National Student Accommodation Survey 2021 – Results

The national student accommodation survey 2021 was a national survey conducted in March of 2021 by the University of Hertfordshire, on behalf of the National Union of Students. Its aim was to find out about the UK’s student accommodation situation. Changes in student accommodation have been rapid, with the past decade seeing the number of students studying away from home double, and the cost of accommodation itself rising to around £170 a week, with the average hall rent for a student at a university rising by almost £60 to £71. It is the purpose of the national student accommodation survey 2021 to find out what, if any, difference student accommodation is making to the students involved. The survey will be carried out by the National Union of Students. The results of

The first National Student Accommodation Survey was carried out in 2021 by the Department for Education and the University of Cambridge. This survey was the first attempt to get a true picture of the cost and availability of student accommodation among the UK universities. The survey was conducted among English-domiciled students and academic staff. The results were published in March 2023

This year, more than ever, the issue of student housing has become a source of concern, fear and confusion for many people. Our latest survey shows the realities students face.

Appropriation : Images Monkey Business (background) – Shutterstock

Each year, the National Student Housing Survey examines issues related to student housing. But in the five years we’ve been doing this study, we’ve never seen more devastating problems than in 2020/21, which is dominated by COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on students’ experiences and life choices. In fact, many had no control over important decisions such as where to live during the semester, as national shutdown rules forced most to stay home and study online.

Over 1,300 people from across the UK took part in our 2021 survey, which provides an insight into how difficult student housing management is this academic year.

Impact of coronavirus on university housing

Our recent COVID-19 impact study clearly showed that the pandemic affected students’ housing choices, but the extent to which it affected and continues to affect their decisions about where to live was not clear until now.

In addition, the survey results provide an indication of the amount of money spent on unused student housing this year. Read on, along with many other interesting findings from this year’s National Student Survey.

Choice of student accommodation at the start of the 2020/21 academic year

Compared to last year, fewer students were living with their parents/guardians at the beginning of the 2020/21 school year, a decrease from 12% to 10%.

Only one in ten students lives at home; most live either in a student house or with a private landlord, and 15% in a private student house.

But when we asked students where they live now, the results were very different …..

Student Housing Spring Semester 2020/21

After the Christmas holidays, 52% continued to live in the same conditions as originally planned. However, a third of the students who responded to the survey returned home to live with their parents or guardians.

In any other year, it would have been extremely surprising to see so many students return home for their second semester. This year, however, it was almost inevitable.

In December 2020, the government has set aside a few days for the student travel window, during which students can return home for Christmas.

However, after many students returned, restrictions were imposed on them, forcing them to stay at home unless they were following one of the few courses that were allowed to continue full-time, such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, head teacher training, police work and social work.

Additionally, some students may have already decided to return home, regardless of state restrictions, if their courses are taught entirely online.

It is therefore no surprise that a significant proportion of students were unable to spend the entire academic year in rented accommodation.

How long did students stay in rented accommodation in 2020/21?

While approximately 42% of the students who responded to the survey were able to spend their entire stay in their home, 43% stayed for three months or less.

Unfortunately, our survey also found that more than two in five students would have chosen different accommodation if they had known what was going to happen this year.

What are students’ plans for placements in 2021/22?

Then the students told us that they had started or would start looking for housing for next year:

Given last year’s disruptions and limited contact with classmates, we can expect students to start looking for housing later than usual (if they start at all). But strangely enough, this doesn’t seem to be true in any meaningful sense.

Last year, 11% told us they started looking before November, 17% in November, and 10% in December, which is very similar to this year, except for a 3% drop in students who started looking in November.

In addition, the same percentage (29%) told us last year that they had no intention of moving, so this figure is unchanged.

Have students already signed leases for 2021/22?

We asked them not only when (or if) they will be looking for housing next year, but also if they have already signed leases for 2021/22:

  • 41% – Has not signed the following contract but will do so
  • 30% – Has not signed and does not intend to sign the following contract
  • 28% – Have signed the following contract.

Nearly one in three students surveyed already have a commitment for next year, although the number of full-time classes for the 2021-22 school year is not yet entirely clear.

