Student Housing

Wednesday 24-02-2021 - 11:57

This is a policy passed by NUS National Conference 2021

What is the issue facing students?

1.    The global pandemic and national lockdowns have highlighted key issues within the student private and university accommodation sector where there is varying levels of regulation and conditions across the four nations of the UK
2.    NUS president Larissa Kennedy confirmed that “students were essentially lied to about what was safely possible this term so that the Government and universities could exploit them for fees and rent” [2020]. Despite the ubiquity of empty houses, which the majority of the general public do not believe students should be charged for [2021], universities and private student accommodation landlords are failing to provide transparency over where the money is going. 
3.    Students have no additional accommodation rights, are unable to leave complex and unhelpful contracts, ask for refunds or discounts to help them during financial difficulty or always expect their accommodation be of good-quality and safe. 
4.    Housing is a basic right! However, students have been long used as cash cows and landlords, housing companies and purpose-built accommodation management companies have long used tactics to get students to sign up to accommodation which is often overpriced and with longer than required tenancy terms. Students are increasingly having to undertake part- and full-time work to cover additional costs, which limits their ability to study and participate in external activities, resulting in lost social capital and connection with other students and the true university experience, most students want, need and expect.  
5.    Students are often unaware of their rights and the standards that they should expect from landlords, as well as what is expected of them as tenants. 
6.    Students are not normal renters and accommodation providers are not adapting their practices or processes to provide support and flexibility for those who pay the most.  
7.    Due to their lack of forward planning, students have been left in costly accommodation they cannot call home making student housing more pertinent than ever. Students are staging the largest student rent strike in 40 years, just to be listened too. 

Why is this important to us as a movement?

1.    Students are not demanding irrational asks when it comes to housing. At the bare minimum they want their hardships to be acknowledged and acted on
2.    Accommodation is the most important factor influencing student wellbeing across the UK [2018]. Universities have been instructed by the Government to maintain a high quality student experience if they hope to maintain full charges [2021]; however, our concerns on housing remain overlooked, despite the pressing nature of current circumstances. January 2021 saw the long overdue release of the Government’s response to the 2018 Augar review, which confirmed that debt relating to living costs is still a deterrent for the disadvantaged. The Government’s response, declaring that “now is not the right time” to provide a full answer, is inadequate. 
3.    Current injustices are a predictable consequence of H.E. privatisation. But while a monetised university culture has quickly become commonplace, a culture of students’ corresponding consumer rights has been slow to follow. Indeed, treating students as customers was always going to be a double-edged sword. Our concerns, in spite of our governments’ own pledge from 2015, are not being dealt with in a “fair, transparent, and easily accessible” way. 
4.    As a movement, we have the power to change the housing culture and protect students from being taken advantage of in their first interactions with the housing market. “Students needs as tenants may differ but all tenants deserve the same level of patience, respect and understanding.”
5.    When we look closer at our student population, the chasm of housing equalities deepens between home and international students. As a movement we have an opportunity to ensure we dismantle additional barriers in the housing market for international students such as inflexible contracts, guarantor and refund policies. Our hardships should no longer be: ignored, minimized or capitalised on. 
6.    We need to push for fundamental changes to the student housing market and for protection to be created through legislation that limits the power of housing providers and landlords and creates a new system which benefits students before profit. Without action, universities will struggle to attract students to cities where students have had a bad deal, huge gaps will start to appear with providers developing new tactics to attract students, students will not sign up to live in external accommodation and student rooms will be left and let out to anyone, potentially putting students at risk, and finally, providers will likely go out of business which may result in students financially losing out.

7. We believe that students should not have to participate in a rent strike in order to achieve change; and not all students will be in the financial or legal position to do so. We have been advised countless times that collaborative action to the Government is the most effective in getting movement on private housing, so why is there not a joint up sopace to specifically represent students as tenants? Rent strikers would always be supported , and would be able to work with local and national groups for support and advice.

8. This is an imperative moment to unite students in the movement against the marketisation of higher education. While students are opposed to the idea of being treated as consumers, in a year of economic hardship and careless management, the least they deserve is compensation.

What would the world look like if we solved it?

