An investigation by the Liberal Democrats has revealed more than 17,000 students living in UK university accommodation failed to make rent payments last year. The data, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the number of rental arrears increased by 16 percent nationally since 2016.
Izzy Lenga, the Vice-President of the National Union of Students, has called the current student finance system broken. Ms Lenga said: “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.”
Prompted by the Liberal Democrats’ investigation, Concrete looked into rent payments at UEA, and can exclusively reveal that in the 2016/17 academic year 72 students living on campus failed to pay their accommodation fees in full. So far this year a total of 14 UEA students have failed to make their rent payments.
UEA’s accommodation manager, Paul Bailey, told Concrete: “If these students are still studying at university, we have liaised with them to mutually agree affordable instalment payment plans.”
When asked if these figures suggest more should be done to support students financially at UEA, Mr Bailey said: “We understand that while students are studying at university, their finances can be a worry and we do our best to support them.”
Mr Bailey said students who are aware they may not be able to meet accommodation payment deadlines should contact the Accounts Receivable Team as soon as possible. He explained: “The Accounts Team can put together bespoke instalment plans for students whose student loan does not cover all their accommodation costs”, and added: “Any student with general financial issues is strongly encouraged to seek advice from UEA’s Student Support Services Finance Team.”
Commenting on the picture at UEA, SU Welfare Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards told Concrete: “For a decade the cost of [UEA’s] accommodation has risen by more than inflation, and now represents a huge proportion of the student funding available from loans or bursaries.
“Increasingly we’re finding that what we think is student funding is actually adding to the wealth of private developers, buy-to-let landlords or in the case of the University, funding for future buildings.
“Yet neither the University nor the Government have a clear understanding of how much this impacts on student finances or success.”
Last semester the SU claimed the university makes a ‘hidden’ annual profit per head of £1,200 from campus accommodation. The university disputed the claim of ‘hidden costs’, noting rental fees are published.
They added: “The university worked to reduce the planned rent increases to three percent for 2017/18”, which is the proposed increase for 2018/19 too.