenging times for all, and we would support our Students’ Union in calling on local landlords and private student accommodation providers to release students from remaining rent liabilities, or offer rent reductions when they are no longer in residence, where this is possible."

We have received support from Eastbourne Councillor Alan Shuttleworth, a Housing Portfolio holder for the Eastbourne Borough Council. Cllr Shuttleworth said the following: “I fully understand why students would want to terminate their contracts, many will have returned to their family homes. I also understand the financial pressures which students face, along with the anxiety of not being able to earn money at this time. These are extremely difficult times for all sections of the population and it is important that no sectors are left without additional help.”

An Update from Caroline Ansell MP:

In our last update, we had not yet received a response from Caroline Ansell and since then the MP has responded and we have provided an extract below. We have replied to Caroline on the points she has raised, urging her to support our students and work towards a national intervention. We are grateful to all MPs who have supported our campaign and written to Government on our behalf, including Caroline Lucas, Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, among others.

Caroline: “I'm grateful to have the chance to understand university student perspectives at this time. Brighton University students are an important community within Eastbourne and Willingdon and I'd like to do my best to faithfully represent them as constituents, during my time in Parliament. You raise many points of concern about rental agreements and I'd like to address them, in the hope of offering some information and support. Firstly, you are right to say that the University has set a model of great practice, in terms of pragmatism and compassion, by waiving third-term rent payments for students. That's a fair thing to do and I'm very glad they have been able to do that and be supportive of the students who rent from them. I'd like to be able to support the call for this to be enforced immediately across the country, to support students whatever their contract and whomever their landlord. However, I'm not sure such blanket rules are feasible. However, I do want to offer my support on several principles you raise. I do agree that the government arranged for some landlords to be able to take mortgage holidays, so that they would have flexibility and be able to offer flexibility in turn to tenants. Landlords will have costs of managing buildings other than finance, that are also unlikely to be reduced or deferred. The primary measure of government support for tenants has been action taken to support incomes, so that most people can continue to pay bills. Other important wider measures include the ban on evictions.”

Caroline advised that students “enter into individual arrangements with their landlords, based on the individual circumstances of both. Landlords should show flexibility and politicians can lend their support to ask that they do and pragmatism prevails. You do raise a number of other issues about a duty of care that particular landlords should feel to their student tenants. You outline measures that they could take to be more supportive during the pandemic, such as helping affected students move rooms and providing information and pastoral benefits. In principle, I'm supportive of more being done to support students in these ways. However, I'm keen to hear the responses you get from them and to look for more support to be given where it's most needed.”

If you would like to reach out to Caroline to share your concerns directly with her, you can do so on the following address: caroline.ansell.mp@parliament.uk

Local Action & Community Organising: We recently met with ACORN (https://acorntheunion.org.uk/) to discuss additional action that can be taken in the local community to continue to produce student-driven change in the private rented sector. We are delighted that Acorn have agreed to host a workshop. They are a community Union who have taken on landlords up and down the country, winning over 70,000 pounds for Brighton residents. The workshop will enable you to find out about various negotiation tactics and to gain additional support during the Coronavirus crisis.

Our two open letters: one to landlords and one to our local MPs and Councillors has been sent to over 100 landlords, letting agents and accomondation providers in Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne. We've received backing from Councillor Gill Williams (Chair of Housing Committee) and MPs Caroline Lucas, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Peter Kyle; alongside many other Green MPs/ Councillors.

On Wednesday 29th April, we are presenting to the Housing Committee at Brighton & Hove City Council in hopes of gaining the support of asking landlords to show flexibility and enable students to be released from their contracts. 

The meeting will be available for viewing, via the Brighton & Hove City Council website. Search for ‘webcast’ and then select ‘29 April Housing Committee’ - alternatively you can use this link to watch: https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/CreateSchedules/Past/20. The webcast kicks off at 4pm, and goes on until 9pm. 

