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Today in politics: Students, benefits and calls for protection for renters

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Guidance has now been issued on students, ministers are firm on calls to remove the five week Universal Credit wait and the Sheffield mayor asks for assurances for renters in arrears.

Guidance for universities as lockdown eases

Universities UK has published a briefing outlining nine principles and areas for universities to consider as they begin to emerge from lockdown. 

Of note, it recommends that the following be considered:

  • Working with university partners (e.g. accommodation providers, pathway providers) around measures required to protect the safety of staff, students and the wider community.
  • How to enable students who have left possessions in university managed accommodation to collect their belongings in a controlled way, in line with public health guidance.”
  • How to manage student accommodation in line with social distancing requirements and other government health and safety guidelines.”
  • How to source or provide accommodation, support and facilities for international students to complete their self-isolation period.

Students ‘should talk with housing providers’ 

Hilary Benn MP (Labour, Leeds Central) has received a response to his written question asking what guidance the Department for Education has issued to students on securing accommodation in advance of the start of the autumn 2020 university term.

The Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP, replied: “I have written to students advising them that a number of universities and private accommodation providers are now considering how COVID-19 impacts can be managed in accommodation contracts for the 2020/21 academic year to give students confidence to make their plans.

“I welcome the actions of many university and private accommodation providers in waiving and refunding rents this summer, along with their efforts to support and care for their students through this difficult period.

“Students who have already signed an accommodation contract for next year and, because of COVID-19, think it may no longer fit their requirements, should talk directly to their housing provider.”

“The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by COVID-19

This sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and help businesses treat their customers fairly. Students may be entitled to refunds from accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. 

“If a student thinks that their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. The codes can be found at: and:” 

DWP Minister resists Universal Credit call

During oral questions in the House of Lords yesterday, the DWP Minister in the Lords, Baroness Stedman-Scott, was questioned about Universal Credit. 

Of note:

Baroness Sherlock (Labour, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister) asked what steps the Government is taking to remove the five week wait for Universal Credit payments.

The Minister responded: “The Universal Credit assessment period and payment structure are fundamental parts of its design. An assessment period must run its course, which includes a feed of earnings data from HMRC, before an award reflecting actual household circumstances can be calculated. This can be achieved only by having a model based on paying in arrears, and we have no plans to change that.”

In a follow up question, Baroness Sherlock again repeated the call to abolish the five week wait, arguing that: “All Ministers will offer is an advance, but that pushes people into debt and asks them to live on less than universal credit for a whole year to repay the debt.”

The Minister replied: “Non-repayable advances cannot be implemented without significant development of the universal credit system. No one has to wait five weeks. Advances are available urgently. The repayment schedule is to be extended to 24 months in 2021. Repayment can be delayed by three months in certain circumstances, and we removed the seven-day waiting period. This is all backed up by support from work coaches.”

Average Universal Credit advance is £640

Neil Coyle MP (Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark – Member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee) has received a response to his written question asking what estimate the DWP has made of the average value of advance payments made to new universal credit claimants in each week since 1st March 2020.

The Work and Pensions Minister, Will Quince MP, said it was £640. 

Sheffield mayor calls for protections for renters over arrears during pandemic

Dan Jarvis MP (Labour, Barnsley Central – also Mayor of the Sheffield City Region) has received a response to his written question asking whether two months’ rent arrears will be grounds for mandatory possession under Ground 8 once the ban on evictions during the Covid-19 outbreak is lifted.

The Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher MP, said: “We have also been clear in guidance that there is a need for landlords to offer support and understanding to tenants – and any guarantor – who may see their income fluctuate. This could include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession action for a period of time and instead, pause payments or accept a lower level of rent, or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date.

“The Government has also put in place significant financial support measures to help renters continue to pay their living costs, including rent. This includes support for businesses to pay staff salaries, strengthening the welfare safety-net with a £7 billion boost to Universal Credit, and increasing the Local Housing Allowance rates so that they are set at the 30th percentile of market rents in each area.

“Any decision to alter these emergency measures will be informed by Public Health guidance, alongside consideration of the needs of landlords and tenants.”

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

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