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Ongoing Battle Over Student Rents

Student-Money

After last months article about the University of Portsmouth request that we reduce student rents (see it here), there have been further exchanges between the 2 sides. 

 The Response From The University

Dear Martin

Thank you for your reply. I am very pleased to hear that some of your members have gone to great lengths to aid their tenants. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, particularly for landlords – as the data you include suggests – so the efforts of these many individual landlords is praiseworthy indeed and very much appreciated.

On a couple of points of fact, first, students don't receive 'grants' and have not since they were abolished in 2015. Student maintenance is now in the form of repayable loans. That means they continue to pay for loans against the provision of accommodation they are prohibited from using. They also continue to have the additional accommodation costs by having to occupy their non-term time address and at the same time are unable to have any of the part-time income that supports their living costs. Second, your understanding of the Government support for universities during the pandemic is not quite right. We are landlords as well and have accepted the loss of income on the halls of residence we own as have many other landlords. We will operate in significant deficit as a result. Like you, this is a cost which is not in any way recoverable from any government funding. Government funding through UKRI is specifically to support specified research and innovation activities, many of which are focused on COVID, for example the genome sequencing work we are doing which is helping track the development of new variants which I am sure you will have read about. For complete accuracy, we have received no direct compensation money other than funds to be distributed directly to students in hardship, to support the mental wellbeing of students and to support students in self-isolation. I doubt that your members would wish to have the support that is available through the 'Higher Education Re-structuring Regime'; it is more of a process through which a university would be wound-down to preserve students' interests, rather than bailed-out as you seem to think.

Am I right to infer from your reply that the official view of Portsmouth & District Private Landlords Association is that none of your landlords should engage directly in conversations with the University and Students' Union about fair rent relief for their student tenants? They are your members' customers and if that is the case it is a very surprising and unhelpful way to treat customers. It is also a surprising short term approach considering the student community has a long memory in terms of how supportive individual landlords are towards their customers.

Yours sincerely

Graham Galbraith

Vice-Chancellor

University of Portsmouth

Our Clarification To Their Response

Thanks for taking the time to respond, it was unexpected and is appreciated. If I may, some clarifications:

  • Apologies for my imprecise wording, we appreciate that grants have been replaced by loans but as the government only expects 25% of them to be repaid, we still think of them as grants as that is what they are for the majority, even though the common perception is of loans
  • And we do understand the government support available for Universities. Whilst it may come with strings attached and in the case of the 'Higher Education Re-structuring Regime', we appreciate that is not something anyone would willingly seek, our point was that you do have a safety net and government support – whereas our members have absolutely nothing from government to help during this difficult time
  • Since the original exchange, one of my members forwarded this from the DoE website, "The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year." His calculation and suggestion was "That's about £1,000 per student nationwide, perhaps Uni's should pass it on and tell students to pay their rent!"
  • And no, you are not right to infer that "none of our landlords should engage directly in conversations with the University and Students' Union about fair rent relief for their student tenants", again I have to apologise for being unclear. What I was trying to say was that we do not recommend 'blanket rent relief' for students but encourage our members to look at each case individually and seek to come to a fair result for all in each case. I have student tenants on 50% rent, I have a couple whose contracts I cancelled as there is no chance that they will return this year, yet most of my student tenants are paying their full rent and living happily in my properties the same as any other year.

I did intend to respond sooner, but waited until I had a chance to discuss our position with members. I was concerned that I might be representing too 'hard a line' for the Association but after hearing the views of members, I can assure you that there are strongly held opinions within the local landlord community and I have been asked to re-iterate that our rents are our primary revenue source, so whereas for you it is a secondary revenue stream which improves profits/margins for us it is our very existence as local small businesses and as previously stated we have none of the government support that you do.

We would appreciate your support in helping us ensure that the service we provide is still there for future students when they look to come to the city to study.

Thanks & Regards,

Martin Silman

Chairman PDPLA

Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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