More than 17,000 students living in university halls of residence fell behind with their rent payments in the last year, according to figures that suggest thousands more face financial hardship during their courses.
There has been a significant 16% rise in the numbers facing rental arrears in university accommodation, new statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. A small but rising number of students are also being evicted from halls or having their tenancies cancelled after falling behind with payments.
According to data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats, 97 students were evicted from halls in the last year, more than double the 40 who had their tenancies cancelled the previous year. About 17,300 students living in university halls have fallen into rental arrears in the past year.
The data was based on responses from 90 universities in the UK. It showed that 21 had evicted a student or cancelled their contract due to failure to pay rent on time in the past five years. Average fees at halls from the universities surveyed have risen from £4,583 a year in 2012-13 to £5,208 in 2016-17, up 13.6%.
The revelations have emerged amid a long-running row in government over how best to help students with debt. Justine Greening, the former education secretary, is understood to have favoured reducing the interest rate on student loans and using maintenance grants for poorer students. But Theresa May is keen to reduce tuition fees in the wake of Labour’s pledge to abolish them.
Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick topped the list of universities with students in rent arrears.
Brunel University London said that it had a budgetary advice service to help students plan their spending, and support for those who found themselves overstretched. No students had been asked to leave, it said.
Warwick said that as a campus university that had chosen to continue to own its accommodation, it had a “great many more students renting accommodation from us than other universities”, which explained its high levels of arrears. York, Leicester and Leeds declined to comment.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of higher education 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 evidence shows that students are most concerned about the money in their pockets while studying. Universities UK has called on the government to consider reintroducing targeted maintenance grants for those most in need.”
Izzy Lenga, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said the figures came as no surprise “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,” she 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.“
The Department for Education said: “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.”