Coventry MP calls for support for university students during pandemic

Zarah Sultana has urged landlords to permit no-penalty releases from accommodation contracts for students who have returned home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, has this week called for support for university students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a letter to student letting agencies and landlords written with Tiana Holgate, Warwick University Students’ Union welfare and campaigns officer, Ms Sultana called for no-penalty releases from accommodation contracts, rent refunds where appropriate, and the waiving of rent arrears arising due to hardship induced by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The letter points out that as a result of the pandemic, university teaching has been cancelled, with many students returning to their family homes and losing part-time employment.

Coventry University limited face-to-face teaching across its campus from 20 March, moving all teaching online, and shortly after closed its entire campus from 23 March.

The letter explains: “Students are facing upcoming rent payments in properties they are not living in, and which many will not be able to afford. We firmly believe that students should not be penalised financially for abiding by Government advice.”

In a separate cross-party letter signed by 109 MPs to Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, Ms Sultana called for the government to support students on examinations, accommodation costs, and lost earnings.

The letter, coordinated by Paul Blomfield MP, Chair of the APPG for Students, calls for the reimbursement of rents and for university students to be able to claim for Universal Credit.

Commenting on the situation, Ms Sultana said: “Students must not be forgotten about during this pandemic. Many have lost part-time work and they can’t access Universal Credit. If they’re required to pay for empty university accommodation, many will fall into financial hardship.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen. No-one should be impoverished as a result of this crisis.”

As of 27 March, the Government advises that students remaining at university in England should now stay where they are and not attempt to travel home.

The advice states: “If you are living in student halls, or private rented accommodation, you should remain there and stay indoors while current restrictions are in force.”