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion has: 

  • called for a suspension of no-fault evictions or the eviction of anyone affected by COVID-19 crisis and a freeze on rental payments for those affected (with compensation for landlords for the lost rent). The evictions call was met by the Government last month
  • urged Ministers to introduce a temporary capped Universal Basic Income for every UK resident 
  • lobbied the Government to introduce a ban on rent rises for the next 12 months, to prevent landlords raising the rent above what people can afford 
  • contacted some Universities and private student accommodation providers to ask for rent rebates for some of March through to the summer 
  • worked with the all-party parliamentary group to write to the Universities Minister with a package of measures to support students, including allowing them to apply for Universal Credit

Councillor Gill Williams, Chair of the Housing Committee has: 

  • written to the new shadow Secretary for Education, Rebecca Long-Baily, to raise awareness of the issue, who has supportively responded by in turn writing to the Secretary of State for Education. Gavin Williamson regarding a variety of concerns  
  • has lobbied the Government to implement initiatives which can give further support to students at this difficult time and ensure no student has to pay for private accommodation they are no longer using

Unfortunately, we have not received responses from any of the Councilors in Eastbourne or the Eastbourne MP, Caroline Ansell. We will be following up with them again this week. If you are a student yourself or a parent, relative, guardian or friend of a student in Eastbourne, we would encourage you to email them using our template letter. 

3rd June

  • Stan Bourne has released student tenants from their contract with no penalty fees. These students had found their property through Spark & Sons letting agency who then handed them over to Stan once they had secured the property, so if you let with this agency, we encourage you to reach out to them.
  • Belvoir has reduced rent by 20 percent for some tenants.

27 April

  • Eightfold have come to some agreements with students and are making decisions to release students from contracts on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Coapt have come to some agreements with students and are making decisions to release students from contracts on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Eastbourne Student Lets have responded by setting up payment plans and reducing rent as a credit for utilities that are not being used. 

9 April

  • IQ Student Accommodation agreed that students could break their contracts and be refunded for term 3 rents. They have contacted residents about the process they need to go through.
  • Abodus Student Living who run Hollingbury House has also agreed to allow students to break their contracts fee-free and will refund their term 3 rents. 
  • Co-Apt have said they are willing to discuss individual requests with their tenants and work with students and landlords to come to an arrangement.
  • Deborah Webb in Brighton has arranged with her tenants to pay 50% for the remaining period.
  • G4 lets have responded saying that they will discuss individual cases with tenants and landlords and can arrange for payment deferrals where students cannot afford the fees but any deferred payments must be paid up to date by the end of the tenancy.
  • Q Estate Agents have replied saying they are happy to negotiate with tenants and landlords individually to help find a solution where students are in financial hardship. They have already made arrangements for some students and are working with landlords to insert a clause allowing students out of upcoming tenancies. They are also organising food deliveries for any of their tenants self-isolating.
  • Ann and Ralph Thompson from Eastbourne have reduced rents for April, May and June by 50% and are waiving rents for July and August.

We’d like to thank all of the landlords, letting agents and purpose-built student accommodation providers that have taken the time to respond to us and help to find solutions for their student tenants.

What are the next steps?

We have been following up with landlords who have yet to reach a resolution with their student tenants and have made it clear why we have initiated this campaign. We are also addressing their concerns in the hope that an arrangement can be made. 

We have also pointed out that while students will still receive their student loans for the final term of the academic year, for the majority this amount will not be enough to pay their rent, bills and food. Some do not have parents or family that can afford to help them financially, some have dependents and others may not even have access to loans, such as international students. 

Support our Housing Campaign

ONE:
Use our template email to ask your landlord for a break of contract if you have returned home, or to reduce or waive rent if you have been financially impacted by COVID-19 crisis.

We have created a template letter that you can send to your landlord which you can download here. Please take time to read it edit it and understand it before you send it.

Please note: Until you reach an agreement with your landlord you should continue to pay your rent as normal. If you are currently living at your student accommodation you should follow Government advice to stay where you are and not to travel.

TWO:
Sign and share our petition to release students from housing contracts during COVID-19 crisis. 

We have started a petition calling on Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher MP and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP for landlords, letting agents and accommodation providers to support students during this crisis: http://chng.it/852XhPzLKQ

THREE:
Use our template email to send to your local MP.

We have created a template letter to send to your local MPs asking them to support students to break their contracts if they have returned home, or to reduce or waive rent if they have been financially impacted by the coronavirus crisis. 

Please take time to read it edit it and understand it before you send it.

To find out who who your local MP is and their contact details, use this tool: https://members.parliament.uk/

Get in touch

Ramy, VP Education (BSUVPEducation@brighton.ac.uk) and our Support team (BSUsupport@brighton.ac.uk) are on hand to help with any queries you're facing on rent and housing.