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For once it seems like the traditional north/south divide has been flipped, with students in the north and the Midlands paying over the odds for their student accommodation. Well there’s a surprise. It might come as a shock that the top ten most expensive places for students to rent property were in the top half the kingdom. Sure London is expensive, but compared to what private rents cost, student rents are fairly cheap. Students usually paying roughly 30 per cent less than their private sector counterparts. Up in the northern half of the country, however, it seems like a premium is whacked onto already high student costs. This all makes up part of the “cost shock” that the Money Charity has said students potentially face when they go to university.
According to a founder of a student rental website, this price difference occurs because in London there’s a lot of people searching for rental property, and students aren’t considered such a big chunk of the demographic. In northern towns, however, they are gold dust to landowners, providing a huge section of potential tenants, and therefore more money can be made. Out of all the cities examined, Lancaster has made it into the top ten most expensive, with students paying roughly a 19 per cent premium over their private sector counterparts. Now some may argue that this is because a larger amount is needed in case of damage to the property. Most students have to pay a large bond before they even take a property, however, and it is from this that any damage or loss payments are supposed to be reimbursed from. Not a rental premium. Another thing to take into account when considering the higher rental costs is that the price often includes some of the bills, which might make it seem like a bit of a better deal. Compare rental prices to a students average annual income, however, and it starts to look unfair once again.
Some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, do offer a subsidy for students in their first year which means the gap can appear anomalous. Lancaster used to also provide a £1,000 accommodation discount for first years, but judging by the fees and funding page on the website this has been scrapped. LUSU are fully aware of the problems facing Lancaster students and it is one of their main aims to tackle rising student rents, as well as holding the University to account as they tried to raise rents late last year. Students often find rent the most difficult part of their living costs to fund, and sometimes it can go above and beyond what a student gets in maintenance loan. This is a topic SCAN has covered quite extensively before, looking at the gap between loans, grants and what students are expected to pay each year in order to live. The question now should not just be whether we should get more money in order to live, but why we should need that money. This premium on rents that landlords (and the University) are filling their pockets with should be banned; students are poor enough as it is, we don’t need the added pressure.
Another mooted suggestion for tackling student money problems, and making money more manageable is to have rental payments be monthly, rather than paid each term. This has been suggested as a way forward by the Money Charity because it would make students’ finances easier to manage, rather than having a whopping great sum come out at the beginning of the each term. It would also mirror the financial experience that people face later in life and therefore make graduates better prepared for life beyond university.