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The majority of students are currently living with mould or damp in their uni homes

The system is broken


The majority of university students currently renting in the private sector are living with mould or damp, a damning new study has found.

Research led by SOS-UK and Universities UK found that 54 per cent of students surveyed were living with mould or damp in their university accommodation.

The data, which involved surveying over 800 students, set to work out whether the conditions of student homes has deteriorated amid rising energy costs and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Worryingly, the 2023 results show a 74 per cent increase since last year in the students reporting living with mould or damp. In 2022, the figure stood at 31 per cent.

university students mould

For many students, the data will come as no surprise. Time and time again, students have spoken out against the inadequate condition of student properties in the private rental market and their failure to get any help from their landlords.

Esme, a second year Newcastle University student told The Newcastle Tab last December: “We’ve been in contact with our landlord who is very much aware of how bad it is. When we first moved it he gave us a dehumidifier and £20 for the running cost of it. However, there’s three of us and we all have the damp in our rooms.”

She said she complained to her landlord five times before somebody was sent round to solve the problem. When somebody was sent to fix the issue, they proceeded to put sealant around one of the bedroom windows and then they left considering the job done.

“He [the landlord] has done something but it is very much bare minimum and hasn’t sorted the problem at all because it’s causing black mould to appear. Everyone in my house has been ill numerous times,” she said.

In Edinburgh, a student who wished to remain anonymous explained to The Edinburgh Tab they had travelled home three times in the space of the year to get a GP appointment for his skin condition. He was told by a doctor to “stay at home” because if he stayed in his mould-riddled Edinburgh flat, his skin rashes “wouldn’t heal, no matter what creams I used.”

university students mould

Edinburgh students share pictures of the mould in their bathroom

It’s not just in Edinburgh where doctors are having to advise students on how to deal with the mould in their homes. Clara, a final year business management student at Cardiff University, reported she was forced to go on a long course of antibiotics after she failed to recover from an illness her GP said the mould in her room was contributing towards.

university students mould

Clara ended up moving out and staying with her friend because the mould growth became uninhabitable

It’s not just in Edinburgh where doctors are having to advise students on how to deal with the mould in their homes. Clara, a final year business management student at Cardiff University, reported she was forced to go on a long course of antibiotics after she failed to recover from an illness her GP said the mould in her room was contributing towards.

university students mould

Clara ended up moving out and staying with her friend because the mould growth became uninhabitable

The new research also found six out of ten students (59 per cent) say they have felt “uncomfortably cold” in their current accommodation and just under half (48 per cent) say this makes them feel anxious or depressed.

Like lots of households throughout the UK, 70 per cent of students reported limiting the length of time they have their heating on to help save money and a further 12 per cent aren’t able to pay their energy bill at the final reminder from their energy company.

The problem is compounded by two factors. Students continue to be poorer as the maintenance loan fails to rise in line with inflation. A Telegraph investigation found a third of UK student accommodation this year costs more than the average maintenance loan.

Whilst the loan is set to rise by 2.8 per cent for next year students, this rise has been denounced as “woefully inadequate” by the National Union of Students who say it leaves students £1,500 worse off in real terms, once you account for inflation.

On top of this, students have reported the poor building conditions of their accommodation. Half of students surveyed (49 per cent) said their accommodation was “poorly insulated” or “draughty”, leaving them in a lose-lose situation knowing they need to keep their heating on to combat the damp and mould but equally not being able to afford to.

If there’s one statistic that might help explain how broken the system has become, it’s the percentage of students who are satisfied with their accommodation.

Despite 54 per cent of students reporting they currently live with damp or mould, 61 per cent are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with where they currently live.

These figures suggest the problem might be so entrenched students have begun to accept living in a house with mould or damp is normal and something to tolerate.

UWE vice-chancellor and president of Universities UK said: “The latest findings from the Homes fit for study survey are concerning. Students are struggling to deal with rising costs, fuel poverty and are living in poorly maintained rented accommodation, all of which is having a negative impact on their education.

“It is imperative that government look closely at the maintenance support package as maintenance uplifts, particularly in England, will not cover the real terms cut that students are seeing.”

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