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Coronavirus: Your student accommodation refund rights

Here’s what you need to know if you need to leave your university accommodation due to Coronavirus restrictions.

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As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

If your university buildings have been shut down due to COVID-19 or your lectures have to be conducted remotely, you may be thinking about leaving your student accommodation.

How easy is it to get a refund on any rent you’ve already paid? Can you get out of a rental agreement before the end of the contract term? 

Broadly speaking, how flexible your accommodation provider can be will depend on your accommodation provider. Here’s everything you need to know.

If you’re in university halls of residence

University-owned halls of residence are likely to be slightly more flexible than landlords in privately rented accommodation.

Undergraduate students will typically be living in university-owned halls of residence during their first year.

Sadly, Coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works for thousands of students starting their courses this September. There are reports that thousands of students are being kept in lockdown in their accommodation

If you’re still able to move freely in and out of your accommodation but you don’t feel able to continue living there, you may want to think about trying to end your rental agreement early and moving back in with your family.

This may be something you’re thinking about if all your courses are now only being taught online. If this is you, there are some things to bear in mind if you’re considering moving out.

Can you get a refund?

Sadly, if you want to end your rental contract with your university and move out of your halls of residence, you’re unlikely to be entitled to a refund. 

Citizens Advice says that generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term.

This can be hard to hear, especially if you’ve had to pay a large amount upfront for your accommodation.  

So first of all it’s worth reading your rental contract. There may not be much wiggle room in there to allow you to end your contract early, but it’ll be good to know where you stand.

It’s worth bearing in mind that back in March when the nationwide lockdown came into force, many universities temporarily stopped charging rent on their own accommodation. 

Contact your university’s accommodation or housing office, explain your situation and try to negotiate with them. 

If you’re lucky, your university might agree to cut your rental agreement short, but this is probably unlikely. Instead, you might have more luck trying to negotiate a lower rent for a fixed period of time.

It’s important that you try and come to some arrangement with your university. If you just move out and simply stop paying without the agreement of your university, they can pursue you or your guarantor for the outstanding money.

Has your rental contract been “frustrated”?

If you’re paying rent to stay in university-owned halls of residence but it’s impossible for you to travel there because of a local lockdown, you might be able to argue that your rental agreement has been “frustrated”.

This is a legal term that means that, due to special circumstances out of anybody’s control (such as a global pandemic), the rental contract cannot be ‘performed’, as you can’t actually use something that you’ve paid for.

Citizens Advice has said that you might also be able to use the ‘frustration’ argument if the purpose of the accommodation is ‘radically altered’. 

For example, if your accommodation was closely tied to you attending a course in a particular location but the course is now being delivered completely online, you might be able to make the argument that your rental agreement has been ‘frustrated. 

The charity says, however, that this has not been tested in court so there is not much way of knowing how successful this argument would be. 

Citizens Advice has more information on ending your university halls of residence rental agreement.

If you’re in private housing

If you’re renting a private home with friends, the first thing you may want to do is read your tenancy agreement to check if it contains a ‘break’ clause. 

This would allow you to end the contract early without having to pay any financial penalties. Typically these types of contracts will have a fixed term, maybe between 6 months and a year, before you’re allowed to use the break clause.

If your contract does not contain a break clause, or if you’re right at the start of your contract, it’s still worth speaking to your landlord.

Even if your lease says that you cannot move out, you may be able to come to an agreement with your landlord.

Whatever happens, it’s worth making a record of all your interactions with your landlord. It might be a good idea to have all your communication with them in writing so that you can refer back to them if you need evidence later on.

Speaking to a housing adviser

If you need to help try to leave a fixed-term rental contract, you might want to think about speaking to an experienced housing adviser.

Your university’s student union or guild may be able to signpost you in the direction of a suitable adviser.

For more information and helpful guides, visit our Student Guides hub.