We need student rent caps

As of June 2019, fees for tenants will become illegal, lifting a financial burden for future renters in the UK. Having just paid £500 in fees to an agent I didn’t choose (who is more expensive than other agents in the area), I couldn’t be happier that people in the future will be spared this pain.

Then, through Instagram, I came to learn of the person who made this new law happen.

It was a woman, named Vicky Spratt.

I don’t know what I had previously thought people who fight for laws look like (actually, I do. I expected them to look like white men in their 50s). But when I saw Vicky’s face, I suddenly felt empowered. Even women like me can do things to make laws and change lives.

The first thing I did was message her, and thank her. I then asked her…if I were to follow in her footsteps, what would I need to do? Is it just a case of creating a change.org petition?

She responded, guiding me through what she did. I told her that I want to make a law that puts rent caps on student halls. She told me she’d support me in any way she could.

So I’m going to try.

Let me tell you why this is important

The amount of student debt doesn’t matter to the student. If you’re unsure about this, here’s my student loan post as a recap.

What does matter, is what the student has access to while they’re a student. The maintenance loan can cover a lot of costs involved in studying, but in most cases it does not remove all costs for the student.

In 2015 a study found that around 77% of students worked alongside their degrees. Beyond the financial gain, there’s a toss up between whether it’s a good thing as the student will gain work experience and grow employment confidence, or whether it is taking time away from studying, causing the student to perform less well in their course.

However, according to the Accommodation Costs Survey 2018/19, the average student rent is 73% of the maximum maintenance loan available to students. For this academic year, the average rent is £147 a week (for London it would be much more).

I usually advise students to take up a part time job to help cover these costs, but it’s not always possible. I know from personal experience of being the first in my family to go to university that I wanted to spend as much time studying as possible; I felt lucky to be in that position and was serious about studying. For some students, it’s impossible to have a part time job – for those doing Nursing, for example, they need to build up work experience in the hospital. At Oxbridge, students are also not able to take jobs.

We need more nurses. We want to make Oxbridge accessible. We want for students to be able to afford to rent at university.

And yet. And yet.

This has all come about for two main reasons:

  1. Many universities have sold their halls to private companies.
  2. There are more international students than ever, who are able to pay more.

It doesn’t make sense that universities are working so hard within Widening Participation, when the companies running the halls the students would live in are making a killing and charging more than the students can afford.

While there are reports of the halls being very upmarket these days, offering much more bang for the students’ buck, I don’t believe that this is helpful either; students could be given unrealistic expectations of what housing is like. Many students, however, are still getting that traditional “student halls” experience of low quality lodgings.

What can be done?

I propose a rent cap on all purpose built student accommodation (PBSA). I don’t know what the cap should be, and I don’t know yet how it would work (ie different caps for different types of room – like en suite?) but I believe that this will help make sure that Higher Education is accessible.

And what will I do?

For the time being, wait, and collect information. Brexit is all anyone is thinking about, and so I need to bide my time for the next few months and wait for the best time to do this. In the meantime, I am reading as much as possible on the topic, and hopefully speaking with students who have come across rent as a barrier. Despite a well re-tweeted call for stories a week or so ago, I don’t actually have any case studies yet. If you know anyone who has a story related to student rent, I would love to know.

At the end of the day, all I can do is try. I believe that this is something worth fighting for, and having seen a woman just like me make a change so impactful on the lives of others, I think maybe – just maybe – I can make things better for young people as well.

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