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Student housing ‘broken at the foundations’

Students in Wales are living with damp and mould and disrepair and there is a clear link between poor housing and the student mental health crisis, says a joint report from the National Union of Students Wales and Shelter Cymru.

The survey published on Wednesday found that:

  • More than half of students in Wales are living with damp or mould while 46 per cent reported disrepair
  • 65 per cent of students report that poor housing has impacted their mental health
  • A third of students struggle to afford rent, 31 per cent had experienced problems with their landlord and 60 per cent think their accommodation does not represent good value for money

The report’s findings are based on a survey of students at universities across Wales, in which concerns were also raised about pest infestations, affordability, and a lack of communication from landlords and letting agencies.

These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with students spending more time than ever in their accommodation due to lockdowns. 26 per cent of students said issues with their housing had affected their academic achievements. One student reported that they ‘had to do an exam with a rat rustling around in the cupboards’.

Other respondents expressed frustration at attitudes towards student tenants. One student said that landlords ‘seem to think students deserve to live in a damp house with broken appliances’. This was echoed by a respondent who said, “students are expected to life in awful conditions just because it’s the ‘student way of living’”.

The report makes recommendations on how student housing can be made fairer for tenants, who are usually first-time renters living away from home for the first time:

  • All students must have the same rights and protections regardless of where they live
  • All students must be able to hold their landlords to account
  • All students must be able to afford to live in safe and healthy housing

NUS Wales and Shelter Cymru are calling on the Welsh Government, universities and local authorities to ensure these recommendations are implemented to ensure fair housing for all students.

People who support the campaign to fix student housing in Wales are encouraged to sign NUS Wales’ petition. Shelter Cymru provides bespoke advice and support for students on its website.

NUS Wales president, Becky Ricketts, said: ‘Student accommodation has always been a by-word for low quality, high costs and dodgy landlords. The system is broken at the foundations, and I’ve made it NUS Wales’ priority this year to fix student housing.

‘We have to bust the myth that students should have to put up with housing horror stories as a rite of passage. This report shows that shoddy housing has knock-on impacts on students’ mental health, physical health, and academic achievements.

‘Housing legislation does not currently reflect the realities of student life and actually dissuades them from taking action. Students just don’t have enough time or money to take their landlords to court, allowing rogue landlords to keep on getting away with fleecing student tenants.

‘If the Welsh Government is serious about supporting all tenants in Wales – including those in the private rented sector – it must work with student renters and housing charities to ensure the system works for them, rather than against them.’

Ruth Power, chief executive officer of Shelter Cymru, said:

‘We believe that home is everything. Without a safe place to call home, it is impossible for students and every other person to live healthy, happy and productive lives. The findings from this report clearly show the impact that bad housing has on students’ health and wellbeing as well as their academic achievement.

‘Many of the students who reach our advice services have experienced horrific housing issues which have left them desperate and in despair. These situations are all too often symptomatic of the culture of complacency in student housing.

‘If any student is struggling with their accommodation or housing, no matter who you are or where you are, we are here for you. All of our free, independent and expert advice is available through our website.’


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