National Student Accommodation Survey 2020 – Results
UPDATE: View our 2023 National Student Accommodation Survey.
Think you know what to expect from student housing? Our annual investigation reveals everything from the price of rent to the most common complaints.
The National Student Accommodation Survey 2020 reveals the truth about student housing in the UK. This year's survey reached more than 2,100 students, and blows the lid on where to live, how to spend less and what to watch out for. Huge thanks to everyone who took part!
Our latest findings show Student Finance leaves many students at risk – and debt is on the rise as a result. We take a look at where students find cash, and explain exactly what you get for your money.
Unfortunately, that sometimes includes things you don't really want from rented accommodation, including bed bugs, scary hygiene, and food-stealing housemates. We've got your back: read on to get the full picture, and swerve avoidable issues.
What's in this report?
What's student accommodation really like?
The UK's most popular student housing is privately rented accommodation. Around 2 out of 5 students rent a house, flat or room from a private landlord or agency, making it the top choice yet again.
Things are slightly different for first years, as the majority of freshers stick with uni accommodation. While this is a safe option, it's also the most expensive housing.
A growing number of students are plumping for private halls of residence. These have a rep for swanky extras (private gym, anyone?) and high rents, but don't be misled. Our findings show some are more affordable than uni-owned housing.
This year's surprise twist is that almost twice as many undergrads live with their parents than a year ago. The trend is evenly spread across first, second and third years, with saving money being a major factor.
Stay-at-home students spend almost twice as long travelling to uni (42 mins instead of the UK average of 21 mins). This sounds like a drag, yet living at home can still shave thousands off living costs.
When do students look for housing?
Almost a third of undergrads (28%) start looking for housing before Christmas. So not only do places go incredibly fast, you may have to find a second deposit on top of your current housing costs.
There's double trouble for freshers. The early housing rush means some first years are pressured into living with people they barely know. There's lots of evidence this comes back to bite!
Comments posted to the survey reveal the highs and lows of student housing:
- I like it cos it's close to my lectures. I hate it cos it isn't great for the money. The room is too small and the common areas are gross.
- We had a smell like death in our hallway. Turns out it was because we had a bunch of dead rats under the floorboards. Also had many live rats, because a hole in the wall had a brick placed in front of it rather than being filled in.
- The accommodation itself is very nice. Just not my flatmates.
- All the houses go before the end of November – it's ridiculous to be looking for new houses with people you've known for less than two months.
- Last year I had a bad experience of living in halls so this year I'm back home with my parents and commuting, which is much better!
- I love the facilities and events – yoga, gym, games & movie nights – but the lift hadn't even been built in my tower when I moved in.
- I like saving money by living at home but wish I could afford to move out. I feel behind all my friends who have moved.
How much does student accommodation cost?
Average student rent in the UK is £126.42 per week, though costs vary massively around the UK. For example, those we polled in the South East pay 38% more each week than those in North East.
In fact, it looks awfully like you pay a premium to study south of Birmingham.
One issue is that undergrads in the East, South East and South West pay similar rents as London students – but without the extra funding. 'London weighting', for those studying in the capital, can boost Maintenance Loans by up to £2,728 each year.
Here's what students had to say about the relationship between Maintenance Loans and rent:
- It depends whether you go to uni up north or in the south. My sister pays almost double (for private halls in Oxford) what I pay (a rented house in Nottingham). Her accommodation is much more modern than mine and has bills included … However, I've been able to save a lot of money due to the low cost of rent in Nottingham.
- Have no money to go out as my loan isn't enough. I have around £100 left over after paying my rent each time the Student Loan drops.
- My Maintenance Loan only covered half of the accommodation fees. This happened first year in halls, second year in housing, and will happen again in my final year – but more severely because Maintenance Loans drops even further.
- Student Loans don't take into consideration some cities are far more expensive to live in than others e.g. Stirling vs Edinburgh.
Which accommodation is cheapest?
Your choice of landlord is a big factor in how much you pay for student housing. At £53/week on average, stay-at-home students pay the least. University accommodation is most expensive, at £142/week.
To put this into context, living at home instead of in-uni housing could save you more than £4,628 every year. No wonder more students are choosing to stay at home.
|Living arrangements||Average weekly rent (£)|
For an idea of how much rent costs at your uni, take a look at our ranking of the universities where students pay the most rent.
What do you get for your money?
