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Students Won’t Be Able To Afford Accommodation — Here’s Why

Student accommodation is set to rise by £2,000 in the next year.

The student housing crisis has got significantly worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising cost of living and inflation. This has left students with not enough accommodation in the UK, resulting in rising student homelessness cases and even hospitalisation for poor living conditions.

As a whole, a third of UK students are not confident they’ll make rent over the next year as inflation soars. Plus, one in three students admitted to facing housing insecurity during their studies. 

These are pretty staggering numbers. We decided to look into this further by conducting our own survey of a thousand students across the UK. What we’ve found out is quite shocking and saddening. Read on to find out more about the student accommodation crisis, how it’s affecting students and what should be done to solve this issue.

We took to the streets to see how students are coping with the crisis:

What is the average cost of student accommodation?

Before we dive into how the lack of student accommodation is affecting students, let’s look at the numbers and compare them to the average student maintenance loan.

According to Property Reporter, students could be facing £2,000 worth of increased rent within the next year. As you can see, that’s a seriously huge amount. And on top of the cost of living crisis, we can only imagine the affordability is going to be even slimmer as a result. 

According to Unipol and the National Union of Students (NUS), rent for halls of residence in the UK has risen by 60% in the last decade, some reaching an average of £7,347 per year. 

That’s basically the majority of your student maintenance loan gone. For context, students living at home get a maximum of £7987, for students away from home outside of London it’s £9,488, and students in London receive £12,382. As you can imagine, student budgets are stretched to the limit, and it’ll only get worse if student accommodation rises by such an unreasonable amount.

How does this reflect the average student budget?

Overall, students are among the worst hit when it comes to living costs

Think about it – they’re dealing with rising accommodation costs, bills and additional study expenses required to complete courses. There’s even debate on why student maintenance loans aren’t being increased in line with inflation (which is currently at 10% since September 2022).

To paint a better picture, we conducted our own study and found that students spend £5,322.30 per year, with £433.43 of that being on rent per month. The former amount is used to cover other expenses such as bills, food, household costs, transport and healthcare. 

This leaves students with just over £550 for everything else for the entire year. This is only further exacerbated with the current student accommodation crisis, which we’ll dive into.

Costs are one thing…the lack of accommodation and housing support is another.

The student accommodation crisis in the UK

Tons of students during the September 2020 intake decided to defer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was understandable, due to the uncertainty in the air.

However, since the UK has lifted restrictions and we’re ‘back to normal’ so to speak, there’s been a higher number of student applications to both university courses and student accommodation providers. 

Over the last year, a record amount of students also achieved the grades they needed for their first choice university, meaning courses at universities have been oversubscribed but instead of universities turning students away, they’ve offered them a place when there’s really no room for them.

As a result, universities have been taking on more students than they have the capacity for. This has meant a lack of accommodation for many due to the oversubscription of student placements. 

This has left students booking hotels, Airbnbs, couch surfing, sleeping in cars and worse yet — living on the street.

Let’s have a look at what student accommodation providers have been doing and the numbers on what students are doing as a result of poor support.

Student accommodation providers haven’t followed through with support

Costs are one thing…the lack of accommodation and housing support is another

We asked 1,500 university students who have either lived in or been offered accommodation from their university, about how student accommodation was dealt with:

  • 5% said their university could not offer them accommodation despite saying they would
  • 10% said their accommodation went up in price after they’d chosen it
  • 11% said their accommodation was closed over the summer so they struggled to find somewhere to stay
  • 32% said their accommodation was more expensive than they anticipated
  • 13% said the university left it very last minute to confirm their accommodation
  • 5% said their accommodation was too far away – at least an hour’s commute

It’s safe to say that student accommodation hasn’t been very…accommodating. As a result, it’s increased the rate of student homelessness and it’s clearly causing uncertainty, instability and stress.

What were the consequences? 

Sadly, students have had to take some serious measures just to have a place to stay during their studies.

We asked 300 students what they did when they couldn’t get a place in student halls of residence, rendering them homeless (these are places they have lived at whilst they were also studying):

  • 49% – on a friend’s sofa
  • 43% – at home with parents
  • 22% – in an airbnb
  • 21% – in a hotel
  • 13% – in emporary council accommodation
  • 8% – in their car
  • 6% – in homeless shelters
  • 6% – on the street

Further to this, out of 800 students who were almost homeless (without permanent residence), the following reasons were cited as to why they had nowhere to stay:

  • 51% – there weren’t any options in their budget
  • 32% – their tenancy ended and they couldn’t find somewhere else
  • 14% – their accommodation was closed for a period of time (ie over the summer)
  • 11% – their university didn’t supply accommodation when they said they would
  • 3% – they were given a no-fault eviction
  • 21% – they couldn’t keep up with the bills
  • 81% said their university didn’t do enough to support them during this time

The latter is particularly shocking, which we’ll dig into further a little later on. Right now, students are livid. Let’s see what some have to say about this crisis.

