This article is more than 1 year old

Students are being shut out of rental accommodation

Fiona Ellison explains why universities must help care leavers and estranged students unable to access student housing
This article is more than 1 year old

Fiona Ellison is the director of the Unite Foundation.

The majority of students are asked to provide a rent guarantor to secure accommodation. What about if you don’t have someone to ask?

Most student landlords insist on a rent guarantor for all student tenants. A rent guarantor is someone who is legally liable to pay someone else’s rent in the event that they cannot.

Accessing a rent guarantor is an issue for most students, but one which disproportionately estranged and care-experienced students. If you don’t have a family member to call on, accessing someone to guarantor for you can be challenging.

Students are put in the position of disclosing sensitive information to landlords, often multiple times and going through this process anew every year.

Some have reported being dropped by friends from house share groups when flat-hunting due to unreliability regarding background checks. Others have ended up in dangerous situations, sofa surfing in strangers’ houses – which can lead to further issues. And several have had their semester start before they have managed to find somewhere that will accept them without a guarantor.

Home solutions

Without a rent guarantor, students can be asked to pay six or twelve months’ rent in advance. This is an additional financial burden for students who are already under additional financial pressure with the current cost of living crisis. Some students have to make difficult decisions around their income, how much work – or what kind – they take on to raise this much money in one go.

The issue of rent guarantors can be highly detrimental to students. We’ve heard first-hand from students for whom being able to access a rent guarantor is the difference between them continuing their degree or not. Or even accessing a university education in the first place.

At the Unite Foundation, we believe being a care-experienced or estranged student shouldn’t mean being disadvantaged when it comes to finding somewhere to live when at university.

Home truths

A survey of estranged students across the UK – that we worked with StandAlone on in 2015 – highlighted how difficult it was to obtain a private rental agreement without a guarantor for estranged students.

As part of their Housing How To…. series back in 2016, NUS noted that,

providing a guarantor scheme that specifically helps students that are estranged, leaving care, from low-income households, as well as international students makes a strong statement about the values and ethos of the institution for both current and prospective students [and] would also support the institution’s widening participation objectives.

But, seven years later, universities still haven’t implemented what could be a simple solution.

At the end of last year, a report by the Scottish Government looking into the experiences of estranged students in tertiary education highlighted the issue of rent guarantors and committed to

explore whether a programme of guarantorship for estranged students, who are disproportionately vulnerable to exploitation within the housing market, can be created in partnership with colleges and universities.

So, there is growing recognition of the need for the provision of rent guarantors and the significant difference they would make.

And yet – research conducted by students from our This is Us community found that just 36 per cent of universities signpost help on rent guarantors, and even fewer actually provide a rent guarantor service for students.

The home goal

That’s why we’re calling upon universities to step in and provide a rent guarantor service – whether directly or through a third party – for students who don’t have a parent or family member to call upon. This is essential to creating anxiety-free and safe conditions in which care leavers and estranged students can thrive at university.

We know from our ‘This is Ten Years of Impact’ report that given the proper support (somewhere to live), care-experienced and estranged students progress from their first year at the same rate as non-care-experienced students, and complete their degrees and are awarded good honours degrees at a statistically significantly higher rate than other care leavers.

But finding stable accommodation without a rent guarantor is almost impossible.

What you can do:

  • The Unite Foundation is hosting a webinar to hear directly from students about the impact of not having a guarantor and institutions providing this service. You can find out more information about the webinar and register here:
  • If you provide a rent guarantor service, how accessible is information about it? Could you get to the information on your website from your institutional homepage within two clicks? If not, how could you improve the journey for students?

I emailed the university to see if they had any information on either accommodation, which I could access without a rent guarantor, or if they had a system to help me. I tried to contact the university care leaver team for almost two months to no avail. By the end, I had to contact the accommodation company myself and push for me to be allowed to access this accommodation, and they were very apprehensive.

Read more of Alice’s story here.

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