Any student who is considering renting next year but has not yet signed a lease should definitely have an exit clause included in their lease. This gives you the right to terminate your lease early if necessary.

Student rent allowance in connection with the coronavirus

Of all students who pay rent, around two in five have requested a refund, but there is a striking difference between the number of students who have requested a refund in university accommodation and the number who have requested a refund from private landlords.

Up to two-thirds of student housing providers have requested a refund. By comparison, just under one in five students make a similar request to private landlords.

Overall, about one-third of students who responded to the survey offered a rent refund, while 9% offered a full refund and 23% offered a partial refund.

Excluding this data, 63% of students living in university residences received a discount (full or partial), while 32% lived in private residences. However, only 6% of students with private landlords received a discount.

Per person, the average discount for part letting was £75 per week.

Based on calculations including refunded rent, we found that students who did not have full access to their university accommodation spent an average of £1,621 on unused accommodation.

Then we did some more calculations, and based on these sums we can calculate that all UK students have spent £933,270,890 (yes, almost £1 billion!) on renting empty rooms so far this academic year.

We calculated this figure using students’ rents (after any discounts/refunds) and the number of months they were without access to home ownership. The averages for each housing type are then calculated and combined with the HESA data for student housing to obtain the total.

Students’ experiences of reimbursement from housing providers and landlords vary widely:

– The refund only applies to the six week period, not the entire time I was unable to use the accommodation. (Univision Housing)

– He has reimbursed us for the reduction in the bill since the bills are included, but it is minimal and we are still paying for housing that the government barred us from when we lived in private housing where we met no one else. (Private owner)

– The refund policy due to COVID was not fully explained, and [it took] several months for the administration to add my refund to 2021, since I had prepaid. (Private Rooms)

– They were sympathetic. For every week we could not be on campus due to COVID, we were reimbursed 100% of the cost of housing. (Univision Housing)

– We were supposed to get a full refund, but in two months we only got half the amount refunded. And I can’t live in an apartment for four months, and after that I’m not moving. (Univision Housing)

– From a business standpoint, I understand that they can’t pay everyone back due to circumstances beyond their control, so I think they handled it well, even if others disagree. (Private Rooms)

– Instead of looking at each case individually and taking into account the medical students who need access to the labs, they have taken a blanket approach, which means we will not be reimbursed. December was also forgotten, as we were told at the beginning of the month to leave in the tourist window. (Univision Housing)

– I want them to give us a chance to get the rent back when we move. (Private owner)

What are the costs of student housing?

As might be expected, London has the highest average rent for students in the UK. However, rentals in the southeast and southwest are not far behind. In the case of Northern Ireland, there was insufficient data to arrive at a reliable figure.

Is the alimony loan sufficient to cover rental expenses? This is what students told us in the survey:

– It’s cold. We have to homeschool, but we don’t have enough money in our allowance to cover [these] extra costs. It’s very difficult to sit at the table. (Private owner)

– In such circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to have a positive attitude when you are paying for accommodation that you are not allowed to use. Housing is so expensive and those who don’t have full credit have to pay the same costs as those who do, it’s just not fair. (Private Rooms)

– Fear of not being able to pay for living expenses such as food, travel, educational resources because the living expenses loan will not cover rent and living expenses and I will not get [help] from my family. (Univision Housing)

– Under the restrictions imposed by COVID, none of the faculty except your room and the kitchen will be open, so you will be locked in. The cost is high for what you get, especially at a time when people can’t work or have lost their jobs. (Private Rooms)

What is the cheapest accommodation?

Housing conditions Average weekly rent
With parents/guardians £30
Private Rooms £144
Housing at the university £145
Private owner £148

It is interesting to note that average rental costs for students living in private homes, university halls and apartments owned by private landlords are very similar.

But prices for each of these types of homes increased slightly from last year.

Properties with private landlords show the largest increase, with an average payment of £136 per week in 2020. This increase may not seem like much, but if the cost of student rents continues to rise, housing could become even more unaffordable.

In contrast, the average cost of a week for students living with their parents or carers has fallen by £23 since last year. Parents and caregivers should expect to pay less for rent, food and bills during a pandemic – especially since 25% of students have lost some of their income due to COVID-19.

