By Zoe Fripp
New figures reveal that the number of students facing rent arrears has risen 16% in the last year.
The figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and revealed that more than 17,000 students living in university accommodation have fallen behind with their rent.
The figures also revealed that the number of students being evicted from their halls of residence or having their contract terminated after failing to pay rent has slowly begun to rise.
Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of higher education group Universities UK expressed his fears over the impact finances could have on a young adult’s decision over whether to attend university.
He told the Guardian: “It is very important that a student’s lack of access to funds at the start of their course does not present a barrier to entering higher education, and that students can meet their costs of living.”
Data obtained by the Liberal Democrats also revealed that 97 students were evicted last year, compared to only 40 the year the before. This data was based on responses from 90 universities, which found that 21 of those institutions had evicted students or cancelled their tenancy within the last five years.
The fees for the universities included in the survey have gradually risen 13.6% from an average of £4,583 a year in 2012-13 to £5,208 in 2016-17.
Brunel University, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick contained the most students that were struggling to pay their rent.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman told the Guardian: “This is a deeply worrying situation which will no doubt have contributed to some students dropping out of their university courses altogether. I cannot believe it is sheer coincidence that the number of students evicted or having the tenancies cancelled has doubled in the last year since the Prime Minister scrapped grants for students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”
The data obtained comes after many years of debate in government over the best way to help students with their debt. Justine Greening, the former education secretary believed interest rates on student loans should be lowered and that maintenance should only be given to the poorer students, while current prime minister Theresa May favours reducing tuition fees rather than focusing on the maintenance grants.
While Leicester and Leeds University refused to comment, Brunel defended themselves by saying they do offer students budgeting services and try to support students that struggle.
Likewise, the University of York told the Guardian: “The University of York manages the majority of its student accommodation, unlike some institutions which contract a large proportion of its services out, which makes like-for-like comparisons difficult to measure.”
Mr Jarvis of Universities UK added that he feels “the evidence shows that students are most concerned about the money in their pocket while studying”. The evidence has led to Universities UK pleading with the government to consider reintroducing maintenance grants for those from a less financially stable background, to aid them in their studies.
Ms Moran also urged the government to consider reintroducing maintenance grants. She said: “The Prime Minister must immediately rethink this punitive policy and reinstate grants for the students from lower-income backgrounds, ensuring that living costs are not a barrier to disadvantaged young people studying at university…”
The Vice-president of the National Union of Students, Izzy Lenga, said she was not surprised by the emerging evidence, “given our broken system of student financial support – which doesn’t even begin to cover the ever-increasing cost of basic accommodation”.
She continued by saying: “This leaves students in the precarious situation where they’re uncertain how they’ll even pay their next month’s rent.
“Rather than falling into the easy temptation to label these as cases of rent avoidance, we instead need to urge the government and the higher education sector to wake up to the reality that students are being priced out of housing and their education.”
The Department of Education released a statement saying: “Students from the lowest-income households who started their courses this year have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for living costs. This government increased means-tested maintenance support for full-time students on the lowest incomes by 10.3% in 2016-17 compared with the previous grants and loans package, with further increases in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.”