Policy passed at NUS Scotland conference 2022.
What is the issue?
The student housing sector is in dire need of proper regulation and transformation.
A combination of the global pandemic and systematic issues within the housing sector have significantly impacted students studying in the 2021 – 2022 Academic Year and will continue to affect students moving forward.
PBSAs in Scotland have seen an average rent increase of 34% in three years, whereas pre-covid averaged £5111 (2018) compared to £6853 in 2021/22; in contrast, the student loan a student receives has not increased to match this.
Further, students living in purpose-built student accommodation have fewer rights compared to those people living in the private rented sector. This lack of rights is currently impacting on students' welfare.
Why is this important to us as a movement?
For many students accommodation accounts for over 88% of their student loans. They are also ineligible for housing benefits. With the continuous increase in rents and stagnant student loans, students are left with less and less money to survive.
It is no surprise that the Thriving learners' survey revealed that many students are struggling to feed themselves.
Difficulty securing a property is also having an impact on the wellbeing of students and taking them away from their studies and extracurriculars.
What would the world looked like if we solved this?
An effective support system will allow students to live comfortably and in security while studying.
Students entering the rental market (either private or student accommodation) would have a clear understanding of their rights as tenants.
Students would be reassured that challenging misrepresentation, deposit scams, unreasonable charges and unfair lettings practices is an easy, normal process in which they will be fully supported by Students’ Associations and Government.
Ideas for implementation
Whilst the Scottish Government has plans for implementing a national system of rent controls by the end of 2025, we believe that the rise in housing costs is an emergency. Therefore, it deserves to be treated as an emergency and implemented sooner.
Putting pressure on institutions to freeze, cut, or cap rents of student accommodation
Drive the conversation on the student housing sector towards that of common, democratic ownership of housing by students.
A national advocacy scheme, where volunteers would work with their home Students’ Associations, Advice Services, Sabbatical and part-time officers and wider student body to raise awareness of the housing issues being faced by students in the private and PBSA market.
Increased support from Government and Institutions in enabling Widening Participation and EU/International students to enter the rental market by reviewing the need for UK-based guarantors and offering a reasonable alternative for those unable to provide one.
Policy passed at NUS Scotland conference 2021.
What is the issue facing students?
Covid-19 has shown that there is a gap in support for students in purpose built student accommodation and the private rented sector. Students, now more than ever, are worried about making their next rent payment. NUS Scotland’s recent survey shows that almost half of students in Scotland say that the income of someone who supports them financially has been impacted by COVID-19, with one in seven saying it has had a major impact. Furthermore, over two in three students have concerns about their ability to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Currently, students in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation do not have the same right as other tenants to end their tenancy agreement outwith the Coronavirus legislation. During the pandemic, students were left to pay for accommodation while unable to end their tenancy and many students lost out on months of rent for accommodation they could not use.
Students in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) have routinely found it difficult to address damage, mould, pests etc and communication and support difficult to reach without PBSA being hold to account. Many students are not able to individually challenge these issues.
Students (with minor exceptions) in private rented accommodation (including Homes of Multiple Occupancy (HMO)) unlike the rest of the Scottish public, are not entitled to Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. Currently, the only potential source of assistance for students in private accommodation struggling to pay their rent are hardship funds. However, not every student qualifies for hardship funds.
While the Scottish Government has passed emergency legislation as part of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 stating that tenants should not be evicted because they have suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19, this legislation is only in place until 31 March 2021. The emergency legislation extended eviction notices from a 3-month notice period to a 6-month notice period.
Why is this important to us as a movement?
Housing is a major cost to student finances and can be a barrier to accessing education. It has a major impact on students' mental health and wellbeing. All student tenants should have the same right to end their tenancy and to access appropriate support from their housing provider. Additionally, many students have lost part-time work, as the industries they typically seek employment in have been impacted by the pandemic.
In the last year, a number of Independent Tenant Unions have been established at universities across Scotland. Cooperating with each other and working to protect the rights and improve the conditions of Student Renters nationwide. These groups together are known as the Union of Scottish Student Tenant Unions.
What would the world looked like if we solved it?
We welcome that the Scottish Government has committed to reviewing the PBSA sector. However, NUS Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to commit to a student accommodation strategy for Scotland, which includes the introduction of rent controls in PBSA, and an enhancement of the rights of tenants living in PBSA.
It is crucial that the Scottish Government recognises the importance of all students having access to mental health and wellbeing support in their student accommodation and commits to working with all student accommodation providers to ensure the best level of support is in place for all students who need it.
We need to see an extension to the emergency legislation guaranteeing that no one will be evicted due to financial hardship because of COVID-19 and sufficient support for student renters through access to hardship funding or access for students to Housing Benefit.
NUS Scotland believes that the emergency Covid-19 legislation on evictions should be made permanent along with the right for all students in PBSA to serve their notice to end their tenancy agreement.
Student tenant groups provide a vital space for students to organise and provide aid to each other. Through Student tenant groups, students have the ability to take meaningful direct action, which gives us another way to put pressure on our University Managements in conjunction with the work already undertaken by our Student Unions and the National Union of Students.
There should be government support for tenants’ unions and housing rights advocacy groups specifically focused on addressing student renter’s issues.