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Rats and no water among student housing battles

Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/PA Images
Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/PA Images

Student accommodation firms and universities are leaving tenants to battle horrific housing conditions, unaffordable rent and poor mental health, a new survey claims.

A survey of 2,196 students by the advice site Save the Student suggests nationwide anger over overpriced and unsafe student housing, with no hot water, rats and bed bugs among common complaints.

According to the National Student Accommodation Survey 2019, 90% of British students have experienced problems with their accommodation at some point – and although other residents are the top cause of complaint, most problems are down to poor maintenance.


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Damp is the most common of these problems, with 35% of students surveyed citing damp in their house as an issue. If accurate it means more than a third of British students could be at risk of developing respiratory infections, allergies and asthma, as well as having weakened immune systems, according to the NHS.

Lack of basic services is also a big problem, with almost a third (32%) of respondents saying they have had no hot water or heating at some point in their tenancy.

Other maintenance issues include disruptive building work (20%), rats and other pests (16%), “dangerous conditions” (5%), and bed bugs (3%). Inappropriate landlord visits (16%) and burglary (5%) were also a problem for many.

READ MORE: UK student loan write-offs to increase budget deficit

Portsmouth student Adele described having to live in shocking conditions. “On move-in day we found there was no door on the front of the property,” she told the advice site.

“Then we had no heating for two months. We had a broken toilet, broken shower and rats, mice [and] fleas. An open drain in the back garden would regularly overflow, just filling the garden with sewage.

“[It] got to the point where we called in the local housing association – turns out we had no gas certificate, no fire door in the kitchen, and even the bannisters on the stairs were unsafe!”

But disputes like these aren’t confined to “dodgy” or cut-price housing, according to the survey. In fact, almost as many students reported problems with university accommodation and commercial halls of residence as in privately rented rooms and houses.

READ MORE: Credit card debt and student loans at record highs

Kerry, a student in Bournemouth, told Save the Student: “Halls were a terrible experience. Building work almost constantly, rats, and a very irritating flatmate who was loud, disgusting and inappropriate.”

Asking for help with housing issues is no guarantee that anything will be done, according to Save the Student’s research. Although almost half (45%) of students said their problems were usually resolved within a week, one in five said they had to wait more than a month. A handful (4%) said their issues were never resolved.

Lily, who studies in Newcastle, said: “Last year I had no hot water for the entire year. I had to boil the kettle and fill up the sink that way to wash my face.”

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The pressure to find decent homes is so high that a third of students said they begin looking for next year’s accommodation in or before November, just weeks after the start of the academic year.

This can be brutal on finances as students pay an average of £970 in upfront housing costs, including a deposit (£311), admin fees (£119) and a month’s rent in advance (£541). The average maintenance loan – money the government lends for living costs – works out to just £541 per month.

Housing charity Shelter calls accommodation ‘affordable; when costs are no more than 35% of income. However, the average student rent swallows 100% of the typical maintenance loan payment, leaving nothing to cover all other housing or living expenses.

Save the Student found that, as a consequence, half of all students struggle to pay rent, while two-thirds borrow from family, banks and other lenders to cope with housing costs.

Two thirds of students (63%) also said housing costs have affected their mental health, and 37% said it had affected their studies.