Most students have at least one utility included in the cost of rent. Electricity, gas or broadband are the most common add-ons (something to keep in mind next time you're negotiating the rent.)
While inclusive rent means fewer bills to juggle, you should still ask for a breakdown (or do a bill comparison). Switching providers or cancelling unnecessary contracts is also a quick fix if you run low on cash – but you can't do that if they're bundled in with rent.
Crucially, remember that inclusive rents don't mean bills are 'free'. You're still paying for them, so kick up a fuss if they're not up to scratch.
What else do you have to pay for?
Students pay an average of £282.39 in housing deposit. However, the rush to find accommodation early may mean coughing up twice in the same year – i.e. months before you get your current deposit back.
It's now illegal for landlords and agents to charge fees on top of rent. That includes things like admin, inventory or cleaning charges, and it should save the average student £119 every year.
A third of students confess to not checking their housing contract, while some even rely on parents or housemates to read it for them. Risky!
Some students have told us they've signed a housing contract since June 2019 that includes fees – which they shouldn't be paying. If you're one of the 27% who don't understand their contract, get advice from Shelter, Citizens Advice or your university so you don't get ripped off.
This is what students had to say about what is (or isn't) included with their accommodation:
- Was promised breakfast in my accommodation as fully catered, but have been sent to main campus (35 min walk away). Wasted money as I've only gone a couple times, even though I am paying for it.
- I have a disability so cannot work and rely on my parents (who cannot afford it). I need accommodation close to uni, which makes it more expensive. I feel bad.
- They said we went over our bills allowance but when I asked for details we were actually £1,000 under. I put in a complaint with the ombudsman and included other issues like rats, damp and bed bugs, and they agreed to return the deposit immediately if I withdrew the complaint.
- I love that everything is taken care of for you. Bills are all sorted and gives you less to worry about.
Is student accommodation affordable?
Warning: rent struggles are worse than a year ago.
Half of the students we polled (51%) now face difficulties paying rent. However, more students this year – 1 in 10 – say it's a constant struggle. Problems start for many because the Maintenance Loan isn't enough to pay rent.
The impact of this is grim. Too many students say housing costs affect their mental or physical health, while more than a third (36%) say it derails their studies.
Capping student rents to the Maintenance Loan could be a massive step forward here. Unsurprisingly, this is something 8 out of 10 students want, too:
- Rent takes up all of my loan. If I want to eat then I need to work. My biggest fear is them charging me for things in the house that weren't caused by us and removing it from my deposit.
- If it wasn't for my parents, I wouldn't be able to afford uni. But even they are struggling to pay for me because although the Maintenance Loan is means-tested, they don't have any disposable income to splash on me.
- Costs are too high which is why I travel into university, even though this is a struggle as I am a disabled student.
- My quarterly rent instalment was due three weeks before my Maintenance Loan payment – I couldn't pay until I received this. They knocked on my door every day asking for rent. When I came back after a weekend away my key had been disabled. I had to go massively over my credit limit on my credit card to get into my room. I am still in debt, with monthly repayments I cannot afford.
How do students pay their rent?
The average Maintenance Loan award amounts to £540 per month. However, the average student pays £547.82 a month in rent alone. Together, those two figures are causing chaos.
We've already described how housing costs are hurting mental health. Another important consequence is that it's pushing students into debt.
As it stands, 1 in 10 have missed a rent payment. A smaller number have even been evicted because of this. With the pressure on to keep up with the rent (or risk being homeless) a staggering 60% of students have borrowed cash to get by.
Borrowing from friends and family can be a lifeline. However, the third of students who turn to overdrafts, loans and credit cards face greater risks – including mounting debt, extra costs and damage to their future finances.
How much do parents pay?
Parents share the pain of student housing. Their average contribution towards rent (not including other costs!) is £48.89 a week, slightly up since 2019. This is equivalent to coughing up more than £2,500 every year – an amount that not all families can spare.
What issues do student renters face?
The hands-down biggest complaint is noisy housemates: it's an issue for 4 out of 10 students. Almost a third (29%) add that housemates steal their food. Animals.
Of more concern is that so many of you live in unfit housing. Problems with damp, water or heating are far too common – and yet 14% of students struggle to get their deposit back. Don't get taken for a ride: here's how to complain effectively.
