Housing crisis
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Are students being let down by a housing crisis?

For most students, renting a property is one of the first-time life experiences university provides. Yet it has become increasingly apparent that student housing is descending into crisis. From the ever-rising cost of living to the declining living standards, finding a suitable place to live off-campus at university has become a much trickier task in recent years. The current situation has led to a group of student activists announcing a National Day of Action to shed light on the issue, due to take place on March 6.

The ‘Cut The Rent’ campaign is advocating a decrease in student rent nationwide. It aims to make a “real, lasting cut to the rent in University Accommodation”, as well as establishing a “clear, transparent rent-setting process with maximum student representation”. In forming relationships with the University and its accommodation process, the scheme aims to introduce a strategy that puts impact on living standards with equality for all students at its heart.

For the past two years, the cost of accommodation has risen across campus with increases of up to £200 being added to the overall yearly fee

Responses from university students towards housing costs has attracted attention from national newspapers. The Guardian conducted their own investigation into student housing last year, which revealed that more than 20,000 students were paying high rents to offshore companies. This included companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg. Through these schemes, owners can charge a surplus for accommodation and avoid paying higher tax. In 2016 it was reported that one company collected more than £2million in rental income, paying only £10,000 in income tax.

The University of Warwick has been far from shy when it comes to increasing rental costs. For the past two years, the cost of accommodation has risen across campus with increases of up to £200 being added to the overall yearly fee. The Boar recently reported the increase in rent for the University’s most expensive accommodation, Bluebell. And prior to this, the University hosted students in a conference centre with no kitchen facilities available, forcing students to invest their money in Warwick’s own catering service, Eating at Warwick. This is not the first time the University has been unable to adequately accommodate its students. In 2016, around 120 undergraduate students were made to share bedrooms with strangers and another 150 postgraduates were put up in hotels after being told there was no room left to accommodate them on campus. One student, beginning his masters degree, recalled how he had been told to “sleep in a classroom” – a statement the University later declined. This crisis, later explained by the University, was the result of “university failures and mismanagements”.

The Liverpool Guild stated that the average hall at Liverpool costs about £158 per week, an incredible 110% of the average maintenance loan per week

Before the start of the 2018/19 academic year, The Boar conducted a survey on student experiences with Warwick Accommodation, revealing that 41% of students were dissatisfied with their halls of residence. While prices rose, the standards of living appeared to be doing the opposite. I spoke to several second-year students to gather their opinions on the housing crisis, including one student who wished to remain anonymous.

This student reported a faulty back gate and fence surrounding her accommodation to the University, expressing concern that this was an urgent matter as she had a vehicle locked up in the back garden which was now at risk of being stolen. Despite expressing a sense of urgency, the student was made to wait which was eventually too late as the following evening the vehicle was stolen. This student was offered little help in dealing with the situation which escalated to a criminal offence and is still in the hands of the police, months later. Despite the fees students pay, Warwick Accommodation was not able to provide a service when desperately needed.

The Accommodation Costs Survey 2018 found that in 2011 the average rental bill took up 58% of the maximum student loan

When talking to students renting off-campus accommodation in Leamington Spa, more horror stories of students paying extortionate rent for bedrooms under the legal size for residents over the age of ten years old became apparent, showing that landlords have no problem in rinsing students of cash for below standard living conditions.

While these stories come from Warwick students, this is becoming somewhat a standard across the country. The University of Liverpool has become deeply involved with the ‘Cut the Rent’ movement. Their Students’ Union, The Liverpool Guild, stated that the average hall at Liverpool costs about £158 per week, an incredible 110% of the average maintenance loan per week. Shelter, a charity who offer housing advice ranging from homelessness to tenancy deposits and private renting, says no-one’s rent should be more than 35% of their income, so why should students be any different?

In 2018, Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick topped the list of universities with students in rent arrears

The average price of student accommodation in the UK has jumped by nearly a third in six years, a survey has suggested. The National Union of Students (NUS) claim the increase in costs can be explained by the “standard of accommodation shifting steadily upmarket”. The Accommodation Costs Survey 2018 found that in 2011 the average rental bill took up 58% of the maximum student loan; now it is 73% with the average annual student rental bill at £6,366. NUS Vice President of Welfare, Eva Crossan Jory, said: “The increasing cost of accommodation has created a real affordability problem for students. Rent continues to rise above measures of inflation, but also in proportion to the already inadequate student loan package.”

In creating equality for all students, regardless of wealth, the ‘Cut the Rent’ motion aims to create affordable accommodation schemes for current and future students. The average rent in university-owned accommodation is now 110% of the average maintenance loan and students in halls are risking being pushed into serious financial hardship by the cost of their rent. As a result, the number of students facing rent arrears is also on the rise.

The marketisation of universities has expanded rapidly causing fees to be tripled and cuts to be made

Across 2017, more than 17,000 students living in university accommodation fell behind with their rent payments. From statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, there has been a significant 16% rise in the number of students facing rental arrears, with a percentage of these students being evicted or having their tenancies cancelled. In 2018, Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick topped the list of universities with students in rent arrears. The University responded to these numbers by saying that, as a campus university that had chosen to continue to own its accommodation, it had a “great many more students renting accommodation from us than other universities”, which explained its high levels of arrears.

Leaving students in debt or even homeless is seriously detrimental to both one’s physical and mental health. The movement aims to improve conditions for students of the future. The Facebook group for the March 6 strike says: “Time is up. End the student housing crisis. Rent Strike calls a national day of action on 6 March.” The group states they “encourage students on every campus, whether you have an active housing activism group or not, to take action with us on this day, and show our universities we will not just sit back and take this. Whether it’s a banner drop, a picket, an occupation or just generally f***ing s**t up, organise on your campus against your exploitative rent and your s**t conditions!”

Student housing is only one of several wider aspects of UK universities which are under scrutiny. Calls to review the structure of Higher education has received greater media coverage. The marketisation of universities has expanded rapidly causing fees to be tripled and cuts to be made. Whatever the outcome of the national day of action on March 6, we can all agree that students are deciding to take their future into their own hands and generate change.

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