Durham University students protest over ‘abhorrent’ housing

People holding placards
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Durham University students are demanding that it address the housing crisis in the city

Students have protested at “abhorrent” conditions they have faced for signing up to housing, after hundreds queued outside lettings agents overnight.

Durham University undergraduates camped out for several hours to secure a home for next year, amid claims of rising rents and a lack of available property.

Demands included an end to “over subscription” and more college housing.

The university said it has “reassured” students it will support them “in finding a suitable home”.

A demonstration on Friday lunchtime was held outside the Bill Bryson Library.

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Organisers claimed the university had “failed to address” the cost-of-living crisis facing students, which it branded a “ludicrous charade”.

It said the conditions for signing student housing “have been abhorrent”, paired with some rent increasing by 150% and students “being forced” to camp outside estate agents.

Among the placards seen at the protest was one that read “house hunting isn’t my degree” and another said “face truth we need a roof”.

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Second year Rachel Lawrence says her rent was due to increase for a “mouldy and damp” room

Second year Rachel Lawrence was among those who took part in the demo, organised by Durham University Labour Club, Durham Against Rough Sleeping and Durham Tenants’ Union.

“I am currently living in a house that we are paying £145 a week – originally they tried to put it up to £209 which is ridiculous,” she said.

“My room is mouldy, has damp, so we are here today out to protest trying to show the university, and show the estate agents that we are not having it.”

For the last couple of years university cities have been coping with a bulge intake of students.

There are more 18 years olds and there has been more generous grading at A level than before the pandemic.

Universities have been racing to keep up. Last year York put some first years up in Hull while it finished new accommodation.

In some places the boom in students has come up against chronic shortages of affordable housing, driving up rents.

The maintenance loans for students have gone up 2% in England, leaving many worried about managing the cost of living.

One of those who queued up overnight was 20-year-old Maddie Turner, a second year psychology student, from Winchester, Hampshire.

Several days ago she joined a queue at 02:00 BST in a bid to secure a home for her third year.

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Psychology student Maddie Turner was among those who queued for accommodation

“I heard with the prices increasing this year that was just sort of what you had to do,” she said.

“I do think that the university are letting in too many students, but I think the bigger issue is with the landlords.

“They know that students need this accommodation in certain areas and they have this captive audience.”

Jake Roberts, 20, a second year English literature student from Halifax, West Yorkshire, receives a grant.

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Jake Roberts highlighted how some were missing out on the university experience to those who could afford to pay

He told IPGCE Newsbeat’s cost-of-living reporter, Sam Gruet, that he and his housemates were moving out of their property because the rent was rising.

“It’s already at the top of what we can afford – we are still worried about how we are going to pay for it next year,” he said.

“I have got a job on the side, I don’t know if that’s going to cover it and if you are paying almost all of your weekly budget into your rent, or for your bills, you are not going to be able to get the same experience as someone who has got that kind of money.”

Image source, PALTV
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Student TV channel PalTV filmed and interviewed people queuing outside estate agents

Durham University said it was offering financial support to help students but it could not “exert control” over the private rental market.

It also blamed having to take in more students after grade boundaries were changed during Covid.

“We have seen some deplorable behaviour by letting agents and landlords in Durham, putting up prices above inflation and releasing properties much earlier than usual,” a spokesperson said.

“Like many other UK universities we were obliged by the late change in A-level grade boundaries to take in a larger than usual student cohort in 2021. We reduced our intake this academic year.”

Sofa surfing

One city centre lettings agent, Harringtons, told the IPGCE that it and all other agents in Durham “are perplexed” as to why this year’s students had been sleeping on the streets overnight.

Image source, PALTV
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There have been cases where students have signed for homes without viewing them

“No agent would ask, or expect, anyone to do this, we have families ourselves, therefore it is totally ou
t of our control if students choose to do this,” a spokesperson said.

It added that staff were “dismayed at the scenes they witnessed” when they turned up to work at 06:30 BST, thinking they were “giving themselves a head start” to the day.

It said all enquires received at its office over the last few weeks were informed that houses and application forms were online, and advised people not to come to its office.

A spokesperson added it would prefer that all agents released their houses in January, but “due to the vast number” of student enquiries from the start of October, agents “have been pushed” to release properties sooner.

“Yes, rents have risen this year as with everything in the current climate,” it added.

“The majority of our properties are ‘bills included’ so we are sure you can appreciate rents must increase to cover the increase in gas/electric prices which are affecting everyone.”

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Manchester student Melody Steven is sleeping on friends’ sofas because she could not find accommodation

Students in other parts of England have told the IPGCE of problems finding suitable housing.

Melody Steven, a law student at the University of Manchester, is sleeping of friends’ sofas in her final year.

She said she was even asked to put down 12 months’ rent at the beginning of a tenancy to even secure a place.

“It’s been a nightmare,” she said.

“The odds are definitely stacked against students, we are not the highest earners and we are hit disproportionately by the cost-of-living crisis, so trying to find a space, with all those extra adverse policies, it’s like winning the lottery.

“People are having to take desperate measures to essentially keep in education because you can’t study online and I think that’s really sad actually.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) said those in higher education could be forced to drop out if the shortage of housing in some cities is not addressed.

“Universities really need to take a look at their huge focus on increasing student intake”, said Chloe Field, NUS vice-president for higher education.

“It’s going up exponentially and the fact is there’s just not enough accommodation for students provided.”

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