An influential all-party committee of MPs and members of the House of Lords is calling for a new council tax fund to subsidise landlords left high and dry when students are forced to study from home and not at college.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students - chaired by Labour MP Paul Blomfield - also wants students to be able to break their tenancies more easily, with additional measures to allow more flexible re-letting of properties by landlords to avoid them losing income.
It’s just issued a new report in response to what it calls “growing demands for rent and fee refunds following the additional disruption to university education as a result of the national lockdown” now happening.
“On the basis of the evidence we received, we believe that the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance that they need now - through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents in respect of unused accommodation due to lockdown measures, as well as addressing the impact on those facing other financial difficulties” says the official summary of the report.
“We feel that this approach is fairer and more effective than any general reduction in tuition fees. We also believe that it is the best way to fulfil the government’s responsibility to sustain the universities sector during the crisis” it continues.
“We were struck by the comment from one participant that students felt that the impact of the pandemic on their lives had not been recognised. This generation, with those in schools, will be affected over their lives by the pandemic more than any other, and will be paying for the national debt longer than anyone else.
“Although we cannot provide all the support needed by students, or other groups, we believe their voice should be heard and their concerns addressed.”
Its key recommendations are:
- The government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected costs;
- In addition, the government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face;
- The government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords;
- Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
The committee consists of Paul Blomfield MP (Labour), Lord David Willetts (Conservative), Alison Thewliss MP (SNP), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Lord Tim Boswell (Consrvative), Lilian Greenwood MP (Labour), Wera Hobhouse MP (Liberal Democrat), Daniel Zeichner MP (Labour), Alex Sobel MP (Labour).
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