Today the APPG for Students held a roundtable meeting, which I organised and chaired, to consider students views of the Renters’ Reform Bill – new proposed legislation, which is designed to give renters better protections, stronger legal rights and improve the UK rental market. However, discussion of this Bill has yet to give full consideration to the impact on students.
A core element of the Bill which will change the student rental market is the proposal to end fixed-term tenancy agreements, meaning tenancies lasting for only one academic year will be abolished. Purpose built students accommodation (PBSA) will be exempt and there has been some discussion of extending a ‘student exemption’ to all student housing in order to avoid disruption to the student rental market. This has both positives and negatives for student renters, and the aim of the APPG session was to consider the different arguments on either side, as well as give a voice to student representatives in this debate.
The meeting heard from Nottingham Students Union, Liverpool Guild of Students, UniPol and Generation Rent, before opening to contributions from students and Parliamentarians. Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee also joined the event, and outlined his committee’s thinking in recommending an exemption from the ban on fixed-term tenancies for all student housing. He invited views from students and panellists on this issue.
There was strong consensus that the Bill as it stands has many positive attributes, not least the advent of an Ombudsman, combined with an end to Section 21 evictions, which students believed would make them more likely to act against rogue landlords or ask for repairs without fear of punitive evictions.
The focus for the discussion concerned the impact the Bill would have on the student rental market, and therefore whether students should be exempted from aspects of the Bill as a category of renter, allowing them to still have periodic tenancies.
Some of the concerns around exempting students from fixed-term tenancies include that students may become second class renters, with less protections than other renters, as well as making the student market more attractive to unscrupulous landlords. It was also highlighted that not all students want 10-month contracts and indeed many consider their university address their permanent residence including students with families, postgraduates, students estranged from family, students on longer courses and those who want to set down routes in a community. Exempting students from certain parts of this legislation may set a precedent for other vulnerable groups to be exempted. Additionally, it was highlighted that administering an exemption would be very difficult for mixed households of both students and non-students, causing additional strain on local services to monitor this and administer exemptions.
However, there were also concerns about what would happen to the student rental market if students weren’t exempted. For example, many were concerned that landlords would leave the student housing market, reducing choice and availability. It was raised that this could create a ‘two-tier’ housing market, where off-street student housing gives students different rights and contract lengths compared to purpose-built student accommodation.
Participants stressed the need to consider the diverse needs and experiences of students in the rental market. It was agreed that clarity should be sought from the government, particularly with regards to how the Bill might impact international and vulnerable students.
Overall, all contributors felt the Bill needs to better consider the position of student renters and the impact that these proposed changes will have on both the student experience and the student rental market.
I will continue to press for students’ voices to be heard in this debate, and for greater consideration of the impact on students through my role as chair of the APPG for Students.