Private Housing Is a Blight on The Student Experience
As freshers settle into their halls and get to grips with university life, second and third years all over the UK are moving into their privately rented homes, only to find their living standards have suddenly plummeted.
A report by the National Union of Students (NUS) gathered responses from over six thousand students, of which 2,870 were in private accommodation. It revealed that 75% of UK students are being forced to work severe problems with their privately rented student accommodation around their studies, and run the risk of getting into debt as a result of tackling it.
In first year you’re offered (and in most cases, guaranteed) university-owned accommodation. This comes with a number of regulations, safety nets and perks – such as no agency fees or separate bills to pay. However, after this you’re pretty much on your own in the fight to find private housing, and it’s clearly a stressful time.
21% of students surveyed signed for their private accommodation several months in advance, and 20% felt pressured to do so.
Alarmingly, 37% of respondents reported getting into debt to cover the costs of securing their accommodation – that is before they’ve even moved in or seen the contract. As a result of this, NUS have called for the government to ban all letting agent fees across the UK, as is the case currently in Scotland.
The report also found that over half of the students surveyed suffer from condensation, while almost as many are living in housing infested with vermin, ranging from slugs to mice.
To tackle the issues outlined by the report, NUS is calling for greater support from universities to students. “There is also much work to be done on the ground by universities and students’ unions to ensure that students are as well-equipped as possible to enter into rented housing and are able to avoid the worst of the sector.” wrote Colum McGuire, NUS VP Welfare.
The report also raises the issue of the responsibilities of landlords and letting agents in this area, with the NUS stating that well over half of those students surveyed have experienced trouble in asking their landlords for help in carrying out repairs.
Owen Wilson, a student at Northumbria University told the Guardian, “I think landlords do take advantage of students… if we ring or email our landlord they never reply but sometimes if you get your parents involved they do respond.”
Of a similar sentiment is Natasha Lee, a fashion journalism student at The University of Arts London, who shared her experiences in student housing with the Guardian in March: “We had silverfish in the carpets around the bathroom. Because it was a small flat with bad ventilation it the ideal condition for silverfish. Although not dangerous, it was quite gross. Especially if they crawled on your feet or got in your clothes while you were in the shower.”
While the NUS calls for greater assistance for students, it appears that this issue with private accommodation has, in some cases, only exacerbated in the last couple of years. As early as March 2012, when 2,000 students were surveyed on the very same issue, half of students claimed to be living with mould in their student houses. In the intervening two years not a lot seems to have been done to reduce those numbers.
“Student poverty isn’t a rite of passage or something that should be romanticised.”
– Daniel Haines, President of New Zealand Union of Students’ Association.
Living in private accommodation is often an exciting period for many students, however, issues such as those highlighted by the NUS report continue to blight the experience for a significant number of students. Hopefully, this report shall encourage both landlords and universities to provide students with the help that they require in this regard.