Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on college, university and purpose built student accommodation

Guidance on safe re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic for college, university and purpose built student accommodation (PBSA).

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on college, university and purpose built student accommodation
Additional considerations

Additional considerations

International students: Coronavirus (COVID-19): public health measures at borders

Information on the process for people entering the UK is set out in the Coronavirus (COVID-19): public health measures at borders guidance.

International students and providers should plan for compliance with guidance for residents or visitors travelling to the UK. Those travelling from a country not yet exempt from quarantine requirements should complete a passenger locator form and self-isolate for 14 days. Students travelling to and from Scotland should check the Scottish Government website for the latest advice. Providers should seek to make students aware of these requirements, note that as of Monday 8 June, residents and visitors entering the UK are subject to new measures due to COVID-19.

 The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force on Monday 8 June 2020 and, unless a student falls within an exemption within this guidance, international students will:

  • need to provide their journey and contact details when you travel to the UK
  • not be allowed to leave the place they are staying for the first 14 days they  are in the UK except in very limited situations (known as ‘self-isolating’)

Read further guidance on self-isolation. There is also specific advice on hygiene and how to self-isolate.

These measures are being brought in across the UK, with some small changes to how they are implemented across the different nations within the UK. They will be expected to follow and adhere to the Scottish rules and guidance when the final destination is Scotland.

The regulations apply to people who live in Scotland and who are returning from out with the UK, as well as to people who live out with the UK and are arriving in Scotland directly or via other parts of the UK. The latest Scottish Government public health advice includes a range of advice on COVID-19, including how to protect themselves and others, as well as guidance on health and wellbeing.

Duties are also placed on transport operators to provide passengers with information throughout the passenger journey in terms of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Information for Passengers Travelling to Scotland) Regulations 2020 and the UK  Department for Transport has produced guidance on the requirements placed on operators.

Other countries and airlines will have their own COVID-19 policies, from whom students should seek guidance. Providers should support students to find this guidance where appropriate, giving consideration to the barriers which may face students in seeking out this information.

Arrival at student accommodation

Providers should adopt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of the spread of COVID-19 is reduced as far as possible while students move into their accommodation. In order to minimise public health risks and allow student arrivals to happen as safely as possible, the following measures should be followed:

  • students and providers should work together to plan for varied arrival times for moving into accommodation, thereby supporting physical distancing
  • students and providers should agree measures to be followed in advance of a student moving into their accommodation to ensure the health and safety of students, staff and visitors. This will include adherence to measures on the number of visitors who can assist students with a move.
  • everyone involved in any aspect of the arrival process should follow government guidelines on physical distancing, handwashing and the use of face coverings to minimise the spread of the virus. Students and providers should keep up to date with current advice on keeping yourself and others safe.
  • students should plan their travel to accommodation in advance, and should check the advice on how to travel safely before undertaking any journeys in connection with moving into accommodation

Read further guidance on self-isolation. There is also specific advice on hygiene and how to self-isolate.

Reception areas

Providers should consider physical distancing requirements when reopening reception areas. Providers should follow the guidance from Health Protection Scotland, ensuring increased cleaning regimes are in place for commonly touched areas.

Where workspaces or objects are shared between staff, thorough cleaning should take place between uses.

Forming student households

A key component of effective management of COVID-19 is household self-isolation and as directed by Test and Protect or local health protection teams. Given the significance of this, students and providers should work together to determine student preferences around household composition, in advance of households being formalised. Providers should give consideration to such requests, where appropriate and reasonably practicable to do so.

Where accommodation is provided in the form of flats with shared cooking and bathroom facilities each “cluster flat” will normally be considered a household.  If student accommodation is provided in a different format, for example longer corridors of single rooms, the composition of  “household” will be informed by the  areas shared by groups of students.  In these circumstances, the size of the household should be considered carefully to ensure students can access facilities safely and in line with physical distancing guidelines.  The placement of students within households is at the discretion of the accommodation provider.

