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Students call for action on surging rents

Rents for purpose-built student accommodation in Wales have increased 29 per cent in the last three years.

That’s the result of a survey published today by student housing charity Unipol and the National Union for Students (NUS), which is continuing its calls for Welsh Government action on student housing, as cost-of-living hits a record high.

The survey shows that:

  • The average annual rent for purpose-built student accommodation in Wales reached £6,168 in 2021/22, almost 30% up on pre-Covid levels (£4,768 in 2018).
  • UK-wide, student rents have risen by 4.4% since last year. Since 2011/12, average rents have increased by 61%.
  • Average annual rent accounts for almost 60% of the maximum student support package in Wales of £10,350, leaving students with £105 per week. For students from England studying in Wales, this represents 65% of the maximum loan of £9,488.
  • Private providers dominate the market, with 70% of the bed spaces surveyed being provided by the private sector as universities move away from their own accommodation provision.
  • Private providers continue to grow, and universities increasingly rely on them to fulfil guarantees to first year undergraduates. Universities and private partners need to work together to share responsibility for welfare now more than ever before.

The NUS says intervention is required in the most expensive cities to support those whose families can’t support their other living costs.

The findings form part of the Accommodation Costs Survey 2021/22, a survey of university, private and charitable providers of purpose-built student accommodation in the UK, to explore rental costs, stock provision, and the outlook of the sector. The respondents cover 473,684 purpose-built rooms – including 26,192 in Wales – which equate to an estimated 68% of the university accommodation market.

On the basis of the maximum student support package of £10,350 for Welsh-domiciled students, the average purpose-built student accommodation now takes up 59% of eligible support, leaving students with £105 per week to spent on anything else. Students from England studying in Wales can access loans of up to £9,488, meaning accommodation costs account for 65% of the maximum loan. This is 89% for English students with the average maintenance loan of £6,900.

Private providers increasingly dominate the halls market, so that they now account for over three quarters of rooms in the purpose-built sector. Student halls used to be associated with university-owned accommodation – but this is no longer the case as many institutions have chosen to leave future housing provision to the private sector.

The report states that there are multiple reasons for the rapid growth, namely because the private sector has become the main provider of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) and it is setting higher annual rents, focusing on ensuite rooms or studios which come with a higher price tag.

The report follows research from NUS Wales and Shelter Cymru in which 65% of students in Wales said housing issues had affected their mental health, and more than half of students had experienced damp or mould in their accommodation.

Becky Ricketts, President of NUS Wales, commented: ‘With a 29% rent hike over the past three years, it is clear that the student housing system in Wales is broken at the foundations. We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and students are once again at the eye of the storm.

‘We need action from the Welsh Government now so that no student has to face the prospect of experiencing homelessness, sacrificing food, or dropping out of education because of eye-watering rent costs.’

Martin Blakey, chief executive at Unipol commented: ‘Student halls are expensive and getting more expensive. The student maintenance system is broken and unless students can access help from parents or part-time work, many would find it difficult to pay these rent levels.

‘If access to higher education is to be maintained and enhanced, then poorer students need affordable accommodation to enable them to study at a University of their choice or accommodation providers need to provide help through targeted accommodation bursaries.’

‘There is much more work to be done to ensure universities and private sector work together to overcome the emerging challenges.  Build costs and construction inflation are not going away, but there is a need for new development.’

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