Student accommodation: NUS Scotland calls for reform, increased rights and reinstatement of rent freeze
Purpose-built student accommodation ‘unfit for purpose’
Student rents increased by 34 per cent between 2018 and 2021 but purpose-built student accommodation remains unfit for purpose, according to a new report from NUS Scotland.
It says students have been forced to live in unsafe, unfinished buildings, or could not find housing for several months and were forced to live in hostels or sleep on friends’ sofas. Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) now accounts for about a quarter of all student housing in the UK and it is mostly provided by private companies. The report says a drop in privately rented accommodation at a time when student populations are growing – Edinburgh’s increased by nine per cent between 2018/19 and 2020/21 – has left students more reliant on PBSA. And it notes: “PBSA has become a big business for private investors because landlords can charge students more than they could non-students.”
The report says PBSA rents have consistently outstripped inflation. An NUS Scotland survey found that 26 per cent of students had been unable to pay their rent in full on one or more occasions and even those who had not missed a rental payment still said rent was their biggest challenge at university. The report recommends a reform of the Scottish student housing system, beginning with a reinstatement of the rent freeze due to end in April, until a more sustainable system of fair rent setting is found. It also calls for the government to introduce a PBSA regulator, more rights for student tenants to leave exploitative tenancies and better protection from unfair evictions.
NUS Scotland president Ellie Gomersall said: “This report reveals the appalling state of the purpose-built student accommodation sector. Whilst 12 per cent of students have experienced homelessness since starting their studies, unchecked rent increases have allowed landlords to make untold profits. In the same period that rents have increased by 34 per cent, student support has only increased by 4.5 per cent.
“The Scottish Government cannot afford to continue its path of inaction: it must quickly reinstate the rent freeze and make it so that students have the same rights as other members of society to leave unsuitable tenancies and to be protected from unfair evictions. Institutions also have their part to play. We are calling on institutions to establish a student housing guarantee that ensures that there is adequate housing for every student accepted at an institution.”