Minimum living standard and dedicated regulatory framework to be considered as part of student accommodation review
A major review into the future of dedicated accommodation for students in Scotland is likely to outline a minimum living standard and could create a new set of regulations for the sector, a Scottish Government document suggests.
The proliferation of student accommodation in major cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow has been the subject of controversy as locals struggle to access affordable housing alongside a shortage of social housing provided by councils.
Students returning to campus have also faced significant problems accessing accommodation, with NUS Scotland warning students were being forced to choose between paying sky-high rents or homelessness as a housing shortage sparked rent rises by landlords amid rocketing demand.
The union accused landlords of “pricing students out of education with sky-high rents”, adding some are being forced to stay in hostels, commute for hours, or sofa surf.
Such is the scale of the demand, one letting agent received more than 600 inquires in a week for one property in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Government committed to the review of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in its Programme for Government in September, adding it would make recommendations on regulation, affordability and the role of councils in provision.
The Scotsman can now reveal a minimum liveable standard is being considered which would give students protection around the condition of the properties they rent on issues such as mould and disrepair.
A scoping study, obtained via freedom of information legislation, states that another policy also being looked at is a national roll-out of the ‘London Plan’ which is based on the approach of the Greater London Authority to student accommodation.
This could see a minimum percentage of rooms within student accommodation developments being matched to an affordable rate linked to the level of maintenance loan.
These rooms would also be matched to institutions to ensure those most in need of affordable rooms have access to them using ‘nomination agreements’.
Regulation is also set to be central to the review, with ministers set to discuss a potential dedicated regulatory framework designed specifically for student accommodation.
They will also examine how to give students the same rights enjoyed by normal tenants, including “seeking to find a balance between providing students with more flexibility to exit tenancies and the administrative and operational requirements of PBSA”, the report states.
The review is also set to examine the cost of accommodation for disabled students or those who need adapted rooms.
PBSA is most commonly operated by universities, colleges or private providers, with average rent at around £150-175 per month, or around £600pcm.
Private providers, such as Unite Students, iQ, and Fresh Student Living, often offer rooms up to and beyond £250pcm, or around £1,000pcm.
The review into PBSA – initially due within the first twelve months of this government – could be delayed after a key contract received no bidders.
The Scotsman revealed on Wednesday that a key research contract which was set to inform the recommendations in the review was unable to go ahead due to a lack of interest, potentially delaying the review’s publication.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Earlier this year we completed a Scoping Study which informed the range of our review of Purpose Built Student Accommodation and we have formed a Review Group, which includes Universities Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and NUS Scotland, to drive this forward.
“A tender was published on Public Contracts Scotland to help gather information to inform the review’s recommendations. Although there were no bidders, there were a number of notes of interest.
“We continue to gather information to progress this and other related pieces of work, including our commitment to a guarantorship scheme.”