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Students across the UK urged to 'stay alert' when moving into rental accommodation during COVID-19 pandemic

Aug 18, 2020, 12:39 PM by OFTEC
Students across the UK heading off to university next month are being urged to stay alert and check that correct safety measures have been followed before moving into rental accommodation.

The advice follows A-Levels results day as students across the UK begin to finalise their accommodation decisions. The impact of COVID-19 means an expected rise in those living and studying from home through e-learning, but for those moving into accommodation it is important not to rush into contracts. 

A recent survey of students revealed over two-thirds of renters' biggest problems included damp, lack of water or heating and living in dangerous conditions.*

There are fears that the increased uncertainty of COVID-19 might lead to students signing contracts for cheaper housing in a bid to save money without properly inspecting the property first.

This could result in students living in potentially unsafe conditions which might put their health at risk, or create significant disruption if they must move out halfway through the year because the house becomes uninhabitable. Of particular concern are poorly maintained heating systems that could be life-threatening if they emit harmful carbon monoxide fumes.

To help students know what to look out for when deciding on accommodation, OFTEC, the trade association for liquid fuels, has issued a safety checklist for students  which outlines the legal requirements landlords must follow and the key red flags to look out for:

  1. Check that every floor of the property has a working smoke alarm. Carbon Monoxide alarms are also mandatory in rooms which use solid fuel (such as an open fireplace).
  2. Make sure there is always clear access to a fire escape route.
  3. Upholstered furniture such as beds and sofas must have appropriate fire safety labels attached.
  4. Check all electrical appliances (kettles, TVs, light fittings etc.) are working correctly as it is the landlord's responsibility to ensure they are in a good condition. Electrical Safety First also recommends portable electrical appliances provided by landlords are tested at regular intervals.
  5. For a mains gas heating system, the boiler must have been serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer. If you are moving into one of the 1.5 million oil heated homes in the UK, an OFTEC registered technician should service the system. When viewing the property, ask to test the heating and check the radiators warm up.

Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, commented: "It's that time of year again for students as they prepare for university and many move into rented accommodation. Whilst most landlords are fully responsible, unfortunately there are some unscrupulous owners who will try to dupe students into living in potentially unsafe accommodation full of problems.

"With the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also be an incredibly nervous time for students so it would be easy to forget some of the vital property checks. But, staying alert and spotting any issues before you move into your chosen accommodation will help you avoid further problems that might affect your stay. In addition, check your tenancy agreements for any clauses around COVID-19 to get a full grasp of what you are agreeing to."

For further advice and information, visit our consumer pages.

To see the latest government guidance and advice for landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the UK government online advice pages.

*National Student Accommodation Survey, February 2020 

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