Physical distancing will not be required for members of a cluster flat (as noted above, flats with shared cooking and bathroom facilities) when within the household. Household members should follow other hygiene protocols when within the household e.g. hand washing. Physical distancing should however be followed where members from a cluster flat are out with their household zone, including when within the same building where other members of a cluster flat are present.

Providers should provide clear guidance to individual students on which bathrooms and/or kitchens are intended for their use; supporting the definition of household if circumstances require self-isolation.

Accommodation providers should enable flexibility in the accommodation setting as far as is safely possible, in order to promote and enhance student wellbeing. If a student wishes to move from one household to another, the accommodation provider should ensure that the risk of spread of COVID-19 is reduced as far as possible. The provider may decide additional measures are required.

If a member of a household develops symptoms of COVID-19, the whole household must follow the latest Scottish Government and NHS guidance on self-isolation. Under the Test and Protect approach, guidance should be provided to staff who have been in contact with the household and staff should be supported to seek further guidance around the need to self-isolate, as appropriate.

Providers should ensure that appropriate risk assessments have been carried out to ensure the safety of staff who may be required to access student accommodation, such as cleaners or maintenance workers. Providers should consider limiting the number of staff required to service each household, and for example limiting the number of student households serviced by a single cleaner. Risk assessments should be reassessed following developments in government and/or public health guidance. Should an outbreak occur, it will be important for providers and students to work together to make information available in support of the Test and Protect approach.

Shared facilities

Households should be limited in size to ensure students can access kitchens, cleaning and washing facilities, and other shared spaces safely and in line with physical distancing guidelines (except within a student household). Where cleaning services are not provided by the provider, students should be given the appropriate resources and instruction on how to keep shared areas clean. Accommodation providers and students share the responsibility for keeping shared areas clean.

It’s recognised that shared bathrooms present one of the biggest risks for increased spread of the virus. Where communal toilets are available outside of households, providers should implement measures to decrease this risk as far as possible. This should include increased cleaning, and may include reducing access to a one in, one out basis. Cleaning materials should also be provided for users to ‘clean as they go’.

Appropriate signage should be clearly visible and promote good hygiene standards, following the latest guidance.

Specific catering guidance – cafés and restaurants

Catering in student halls of residence and PBSA

Many providers offer a catering service or catering facilities for students.

In considering the operation of such services, providers should take into account:

If a student residing in catered accommodation is shielding or self-isolating, and is unable to access catering services, the provider should ensure the student has access to food.

Social spaces

The use of common spaces out with households in the accommodation setting is important to the student experience. A lack of social spaces could have a detrimental effect on student health and welfare, including mental health. Therefore, providers should seek ways to utilise social spaces in a safe manner.

Accommodation providers should refer to the most recent guidance on physical distancing, cleaning and ventilation when rearranging room layouts. Signage should be used to encourage students to comply with the guidance. Providers should prepare to react flexibly with changes to the guidance.

Additional hand washing and sanitising facilities should be made available to ensure hygiene standards are maintained. Facility toilets should be made available following the relevant guidance, which outlines measures to help reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19. This should include increased cleaning, and may include reducing access to a one in, one out basis.

Face coverings should be used in line with current guidance.

Gyms, places of worship, shops, pubs, bars and restaurants should be operated in line with relevant wider Scottish Government guidance as this is published.

Office spaces

Where properties contain office spaces for staff, these should be controlled and managed in line with existing workplace safety guidance.

Supporting student wellbeing

Supporting staff and student wellbeing is critical at this time. Accommodation providers should ensure that students are provided with clear guidance and links to support resources, and do their utmost to promote the wellbeing agenda. This should include ensuring that all students have access to Wi-Fi in accommodation to enable them to access college and university wellbeing and counselling services as well as online learning. Providers should also provide local information regarding access to GP registration, outdoor spaces and third sector services.

Information on residence life activities should be made readily available for all students and should be included in a welcome/resource pack. This should also direct students towards relevant Scottish Government guidance.

