Bristol SU’s new research report reveals ‘hellish experience’ of renting in Bristol

37 per cent of students at University of Bristol report the ‘significant negative impact’ renting has had on their university experience

A housing survey has been conducted by the Bristol Student’s Union (Bristol SU) to understand the renting crisis faced by approximately 30,000 students attending the University of Bristol.

The survey, commissioned in January of this year, received responses from 570 current students. The responses revealed that students deal with various difficult challenges when renting, from dealing with exploitative landlords, deteriorating housing conditions and soaring rent prices.

In 2014-15, similar research by the SU revealed that 75 per cent of Bristol students experienced mould and dampness in their accommodation while paying an average monthly rent of £396. A decade later, only four per cent of survey respondents reported paying less than £500 for rent.

By 2024, the survey revealed that 32 per cent of students pay between £601 and £700 per month (excluding bills). One student revealed their rent increased from £600 to £1000 per month. Despite these high costs, housing conditions remain substandard, with issues like mould and poor maintenance prevalent.

One student highlighted the severity of the situation, saying: “The supply doesn’t meet the demand… Most accommodation in the private sector has problems and should not be let legally but are… The university has also had oversubscription problems in the past and its problems are affecting us now as there’s a lack of housing.”

Another student reflected on the role of the university: “The condition of student housing is appalling, properties lack maintenance, and the majority contain extremely dangerous mould. The monthly price that students are paying is not at all reflected in the quality of accommodation.

“The University of Bristol should offer support in terms of defending the rights of its students to do decent, safe, and affordable housing and not allow landlords to take advantage of its students”.

The recent maintenance loan increases have not kept pace with UK inflation, leaving students struggling more than ever to meet their living expenses, particularly in Bristol, the most expensive rental city in the United Kingdom outside of London.

The findings of the report highlight this struggle, with 37 per cent of students reporting that housing costs have had a ‘significant negative impact’ on their university experience.  31 per cent of respondents said the same about their housing conditions, and 20 per cent of respondents reported having a ‘very negative’ experience with landlords.

The cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating these challenges, with private rental housing costs in Bristol rising sharply. According to the Bristol Living Rent Commission, the average private rent in the city is increasing by around 12.9 per cent annually.

One student reported working 20-hour night shifts weekly to afford rent and living costs. Another student reported their rent increased from £600 to £1000 per month, leaving more students no choice but to work longer hours alongside their studies to afford rent, despite poor housing conditions.

The survey also indicates that finding housing is a major struggle, with an average rating of 1.8 out of five for ease of the process. Focus groups conducted alongside the survey revealed that students feel unsupported by the university when dealing with housing issues. Participants described the housing process as ‘classist and inaccessible,’ resorting to relying on external organisations like Shelter for help. The ongoing Renters Reform Bill has failed to address these specific student issues, leaving many without adequate protection.

Izzy Russell, Student Living Officer initiated this survey as part of Bristol SU’s My Rent, My Rights campaign. Reflecting on the importance of this research, Izzy said, “This housing research was one of my biggest goals coming into the job – and the results are proof of why. I’ve experienced the awful conditions of student renting, and it’s no isolated incident.

“It’s disappointing that students continue to pay high prices for bad living conditions and long commutes. Universities, councils, and the Government are detached from the reality of student living, and I commissioned this survey to gather tangible evidence and push for change.”

She added, “The University plays a role in the current bed shortage crisis, by continuing to expand student numbers without increasing support. Students fall vulnerable to exploitative landlords and their wellbeing and academic life are detrimentally impacted as a result.”

You can read more about the My Rent, My Rights campaign here, which highlights the responsibilities of tenants and those of the landlords.

In response to these claims, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Bristol is a popular city for students and non-students alike, so demand for private rental properties is increasing.

“We have been working closely with Bristol City Council to implement a plan of new purpose-built student housing. This will increase supply in parts of the city where student housing investment is beneficial to the local community and relieve pressure on other parts of the housing market. For example, we have new developments planned with partners in the Temple Quarter and Bedminster Down.

“Our students can get support from our Student Accommodation Team and we offer a range of financial support packages, bursaries and scholarships.

“We have increased our hardship funding and students with money worries can talk to our trained Money Advisers during daily drop-in sessions. There is a range of useful information on the ‘money advice’ pages of our website.

“We are also working closely with Bristol SU on what further support we can provide for students in private accommodation, particularly those having difficulties.”

The full Bristol SU Housing Report can be read here.

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