The 10 biggest problems for student renters
- Noisy housemates – 43%
- Damp – 33%
- Lack of water or heating – 30%
- Housemates stealing food – 29%
- Rodents and pests – 15%
- Disruptive building work – 15%
- Inappropriate landlord visits – 15%
- A break-in or burglary – 6%
- Dangerous conditions – 5%
- Bed bugs – 3%
Here are some of the most jaw-dropping complaints we heard about student housing:
- Flatmate wasn't buying toilet paper, so I decided to keep a roll for myself. Then my flatmate left poop in the shower.
- The accommodation site is still being built. In the first week, a builder let himself into my room, stood there for a minute whilst I was asleep and then shut the door.
- I was charged £125 to replace a mattress for a stain the size of a pound coin.
- Some people would leave used sanitary towels all over the shared bathroom.
- Someone stole my bras from a communal drying room.
- Arrived on the first day of the contract and the previous tenants were still living there.
- A flatmate owned a snake and didn't tell the rest of us – when we moved our food to a new fridge we found a bag of dead mice in the ice drawer.
- One of the walls in my room was so damp that mushrooms grew on the wall.
- Heating and hot water went out in a freezing week in January and landlord didn't fix it for six days. Had to shower at the gym and just stayed in the library all day.
- Not my problem, but last year my housemates were deducted £35 from their deposit for leaving hangers in their wardrobes.
- We weren't allowed access to the thermostat (behind locked cupboard), even though it was freezing and we had said we would pay any extra on the heating bill.
How long does it take to get problems sorted?
1 in 3 undergrads wait more than two weeks for housing issues to be resolved. Horrifyingly, 15% of you wait for more than a month (including those whose issues are never fixed).
As we predicted a year ago, the number of students getting legal advice for housing problems has doubled. It's still a small number, but suggests more of you refuse to put up with shoddy or unfit housing.
That said, the biggest sources of advice are parents, friends and the university.
Is student housing worth the spend?
We've talked about the cost, the competition and the bed bugs – so it's no surprise that 1 in 3 say student housing isn't worth the cost.
These are some of the worst stories students had to tell about the state of their accommodation:
- I only go in my room to sleep, and sometimes I'll sleep on the sofa instead because I'm worried about the mould affecting my health.
- I love it because the rent includes all bills. I hate it because the water/heating is always playing up.
- I love the organisation of events and free opportunities offered but the rent is extortionate, even for London.
- House just isn't close enough to uni. Even though it's cheaper it's just not good when you're in uni long days every day, plus the area feels unsafe.
- The university doesn't uphold their end of the contract. There's no water or electricity or heating for days at a time, but with no compensation.
- I like the location and amenities nearby, but we're charged a lot more than it's worth. The agency withheld a lot of information at the start that led to issues we had to deal with (heating + electric).
What do the experts say?
Save the Student
Jake Butler, Save the Student's money expert, says:
This discovery that so many students are risking serious debt in order to just pay for a roof over their heads is worrying.
It's unfair that students are forced to borrow to keep a roof over their heads, and without being warned about the impact debt may have on their wellbeing and future finances. Students should be able to focus on studying, and not on trying to climb out of a debt spiral caused by shortsighted student funding and over-priced rents.
The Maintenance Loan isn't enough to live on and, evidently, most of it goes to landlords. The system is long overdue government reform.
StepChange Debt Charity
Sue Anderson, Head of Media at StepChange Debt Charity:
Students are among the most financially stretched groups, so it's no surprise university can be a time when debts build up. Tuition fees and maintenance loans often won't cover the essentials for many students, who can find themselves turning to consumer credit like overdrafts or private loans to survive.
These forms of credit can seem attractive as they often won't require repayment until the end of your studies. However, many students face a cliff-edge upon finishing university when repayments kick in and they are likely to be financially vulnerable.
We'd encourage those lending to students to consider these pitfalls, and to ensure their products don't end up causing financial difficulties. For any student struggling with debt, help with managing your finances can be found on our website: www.stepchange.org
Student housing resources
Want to save more and stress less about student housing? Our most popular guides walk you through the essentials:
- Student rent calculator
- Parental contribution calculator
- National Student Money Survey
- How to save money on renting
About the National Student Accommodation Survey 2020
Want to know more about the survey, or need case studies, comments or quotes? We're happy to help – just drop us a line.
You're welcome to reference or re-use data from the survey with credit and a link back to the site: "Source: The National Student Accommodation Survey 2020 / www.savethestudent.org"
Survey polled 2,168 students in the UK in Dec 2019 – Jan 2020.
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