Students expected to survive on £1 a day, after rent

The cost of accommodation sees many students facing financial hardship – and it’s leaving them stressed and unable to study.

The average student rent now stands at £566/month. With the average maintenance loan payment amounting to £602/month , that leaves just £36 of the Maintenance Loan to cover ALL other living costs, including food, transport, toiletries, books and, in some cases, bills.

Findings from this year’s National Student Accommodation Survey by Save the Student show almost half of students (44%) are struggling to keep up with the rent, with Student Finance no match for housing costs.

The disparity means many are barely scraping by, with 45% saying it affects their mental health and 1 in 3 finding their studies disrupted.

Marianne, a third-year student at Swansea University, explains:
“[Rent is] a big chunk out of my funding that often puts me back in [my] overdraft as soon as I’m out of it. It also means that I end up struggling to budget myself from week to week when making sure I’ll have enough to last me till next student loan.
It’s a constant pressure and my mental health takes a big hit whenever I overspend for whatever reason – an occasional night out or because I use junk food/takeaway to deal with my feelings (an unhealthy coping mechanism, I know).”

For Charlie, a second-year student at Napier University, the pressure to cover costs means less time to study:
“I’m having to work a lot of extra hours, more and more often … I’m not much of a spender, which really gets to me as I don’t go out at all really and still struggle to pay rent and bills fairly regularly.”

In fact, while ONS data shows UK renters spent less than a third of income on rent in 2017, student rents can swallow 95% of the monthly Maintenance Loan instalment (and that’s on top of an average £509 in upfront fees and deposit). By comparison, students who opt to stay at home contribute just £167/month – and no fees – to parents.

Unsurprisingly, students in London face the highest rents (£222/week on average), although regional differences can still hurt. Rents start to rise south of the Midlands, with the South East, South West and even Wales stung by higher average costs, but without the location-weighted loan allowance that students in the capital get.

“I have two part-time jobs to supplement paying rent as my Maintenance Loan doesn’t cover it” – Queen Mary University student

Student houses do at least come with some perks. On average they’re just 20 minutes away from campus, and more than half of all students say their rent includes bills. However, that doesn’t guarantee satisfaction: 1 in 3 students reckon their accommodation is poor value for money.

No matter how much they pay, almost all students (90%) are left with housing issues, ranging from damp and lack of heating/water to rodents and bed bugs. If that wasn’t bad enough, a third wait longer than a week for problems to be resolved.

Kel, a second-year student at the University of Kent in Canterbury, comments:
“I didn’t have a working fridge, washing machine, bath or shower (all of which were included in the tenancy agreement, in other words I was paying to have those amenities) for the first two months of living here. They didn’t fix it until I refused to pay any more rent until it was all fixed.”

Julia, in her second year at Sheffield Hallam, pays £493/month but says living conditions affected her health:
“Damp, sewage flood, dripping ceiling, carpet covered in 2cm of toilet water. Broken window that wouldn’t close in the middle of December when it was snowing so [it was] extremely cold. Condensation on window flooding desk and destroying uni papers, damaging laptop … This went on for 6 months, I developed several chest problems and colds during the time and believe it was related to the damp/mould/leaks.”

Despite some shocking stories about the condition of student housing, the most common issue for young renters is other housemates: 52% say noisy housemates are a real headache, while more than a third complain about other residents stealing food.

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