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” . Despite the ubiquity of empty houses, which the majority of the general public do not believe students should be charged for , 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 . Universities have been instructed by the Government to maintain a high quality student experience if they hope to maintain full charges ; 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
What is the issue?
The student housing market is broken. Landlords view students as fair game for exploitation as many have little to no experience of renting, creating a toxic power imbalance which leaves students with little control over their living situation. Most, if not all, landlords demand guarantors and extortionate deposits which further make renting inaccessible. On top of this, most students have to pay extortionate rents, leaving many facing financial hardship. Many student homes are also riddled with damp, mould and vermin. Student housing is often transient and impersonal, so it is difficult to build a sense of home.
Last Conference voted through a policy to fight for better housing and the establishment of a national tenants’ union to allow us to take the fight to landlords. However, there is only so far that the current housing market can be transformed to make it work for students. Landlordism is inherently exploitative as it is monetising shelter, something which should be a basic right, and takes away from tenants basic autonomy over how they live. We need to support an alternative way of living which is democratic and puts power back into the hands of the renter. Student renting can be reimagined as a network of housing co-operatives.
Housing co-operatives are not-for-profit, democratic organisations which own housing, run for and by their members. Membership of the co-operative is restricted to tenants, so tenants own, run and manage their own accommodation. There is complete freedom to set the rent, decorate and upkeep the building, and create a home together without landlords.
Why is this important to us?
Every student deserves dignity in where they live. A safe and secure home is vital to protect someone’s health and wellbeing.
Every student has a horror story with a dodgy landlord. The private rental sector continues to grow, but rights afforded to tenants remain minimal. We need to reimagine what student renting, and ultimately renting in general, could be like.
Many students face decades, if not a lifetime, of private renting unless serious change is brought about. The ability to partly own a house if they lived in a student housing co-operative would be a liberating experience for many, and could allow students to genuinely build a home. We will not get this by clawing back piecemeal concessions from landlords, councils and the Government.
Student housing co-operatives can help students build important relationships with local communities and help students develop important skills in upkeeping and maintaining their shared home.
All students deserve a home which is accessible to them. International students face unique struggles which Home students do not, and the current state of housing is not accessible to everyone regardless of socio-economic background. Co-operatives could be really beneficial for Trans students who have issues with discrimination from landlords and having to apply in their legal/dead name, and could ensure that disabled students have the specialist accommodation they need.
The student housing co-operative movement is small but powerful. Edinburgh, Sheffield, Birmingham and SEASALT (Sussex) have properties and have proven themselves able to provide high quality housing at significantly lower rents than market rate. Glasgow, Nottingham and Bristol are legally set up and searching for a property. Growing this movement could disrupt the status quo and challenge the pervasive view that landlordism is necessary to student living.
What would the world look like if we solved it?
A network of student housing co-operatives would spread to every student town/city around the UK. Each co-operative would be autonomous and cater to the needs of students in their locality, but would be brought together under the banner of Student Co-op Homes (SCH) as an organisation to unite student housing co-operatives and develop more student co-operative power. These co-operatives would provide an alternative to exploitative landlordism and would give students access to truly affordable rents, a home to make their own, and autonomy over their living.
Student landlords would have no power and those that still existed would be forced to offer security and affordability due to this movement demonstrating a radical alternative. Students would be empowered and no longer have to worry about the security and precarity of their housing. We would also see a more general explosion of housing co-operatives inspired by the student movement, which would break landlords’ monopoly over our living post-university.
NUS would be one of the leaders in growing the student housing co-operative movement. NUS would:
- run political education on the co-operative alternative to exploitative landlordism to grow the co-operative movement to more campuses.
- work with SCH to train students to develop the skills needed to set up housing co-operatives including financial literacy and growing grassroots membership.
- link fledgling student housing co-operatives with free legal advice and professionals to support their growth e.g. surveyors and community-led housing experts.
- support fledgling student housing co-operatives to consider the needs of different marginalised communities when shaping their future home.
- clarify and support the acquisition of finance for student housing co-operatives, including by publicising their share offers.
- support student tenants of housing co-operatives with liability issues arising from being a director of a legal housing co-operative.
- support student unions to develop policies to support student housing co-operatives.
- encourage more students to join SCH and connect with other co-operatives.
- advocate to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for greater grant support for community-led housing, particularly student housing co-operatives.
Policy passed at National Conference 2023
What’s the issue and how does it affect students?
There is a housing crisis across the UK - students struggle to find accommodation that is suitable and affordable. Many students find themselves in accommodation that is overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary. Especially with the Cost of Living Crisis, rents are rising rapidly to unsustainable levels, and more students are having to work and prioritise employment over their degrees. All of this combined is seriously affecting students’ mental health, physical health, and academic performance.
There are additional barriers for groups of students such as international and estranged students who struggle to get guarantors. Students generally are vulnerable to exploitation by landlords yet students face barriers to getting support, such as legal advice, for housing issues.
What changes would we like to see in society to change this?
There must be both short-term and long-term responses to these problems.
Students should have access to information and advice on common housing issues like contracts (including rent rises), basic accommodation standards, and evictions. Students need to know their rights and be empowered to enforce them when they are breached by landlords. The information and advice must be written in a way that is clear and simple for everyone. Translations would also be preferable for those who may not have English as their first language.
Universities need to manage student numbers to sustainable levels - caps on student numbers must consider accommodation as well as course capacities. They must be able to guarantee all first year students accommodation. All University accommodation needs to be accessible and inclusive for all students needs, especially for disabled students, including those who are neurodivergent.
University and/or Student Union accreditation of landlords and letting agents would help those seeking private rented accommodation, and help prevent vulnerable students falling for scams. There should be additional support for students who need to commute due to high rents and limited ability nearer to campus. Universities, Students’ Unions and/or NUS should be able to act as guarantors for International and estranged students.
NUS should raise awareness of homelessness including invisible homelessness such as students staying in libraries and other University buildings or ‘sofa surfing’. Universities must be transparent about their safety nets for students facing homelessness.
NUS should lobby the government to ensure there is proper regulation of landlords and legislation around minimum living standards. There should be external complaint mechanisms to hold landlords to account, such as an ombudsperson. Students should not be subject to different rules to other private renters.
Universities should cooperate with local authorities and housing associations to provide housing for students. Students’ Unions should work and integrate with tenants’ unions which are already established, and NUS should support SUs to set up their own student tenants’ unions. NUS should support the establishment of student housing co-operatives.
There is a serious shortage of student accommodation which is driving rent prices up and housing quality down. We need to build more affordable student houses and Purpose Built Student Accommodation to tackle the student housing crisis.
NUS should lobby for reforms to planning law to make it easier to build more student housing and support students to influence and engage with their local council’s planning strategy.
Landlords will not provide affordable housing unless they are forced to. NUS should lobby for rent controls such as a short-term rent freeze and rent caps in the longer-term.
Student action on housing over the last few years has won millions of pounds of rent back for students. NUS should support SUs to take more radical action and enable their members to organise student rent strikes.
Landlordism is fundamentally exploitative - we cannot significantly improve our living conditions by working to improve landlord behaviour. Landlords will continually resist any attempts to impact the profits they make. In the very long-term, NUS should support the abolition of landlordism and campaign for the nationalisation of the housing sector.
The implementation of this policy should be devolved to the nations due to the vast variation in laws between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.