What are students saying? 

We got real commentary from students who struggled to secure a place to stay or are experiencing difficulties as a result of a lack of support from student halls, landlords and ultimately the system.

‘I signed a contract with Student Brighton — a private accommodation service, originally agreeing to pay the first and last month’s rent at £1800. After signing, they refused my guarantor, telling me I had to pay 6 months’ rent of £4000 as well as a £900 damage deposit and £100 to secure the room. I luckily was able to get out of this contract and find other private housing, but it took me 6 months to get my money back. Unfortunately, money is still an issue for me, and I have to work two jobs to pay rent, and this is having a serious impact on my studies.’ — Taylor, studying Criminology at the University of Brighton

The following student, who has requested to remain anonymous, has admitted how the lack of support for their neurdivergency and disability has made landlords take advantage of their situation:

‘I am a mature student and in full-time employment, as well as being both neurodivergent and disabled. 

‘All my life I have had to endure the precarity of the private rented sector due to a lack of savings and no parental help (as they are both dead). I have had to live in damp bedsits which exacerbated my asthma, and my last place was so damp I ended up in the hospital on a nebuliser. My neurodivergence has also meant that I have not always understood what was in rental contracts, and I have often been unfairly penalised by greedy landlords. 

‘I feel exploited by private landlords because of my conditions and disabilities. Because I work I am entitled to no social care help reliving, and my autism is considered too “high functioning” because I am working and studying. Yet nobody cared about the toll living in the private sector rentals has taken on me.’

Universities are turning a blind eye too

The natural response when students don’t have a place to live is to turn to their university for support. Of those we asked previously about not having a permanent residence, a whopping 79% said their university didn’t do enough to support them during this time. 

Of this 79%…

  • 16% said the university tried to help but it wasn’t enough
  • 16% said the university knew but didn’t do anything
  • 47% said the university had no idea about their position

Considering the issue started with universities taking on more students than there are adequate accommodation options, it’s saddening to see students getting little to no support from them.

The price hike will only exacerbate things

Ultimately, with prices going up, we can only predict a rise in student homelessness and hardship. This is especially true for students from underprivileged backgrounds.

We can already deduce anxieties about being able to afford rent too. Further to our survey of 3,000 students, of those who pay rent, 34% are not confident they’ll be able to afford their rent over the next year. In addition to this…

  • 31% of students have faced housing insecurity
    • 11% have been without a permanent place to live for sometime
    • 20% were almost found themselves without a place
  • Those from underprivileged backgrounds ie those who were eligible for Free School Meals are more likely to face housing insecurity – 38% vs 29%.

As you can see, students are being hit the most. No one should have to go through hardships such as these while studying.

What needs to be done

Ultimately, student housing providers and universities need to be held accountable. The latter especially. How universities overlooked this (which is debatable in itself) has completely shaken up students’ lives and well-being.

The rental market is no better either. Landlords are evidently taking advantage of students and conducting unethical practices. This is even more evident with how students are (rightfully) desperate to secure a place to start for their studies. In addition, bidding on rent has become common practice of late and needs to be stopped. It increases unaffordability for students and even non-students looking to move. As a result, more landlords will do this, encouraging hiked prices and fierce competition.

If you’re a student facing homelessness or struggling to find somewhere safe to stay, here’s a resource of where you can turn for help and support, including:

  • Very Wise Student — helps all student renters get access to legal justice and emotional support during this time
  • Unipol — student housing charity helping students find accommodation
  • AA4S London (Affordable Accommodation 4 Students) — a not-for-profit charity providing and finding accommodation for students in London
  • Emmanuel House Support Centre — The University of Nottingham have teamed up with this homeless charity to offer a homeless shelter for short-term accommodation for up to 27 people per night. The shelter will be open until April 2023 to help Nottingham residents who need a place to stay
  • UCL emergency accommodation guide — help for students studying at UCL who urgently need somewhere to live
  • University of London housing service — a service helping students studying at London universities to find private accommodation.
  • Shelter — a hub of information and advice for those who are homeless or facing homelessness in England
  • Shelter emergency housing from the council — advice on guidance on how to find emergency housing from the council if you’re eligible.
  • Centrepoint — advice and help for under 25s who are at risk of being homeless
  • The Mix — emotional support and advice for under 25s during the cost of living crisis.
  • Mind — guidance on housing issues and mental health
  • Citizens advice — guidance and advice for students on housing and homelessness issues

We hope this has shown the reality of what’s going on with the student housing crisis, how the price hike will ultimately affect students further and resources to help those struggling. Ultimately, we urge universities, landlords and accommodation providers to take action, have empathy and actively support students in finding adequate, safe housing.

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