What do you get for your money?

For about two-thirds of students, rent includes at least one type of utility expense. Of the bills included, water, electricity, gas and broadband are the most common.

The figures are broadly in line with those of previous years. But lately, the number of students telling us that the gym is included in their rent is constantly increasing.

In 2019, 8% indicated that gym attendance was included. This rate then rose to 10% in 2020 and increased another 2% to 12% this year, indicating an overall improvement in conditions for multifamily housing.

What else do I have to pay for?

On average, students pay a deposit of £281 – this is similar to last year, when the deposit was only £1 higher.

10% of the students who responded to the survey informed us that they were having problems getting their deposit refunded. The good news is that this figure is 4% lower than last year.

How many students read the rental agreement before paying money?

Alarmingly, for just over one in ten students, no one in the house had read the contract before signing it.

The students had mixed feelings about the amount of their rent:

– Most of the residents are blue collar workers (like me) and the facilities are excellent (especially the gym and great bar). The staff is also extremely helpful and friendly. (university accommodation)

– It’s so expensive for what you actually get. Real estate agents and landlords ask students to pay a deposit to avoid losing the property, without giving them a chance to read/negotiate the terms or contracts. (Private owner)

– We still have to pay full rent, but we don’t have access to a shared kitchen, common areas, a movie theater or a gym. (Private Rooms)

– I needed my own accommodation for my studies as I have a disability and it is easier to live alone in accommodation that suits me. However, it is difficult to find affordable housing that meets my needs. So I have a limited choice and sometimes I have to compromise. I love being so close to my campus, but it’s hard to pay such high rent without a roof over your head. (Private owner)

Is student housing affordable?

Our recent National Survey of Student Finances has already shown that the average student spends most of their child support loan on rent.

Worryingly, half of those who pay rent struggle to meet their expenses – more than one in ten respondents told us it was a constant struggle.

In addition, three out of five students surveyed told us that their health was suffering because of rent costs, and more than two out of five students said that their education was suffering.

Specifically, students talked about how housing problems affect their mental health:

– Having to work in the middle of a global pandemic to pay my rent and go to college is very hard on my mental health. (Private owner)

– That’s a lot of money. And right now I can’t even be here and have so much money taken out of my pocket. My rent is twice my credit. I can’t afford it […] I try to do things for the money, but it’s hard when I have so many deadlines. (Private Rooms)

– Although the four of us pay the bills, I’m the only one who moved. Living [alone] in a big house was not what I expected, I felt very lonely. …] I was alone for six months and it was incredibly hard on my mental health. (Private owner)

– There is little or no mental health and welfare help here and we cannot contact social workers. Moreover, the security establishment failed to disperse the parties during the pandemic, which is a concern. (Univision Housing)

How do students pay their rent?

Now that rent is unaffordable for many students, where will they get the extra money?

Among students who have borrowed or been given money to pay their rent, the most common way is to ask their parents. However, this figure is sharply down from the 37% in 2020.

This may be because students are reimbursed for their rent and spend less on expenses such as food and bills when they live at home rather than at university. However, it is also possible that fewer parents feel able to support their children by paying rent.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a financial impact on many people, including students and parents of students, as a large number of workers have been laid off or have had to quit their jobs. This can make it harder for students to pay their rent and for their parents to borrow their money.

This is the amount parents currently give students to pay for housing…..

How much do parents pay?

On average, parents give their children at university £44 a week for rent. This significantly increases full year costs to £2,288 over a 12 month period.

What are the problems experienced by student tenants?

Students report a variety of problems with their housing. Below we look at the most common problems students have with roommates and their property.

Biggest problems with housemates

For many students, apartment cleanliness is a major source of dissatisfaction: 55% say their neighbors leave dirty dishes and 47% say others don’t help them clean up.

In addition, about a third of the students who responded to the survey said their roommates left food to rot.

Significant property issues

Especially this year, when many students have to study away from home, it is important that their accommodation is safe and comfortable. But unfortunately that is not always the case.

Among the most common concerns of students about their housing are lack of water or heat, humidity, and problems related to building failures. In addition, 16% reported that landlords had visited them unannounced, which should never happen.

