Students are the victims of a growing rent scandal which threatens to price all but the wealthiest out of UK student accommodation.
Students starting their first year at university, often in unfamiliar cities, are easy pickings for developers and institutions wanting to make a killing. This is even before they move out into the under-regulated private rented sector, with its unscrupulous landlords and parasitical letting agents, charging exorbitant fees for vague and unspecified services.
According to the specialist website Accommodation for Students, the average rent has risen 3.1% from £77.04 per week per bedroom in 2012 to £79.42 in 2013.
Rents for student accommodation in London have shot up to £129 per week, followed by Egham (home to Royal Holloway University of London) at £115.
And this is usually for a single room, not even a flat, and often without en suite facilities. Students in Ramsay Hall at University College London (UCL) are paying £192.50 a week for a box with a bed in it. The recently-built UCL New Hall has been crowned the “UK’s worst building” because its residents are paying up to £730 a month to look straight out on to a brick wall that obscures the sunlight.
To put things into perspective, the maximum student loan for maintenance for those in London is £7,675 (out of London you can get up to £5,500), not including grants. Many students receive much less. This works out at about £169.79 for each of the 39 weeks that UCL students are required to pay rent, leaving little or nothing to actually live on.
About 25% of uni students now work part-time, though opportunities are scarce, pay low, and conditions often terrible. Students’ unions must do more to inform student workers of their rights in the workplace, and help to organise them into trade unions.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is demanding that no student should pay more than £100 per week for accommodation. This demand aims to set a new maximum social standard, for a commodity whose price has become inflated to the extent that most students see rents above this level as “reasonable”. They are not.
Yet, the National Union of Students (NUS) leadership got a motion on students rents voted down at the 2013 conference, using the bizarre argument that rents are expensive. That’s the point!
The NUS, students’ unions, and activist groups on campuses should agitate around a £100 maximum weekly rent, and build for rent strikes in university halls if institutions are unresponsive.
They should demand more affordable accommodation be built in order to undercut the private sector cowboys who see the student accommodation market as “one of the most attractive yield classes for property investment.”
The growing crisis in student rents is an opportunity to mobilise large numbers of students around winnable aims.