Edinburgh Students need well advertised accommodation support

Considering Edinburgh’s extortionate rent prices, exploitative landlords, and poorly maintained flats, Edinburgh University Students’ Association fails to provide a well-advertised support network for students.

The Students’ Association runs the Advice Place where students can go for support with accommodation, ranging from checking over leases to advice on dealing with problematic landlords. The Students’ Association also hosts a housing fair, which this year will take place on Monday 5 February, as well as flatmate finder events. Furthermore, their website contains a guide to searching for accommodation with a flat-hunting checklist and legal information regarding fees and signing a lease. However, it appears that many students remain unaware of the support network available to them.

In a survey conducted by The Student, only 46 per cent of respondents said they were aware that the Advice Place can offer support regarding housing issues, and only 17 per cent have used these services. Meanwhile, 92 per cent feel that the support the Students’ Association offers is not sufficiently advertised. Seemingly, the prevailing problem is not with the services that the Students’ Association offers, but a lack of publicity about what is available.

When asked about the advertisement of its available support, the Advice Place said, “It’s a constant struggle to ensure students know about us. We try to get the word out as much as we can, but we’ll never stop trying to ensure every student knows we are here to help and support them.” However, if less than half of students are aware that the Advice Place can offer housing advice, clearly the advertisement of their services needs to be restructured. Reaching out to first-time tenants directly by holding talks or surgeries in first-year accommodation could go a long way in improving publicity.

Moreover, 91 per cent said the Students’ Association does not provide enough advice for first-year students who are looking for flats for the first time. Consequently, students feel isolated as they are not aware that they can turn to the University for help. Perhaps the Students’ Association could provide an accessible list of approved landlords and letting agents or set up an online forum for students to share their experiences. This way, students would feel more confident with the housing information available, minimising stress and improving student experience.

Furthermore, 81 per cent said the Students’ Association fails to do enough to support students dealing with exploitative landlords and 91 per cent said this should be more of a priority. A recurring theme in the comments of the survey was that the Students’ Association should take more of an active role in tackling the city’s problems of increasing rent prices and exploitative landlords by campaigning to cap rent prices, lobbying MPs, and contacting local councillors. Significantly, one student noted that the Students’ Association could get involved with local organisations, such as Living Rent (Scotland’s tenants’ union) to campaign for tenants’ rights and ensure students’ voices are heard. Helpfully, in response to The Student, the Advice Place said their main piece of housing advice would be to check your landlord is registered at www.landlordregistrationscotland.gov.uk.

There is undeniably help out there for Edinburgh students. However, a key priority for the Students’ Association should be to improve the publicity of this help and to ensure students feel sufficiently supported. A more active, political role in the community is essential, as the Students’ Association have the potential to deter rising rent prices and combat exploitative landlords in Edinburgh.

We reached out to the Students Association for comment. Community VP Ollie Glick responded:

“There are 3 main issues facing students. The first is price – Edinburgh is pretty much the most expensive place for students to rent in the UK outside of London. Secondly, location- there simply aren’t enough flats in the city for all students, let alone other members of the community. Thirdly, treatment by landlords – even if you get a flat, landlords have a power position they can exploit with random evictions and rent increases.

“What do we do to help? The first thing to say is that our wonderful Advice Place spends most of their time with helping with housing claims. They can look over tenancy agreements to make sure they are fair, can help with professional and personal advice on a variety of housing issues, be it damp, a dodgy landlord with no HMO, or a rental scam. They’ve seen it all before and can point students in the right direction and help sort it out.

“A massive piece of legislation change was the December tenancy act- in a nutshell, it means landlords have to give ‘infinite contracts’ so they can’t kick you out for no apparent reason, like wanting to make more money from fringe punters in August. As well as this, the law now means that rent increases can only happen once a year, and are incremental. This means no random price increase.

“Making students aware of their new better rights is a campaign of mine and the Advice Place. I am also continuing, as I have been in my term, to lobby MSP’s and Councillors for better rent pressure zones, and a cap on private halls providers. Both of these lobbying campaigns have the end goal of cheaper, more affordable rent for students. This is why I’m also spending time working with the university on creating a housing strategy that avoids at all costs getting into bed with private halls providers, after securing a price freeze for the cheapest beds in university halls for the year.

“We are also holding a housing fair, and other awareness events, alternative means of housing; such as co-ops, live in care schemes, and advocating for looking at flats outside of normal student zones.  Indeed we are working with the university to create a better system to highlight and advertise bad landlords- the university has a responsibility to its students’ livelihoods, and needs to do more on this. ”

Image: Got Credit via Flickr

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The Student Newspaper 2016