Soaring rental bills leave average university student with 50p a week to live on

University graduates in caps and gowns.
Finances for university students are being increasingly stretched. Credit: PA

Rising rents are leaving the average university student in England with only 50p a week to live on once they have paid for their accommodation, a new report has warned.

Annual rent for a student room was found to have risen by almost 15% in the past two years and now takes up most of the average maintenance loan.

Research by student housing charity Unipol and think tank the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that the typical annual rent in England is £7,566, while the average maintenance loan expected to be taken up by full-time students is £7,590.

As a result, students are left with just £24 to live on for the academic year, which works out at around 50p per week.

The analysis covered 10 key regional cities, which included: Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Sheffield - with London and Edinburgh deliberately excluded to give a more balanced view of rents outside these expensive markets.

Rents rose by nearly £1,000 to £7,475 for this academic year, compared with 2021/22, according to the analysis, forcing students to take desperate measures.

Unipol's assistant chief executive, Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed said this included illegally doubling up in rooms, taking on increasing amounts of paid work or even avoiding university altogether due to costs.

The report warned that students who cannot rely on family support or do not have part-time work, "will have no money to live off, once they have paid their rent".

Ms Tolmie-Loverseed said student housing "has reached a crisis point in affordability, underpinned by these alarming figures", with rising rents but "stagnated" real-terms support from government.

The report said the highest rents and increases are in the cities with an undersupply of accommodation.

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Bristol has the UK's highest average annual rent at £9,200 per year, with Exeter at £8,559 and Glasgow at £7,548, according to the analysis.

Glasgow had the sharpest jump in rental costs at 20.4% over the past two years, followed by 16.1% in Exeter and 15.5% in Nottingham, the report said.

In the survey, 45% of rooms were university-provided, with rents rising by 10% on average across the two-year period.

The other 55% were private sector rooms and those rents rose by almost a fifth (19%), the report stated.

Ms Tolmie-Loverseed said "decades of progress in widening participation in higher education" could be undermined if the student housing "crisis" is not tackled, as she warned of the risks of excluding students from poorer backgrounds and leaving middle-income students feeling forced to take on unsustainable debts.

Martin Blakey, Unipol's chief executive, described the student maintenance system as "broken", saying affordability cannot be entirely blamed on housing providers who are "under pressure to cover increasing build and running costs".

Hepi director Nick Hillman said: "The Accommodation Costs Survey has been tracking the real costs of student housing for decades. Compared to years gone by, we are now at a crisis point.

"Across most of the UK, the official levels of maintenance support simply do not cover anything like most students' actual living costs.

"In the short term, maintenance support should be increased at least in line with inflation.

"In the medium term, ministers should rebase maintenance support using the evidence they've gathered as part of the Student Income and Expenditure Survey, which is due to be published soon.

"For the longer term, we need measures to encourage the supply of new student housing, which is currently restricted by factors such as higher interest rates and confusion over new regulation."

Supply issues could be further exacerbated by the Renters Reform Bill, the report warned, stating that unless there are amendments it "will cause major turmoil in the market for student houses in England", with students treated as any other tenants rather than accommodation being available to rent in line with the academic cycle.

University students in England are on average paying £7,566 a year in rent. Credit: PA

This potential problem was also highlighted earlier this year by MPs on the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, who said "abolishing fixed-term contracts here could make letting to students considerably less attractive to private landlords".

Among the report's recommendations was a call for more joined-up government policy with departments working together to "highlight the importance of student accommodation, raise its profile and stimulate change", and for a "resetting" of the student maintenance system.

It stated: "Maintenance support needs to be based on how much it actually costs to be a student living independently and away from home."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "Our student finance system ensures that the highest levels of support are targeted at students from the lowest-income families. However, if students are worried about their circumstances, we urge them to speak to their university.

"Many universities are doing a brilliant job to support students who are struggling financially through a variety of programmes.

"To support universities to help their students we are making £276 million available this academic year, which institutions can use to top up their own hardship schemes. This is on top of increases to student loans and grants."

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