Here are some of the more shocking complaints we heard about the dorms:

– Our sink fell off the wall and the entire apartment and basement flooded. (Univision Housing)

– Find a glass of orange juice that has turned into a green mush, hidden behind the microwave. (Private owner)

– The electric lock on the main door of the apartment was not working, so they decided to remove it completely for a few days, so anyone could come in and access the kitchen (or the bedrooms if they were not locked by the students). (Univision Housing)

– The kitchen window leaked, workers came without knocking and visited other apartments before ours where people tested positive for COVID, they brought COVID into our apartment, and two weeks later I tested positive, the kitchen window was never fixed. (Private Rooms)

– Roommate got sick on the carpet in the hallway – it took a while (several days) to clean it. (Univision Housing)

– I had to go to the police because someone broke into my apartment with a key and hid in a closet, and then I learned that all employees have master keys to unlock all doors. Fingerprints were left, but no one was found. Now I’m scared, I have PTSD, and I’m anxious in my safe space. (Private Rooms)

How long does it take to solve problems?

It was very frustrating to see that it took more than a week for half of the students who participated in the survey to resolve their property issues. In addition, 5% of those surveyed said their housing problems had never been solved.

As we have already seen, most students believe that the burden of rent affects their health. If the problems in the home are not resolved, it will only make the housing situation worse.

Where can student tenants turn if they need help? For most of them, it’s the parents they turn to:

Is student housing worth the cost?

Compared to last year, the number of students who believe their accommodation offers value for money has dropped significantly, by as much as 10%.

It is very disturbing to think that many students feel that their homes are not worth the money they spend on rent. But that’s not entirely surprising this year, unfortunately, since many couldn’t stay in rental properties for the entire school year.

Students told us how much they thought they would get for their money as renters this year:

– I hate it because it’s not value for money. It’s small, cramped, dangerous, full of antisocial people, and the management doesn’t care about these problems at all. We had a bed bug infestation by previous students and it took four days for them to move … and we haven’t heard anything about a partial refund. (Univision Housing)

– £6,000 is a lot of money, and when I find out I’ve paid it for a service I don’t use, it’s stressful. (Private owner)

– The staff are very friendly and always smiling with you, they are also very good at solving problems and the accommodation is excellent value for money. (Univision Housing)

– I love my place (my parents’ house) because it’s free and includes a home-cooked meal, but at the cost of 100% free time. I prefer living at home because I was homesick my first year. (With parents/guardians)

– I find it absurd to pay full rent when I can’t use all the amenities I pay for. (Private Rooms)

What do the experts say?

Save the student

Jake Butler, money specialist at Save the Student, said:

A billion pounds is a huge cost for students and the amount will continue to rise, confirming once again that students are among those hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Our statistics show that students feel alone and powerless when it comes to finding help with housing costs.

Many housing providers, including universities, have responded positively to the situation, but many students, especially those renting from private landlords, have not received support.

The government continues to promise to draw attention to the plight of students, but so far we have seen no effective action. I urge the Government to work with landlords and universities to provide financial support for students to pay the rent for accommodation that cannot be arranged.


Hilary Giebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education, adds:

During this pandemic, students were constantly exploited and ignored.

We are seen as cash cows and many are forced to pay exorbitant rents for property they do not use or cannot afford.

It is clear from this research that the £50 million allocated for support is a drop in the ocean compared to the huge costs faced by students. If Westminster had done the right thing and increased funding for students in Wales because of the difficult conditions, the amount would have been over £700 million.

COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated the fundamental flaws of student housing, but there are deeper issues at the root of the problem. We have inherited systems for funding and housing students that treat students as money characters instead of people.

Funds for student housing

Want to save more money and worry less about student housing? Our most popular investment guides help you understand the basics:

About the National Student Housing Review 2021

Want to know more about the survey or need case studies, comments or quotes? We will be happy to help – just send us an email.

You can link or reuse the survey data with a link to a website: Source: National Student Housing Survey 2021 /

The study surveyed 1,355 UK students aged 20-16. January 2021 and 8. February 2021 interviewed.

This source has been very much helpful in doing our research. Read more about save the student accommodation and let us know what you think.


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