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Don’t pay a high price for your low-cost living

by Anthea Masey

Student lifestyles are no less chaotic and enjoyable in London than in the rest of the UK but the cost of student accommodation in the capital is frightening. The Evening Standard’s Anthea Masey has some helpful advice to students in need of housing in London. (And there’s always making yourself available for house sitting as a possible solution – ed.)

August 2004

UNLIKE cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham – where students make up a significant proportion of the population and have virtually created their own ‘villages’ – London is not an obviously student-y city.

Which is not to say that the 300,000 or so who study in the capital have any less fun; they are, after all, living in one of the world’s most exciting and vibrant cities. However, arriving in the Big Smoke for the first time can be a daunting experience, and the cost of living can be frighteningly high.

Most first-year students feel safest in university-owned and run accommodation. However, according to a survey for Mayor Ken Livingstone by the Greater London Authority there is proportionately less university owned or run accommodation in London than in the rest of the country – and it is more expensive.

The survey found that just 18 per cent of London students live in university accommodation rather than 24 per cent in the rest of the country, and rents are 41 per cent higher. The most recent National Union of Students (NUS) survey of accommodation costs, which came out in June, revealed average rents of Pounds 85.63 a week in university accommodation in 2002/03.

Students who fail to find university accommodation are faced with a number of choices. London is full of young people sharing flats, so one option is to search the newspapers and internet for flatshare ads.

Another is to rent a room in a family house, which is a cheap option and often leads to opportunities to earn extra money from baby, cat or housesitting.

However, this certainly won’t suit people who have come to university with the idea of leading student life to the full. This can be difficult to achieve in your first year, unless you arrive with a readymade group of friends. Groups are frequently formed in those first crucial months in halls of residence or other university- run accommodation.

In these circumstances, a place in a privately run student block may be the best, if more expensive, solution.

One of the biggest private student landlords, Unite, has been so successful that its shares are now quoted on the Stock Exchange. Unite has blocks all over London, at rents which vary from just over Pounds 85 a week at Donald Hunter House in Forest Gate to Pounds 120 at the new Station Court at Imperial Wharf, right on the river at Fulham.

The accommodation in all these blocks, most of which are purposebuilt, are of a consistent standard and all rooms have ensuite bathrooms. ‘The rents do look expensive,’ says Unite spokeswoman Tabitha Birchall, ‘but the rent includes utility bills and home contents insurance, so there are absolutely no extras. This year we have instituted a new system which means that students get their deposits back on the day they leave.’

Most second- and third-year students end up sharing a flat or house with a group of friends and here the good news is that the ‘buy-to-let’ boom in the capital means that there is a plentiful supply of good quality properties to rent.

Roland Shanks, deputy accommodation officer at London University, says he has more than 1,500 landlords and 350 agents registered with his service, which can be accessed by almost all London University students.

‘We get them to sign up to a Code of Good Practice and we offer a complaint resolution service. Many more landlords – who previously were only happy to rent to young professionals – are now happy to rent to students. They have realised that students are a good bet. Unlike, young professionals, who can be in a good job one day and out on their ear the next, students are usually there for at least nine or 10 months and often the rent is paid by their parents.

‘The classic student let was a house with five, six, even seven students crammed in, but many people are just as happy to rent a typical two-bedroom flat. This surplus of ‘buy-to-let’ flats is having the effect of driving up standards while bringing down rents.’

EVEN so, London students must still expect to pay more in rent than their contemporaries in the rest of the country.

According to the NUS survey, weekly rents in shared accommodation in London was Pounds 81 per person per week in 2002/03, an increase of more than 13 per cent on the year before, compared with the average for the country as a whole of just Pounds 56.08 a week.

Unipol, the successful Leeds-based student housing charity, is extending its successful NetLet web-based accommodation agency to London.

Martin Blakey, Unipol’s chief executive, was in London in July talking to landlords about letting to students during London Landlord Week.

‘The vast majority were individual ‘buy to let’ landlords and they wanted advice about what to provide for this market,’ he says. ‘Solid hard-wearing furniture is a must, as is a large fridge-freezer, a washing machine and a microwave. But I don’t advise landlords to provide pots and pans, plates, cutlery or small electrical appliances such as irons and toasters, which need annual testing. These are things that students provide themselves and including them just causes arguments. The key is to keep it simple, and this is what students expect.’

The standard of rental accommodation may be rising, but anyone who has been out searching for a shared flat knows that they will look at a lot of frogs before they find their prince, which is why the London boroughs are developing a landlords’ accreditation scheme.

Kevin Thompson, of Ealing council, explains: ‘To get accreditation, the landlord must attend a training course which will include landlord and tenant law, the benefits system, health and safety, repairs and maintenance. We have run a pilot scheme this summer and expect to have our first accredited landlords by September. The scheme covers all landlords, not just those letting to students, but the scheme has the support of London’s universities, and we hope it won’t be too long before we can advise students to rent only from accredited landlords.’




(c) 2004. Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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Anthea Masey

About the author: Anthea Masey

Anthea Masey writes for the Evening Standard (London).