Student Rents Beyond Students’ Reach

Originally published on 26 January in The QH

Students are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of basic accommodation, according to new data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats. Last year saw a 16% rise in the number of students falling behind on rent payments, with over 17,000 halls residents facing rental arrears. Furthermore, 97 students were evicted from halls in the same period, more than double the 40 who’d had tenancies cancelled the year before.

The figures come following a Freedom of Information Act reveal, and are based on responses from 90 universities. They show that average rental fees have risen from £4,583 a year in 2012-13 to £5,208 in 2016-17, up 13.6%.

The report also shows that The Universities of Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick have the most students in rent arrears nationally.

NUS Vice President Izzy Lenga called the figures unsurprising “given our broken system of student financial support – which doesn’t even begin to cover the ever-increasing cost of basic accommodation… Rather than falling into the easy temptation to label these as cases of rent avoidance, we instead need to urge the government and the higher education sector to wake up to the reality that students are being priced out of housing and their education.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called the news “deeply worrying”, and blamed the rise in financial difficulties at least partly on the government’s decision to scrap several student grants. She called on the Prime Minister to “rethink this punitive policy and reinstate grants for the students from lower income backgrounds”, and added that the Department of Education should “work with universities to address the reasons behind the rapidly climbing costs of rent in their halls”.

The Department of Education replied “Students from the lowest-income households who started their courses this year have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for living costs. This government increased means-tested maintenance support for full-time students on the lowest incomes by 10.3% in 2016-17 compared with the previous grants and loans package, with further increases in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.”

Nevertheless, the news comes against the background of an NUS Report from 2017 which said student finances nationwide were in “desperate” shape, with 71% of the 2000 respondents admitting that they were “stressed and anxious” about finances.

Another 2017 Survey, conducted by Save the Student, found that the number of students participating in drug trials, gambling and adult work to support their finances was on the rise. One respondent called student life “a [constant] battle between surviving and eating and getting an education”, while another testified that “All my money goes on rent, I have no money to socialise or even sometimes eat.”