1.    If this issue was solved, students across the country would receive adequate compensation for the time they were unable to use the properties they have paid for, reducing financial hardship and stress for students at this time. There would also be legislative changes to regulate the way that student rental contracts operate, stopping the exploitation of the current student housing market. 
2.    Student tenants would be given the statutory right to bring their tenancies to an end early as has happened in Scotland. This would allow greater freedom within what is currently an inflexible housing market for students, forcing many to stay in properties that they are not using or are substandard for extended periods.  
3.    NUS will have used its influence to secure legislative change and maintain a constant conversation with the housing sector across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Student tenants would have a place around the table with national and governmental bodies such as the National Landlords Association, Devolved Governments and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  
4.    Contracts would be reformed to be student specific and meet the needs of those who require shorter term tenancy, and not based on ensuring maximum profit for landlords and investors and there would be the introduction of cooling periods (before and after) to allow students time to decide on their decisions.   
5.    International and home students would have equal treatment in regards to housing and be protected by legislation. In the case where a UK guarantor is required, international students would not have to pay large sums of money upfront or use a company to secure a guarantor. Students would have their rights protected in the same way that any other tenant would. 

6. Student accommodation should be a safe place from racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and islamophobia. The difficulties that international students experience with the need for guarantors and the threat of visa removal, deportation and homelessness should end.

7. There should be changes to student maintenance to allow students to access more money to reflect the area and cost of living in the area they plan to live, reforming the premium only for London and extending to other cities.
8.    The student housing sector becomes transparent on rent, breaking down the cost of mortgage, utilities, insurance, and profit to help students find the best value accommodation. 

Ideas for Implementation

The formation of a national body representing student renters that could consolidate the collective power of student renters throughout the UK. The formation of this and how it is setup should be owned by students, including how it is setup.
This would allow us to improve the following areas of student housing nationally:  
•   Awareness of tenants rights: Provide a hub with clear information on student tenants rights - including variations across devolved nations. This could also serve as a platform for student housing campaigns.  
•   Consolidation of collective power of the student tenants: A functional lobbying body to improve aspects of the student tenant experience, including deposit returns, housing conditions & pressure selling. This would limit the amount of risk students would have to take on individually through rent strikes.  
•   A place around the table: An association which could have direct connections and launch committees with national and governmental bodies such as the National Landlords Association and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  
•   Increase the resilience of student tenants' voices: NUS are active in advocating for improved student housing, but have a lot of other things to do. As the size of the student housing market continues to grow it’s important to have a reactive and resourced national voice regardless of the other political priorities of NUS.  
•   A national network of student tenants: This would give students the opportunity to share experiences of housing providers and landlords and raise concerns or promote good practise in areas such as supporting student mental health in accommodation or accessibility.  
•   Provide support for Students’ Union advice services: Giving specific and up-to-date guidance to areas where Students’ Union advice services are often oversubscribed.  
A national body representing student tenants which offered guidance, support and operated as a lobbying body would mean there may be more progression and focus on the hundreds of thousands of student tenants across the UK.
Specifically, workshops at National Conference 2021 brought forward proposals for how a body representing student tenants should be constituted and the feedback on this has been noted in these ideas for implementation of the policy
The original proposal was to form a National Association of Student Tenants. Feedback was received as below:
•    The National Association of Student Tenants should be called a ‘tenant’s union’ as that’s where the power stems from rather than a professional association
•    The National Association of Student Tenants should be broadened to encompass nations across the UK 
•    There should be defined goals for reducing exploitation by universities
•    The National Association of Student Tenants should be democratic
In addition, one workshop brought forward more information about implementing rent strikes
There is relatively limited understanding of rent strikes among new students and often also among SU staff and officers. NUS could work with existing national and grassroots organisations such as the Rent Strike Network to provide information about rent strikes as a tactic, so that students are equipped to determine if it is the right tactic for their local context, and always support (for example with advice and representation) striking students. 
Rent strikes are usually employed as a tactic when discussions have failed to deliver justice. There are also other tactics students who are unwilling or unable to participate in rent strikes can undertake: information and discussion about these should be provided as part of balanced discussions of campaign strategy
The new national body should ensure that accessibility (in terms of knowledge of unfamiliar resources and tactics, and in terms of accessibility for those with disabilities) of actions is accommodated, so that students are not excluded from contributing to relevant actions.
NUS could support Rent Strike Now and local rent strikers to form local student renter’s unions

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