More than 17,000 students living in university accommodation fell behind on their housing payments last year, according to recent figures. A small but growing number of students are facing eviction. Last year, 97 students had their tenancies cancelled after being unable to pay their rent, up from 40 the previous year.
The data was based on 90 universities throughout the UK. Out of these 90 universities, Leeds – along with Brunel, Leister, York and Warwick – has the highest proportion of students in rent arrears.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of HE lobby group Universities UK, said there was now a need to reintroduce maintenance grants for those who were struggling.
“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,” he said.
The University of Leeds insists that it is doing enough to support students in financial difficulty. A University spokesperson said: “We have never evicted anyone for rent arrears and late payment of rents is not usually due to students being in financial difficulty: change of banking details are common causes, for example. If students are struggling, we offer means-tested help through Leeds Financial Support, which includes assistance with accommodation fees, and LUU offers extensive budgetary advice through dedicated webpages and the advice centre.
“The University of Leeds offers significantly more accommodation than other universities and considers the rents it sets very carefully, meeting regularly with LUU to discuss them. Different universities may have different thresholds for calculating rent arrears, and therefore comparisons can be problematic.”
The issue of rent arrears in Leeds is one small part of a far larger debate over the financial support offered to students in the UK. Izzy Lenga, vice-president of the National Union of Students, suggested the figures came as no surprise, stating:
“Given our broken system of student financial support – which doesn’t even begin to cover the ever-increasing cost of basic accommodation. 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.”