Managing visitors

Students should be discouraged from having large groups of visitors. However, it is also acknowledged that visitors, including family members, provide a benefit to health and welfare. Therefore, providers and students should seek ways to enable visitors to attend properties safely, in line with current guidance, including that relating to physical distancing .

Providers should maintain a record of visitors attending student accommodation, to support the Test and Protect approach in the event of an outbreak. Students should support providers in keeping such a record and providers should give consideration to their duties under existing data protection legislation in keeping a record.

Waste management

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has published guidance on waste management for businesses during the Covid Pandemic.

This covers issues such as recycling and the management of hazardous waste. Providers should work closely with their local authorities in making local arrangements for waste disposal.

Cleaning and signage


COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings sets out the expected cleaning regime, and provides advice on environmental decontamination (cleaning and disinfection) after a possible case has left the setting. If a risk assessment of the setting indicates that a higher level of contamination may be present (for example, where unwell individuals have been present or there is visible contamination with body fluids), then the need for additional PPE such as an apron and gloves should be considered. Staff should continue to use any PPE required as per local policies to mitigate against non-COVID-19 risks. The guidance should be regularly consulted.


Signage should be displayed throughout properties/offices and in locations of high footfall and traffic. The signage should be relevant to the most up to date guidance and promote good behaviour around physical distancing and hand hygiene.

First aiders in student accommodation

HSE guidance is available on the provision of first aid in non-healthcare settings during the outbreak, as well as first aid cover and qualifications at this time. Providers should ensure they and all first aiders are familiar with the guidance.

Providers should also ensure first aid needs assessments and risk assessments have been carried out, as appropriate. PPE should be used accordingly.

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of Legionella within water supplies.

The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis. Providers should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary to mitigate risks.

Managing a major incident

For guidance on local outbreaks, please refer to the managing local outbreaks section below.

All accommodation providers should update their procedures around managing major incidents, in conjunction with relevant emergency services. The National Fire Chiefs Council has produced COVID-19 advice for business, which providers may find useful in considering planning around fire drills. Providers should also give consideration to and remain updated on other relevant guidance in respect to planning for managing major incidents, as it becomes available.

During emergency situations, priority must always be given to keeping people safe and out of immediate danger. This may mean that it is not possible to apply the guidance contained in this document in full during an emergency. Once the immediate risk has passed, normal restrictions should resume where possible.

Managing local outbreaks

Providers should suspect an outbreak if there is either:

  • two or more linked cases (confirmed or suspected) of COVID-19 in a setting within 14 days - where cross transmission has been identified


  • an increase in staff absence rates, in a setting, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19

If a provider suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board’s Health Protection Team (HPT). The provider may be then contacted by them, as they may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow guidelines to reduce risk, as detailed above
  • the local Health Protection Team will undertake a risk assessment and conduct a rapid investigation. They will advise on the most appropriate action to take
  • staff who have had close contact with case(s) will be asked to self-isolate at home. In some cases, a larger number of other staff may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, the local Health Protection Team will take this into account in determining whether closure of the whole setting will be necessary
  • depending on the risk assessment outcome, the Health Protection Team may establish an Incident Management Team (IMT) to help manage the situation
  • the Incident Management Team will lead the Public Health response and investigations, and work with the provider to put appropriate interventions in place.

To control an outbreak, the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team will work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place. These will generally include ensuring that the preventive measures described within this guidance are fully implemented. Other measures may include:

  • cleaning in the setting for maintaining hygiene – providers should refer to Health Protection Scotland Guidance on cleaning on non-health care settings
  • consideration of wider testing of affected population and staff
  • information sharing to ensure that staff, students and other relevant people are aware of what has happened and the actions being taken
  • closure of settings, following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team. Providers may make their own decision on closure ahead of this advice as a precaution or for business continuity reasons.

The Health Protection Team or Incident Management Team will declare when the outbreak is over.

First published: 31 Jul 2020 Last updated: 5 Aug 2020 -