Students hit hard by rising cost of living

The beginning of the new academic year has seen students at Durham University hit hard by rising living and housing costs. Increasing house prices, coupled with higher energy, water, petrol and shopping bills are causing many young people to worry significantly about their finances and their futures. Queues outside estate agent facilities have been stretching up streets and lasting for hours on end. Similarly, students are searching for the most cost-effective way to be able to afford to eat, all whilst trying to maintain their studies, extra-curricular and social lives.


The Michaelmas term housing rush has been a feature of Durham student life for years, often a result of estate agents building up expectations and worries around a lack of housing. Every year, older students attempt to beat freshers to the best accommodation. This time, however, the famed housing rush seems to have taken on even more intensity, with young people feeling the pressure more than ever.


It’s no wonder that students are concerned. Housing prices in Durham have been steadily increasing over the last few years, with data collected by The Palatinate in 2021 showing a 10 – 15% increase in rents for some properties. This trend only seems set to continue. One student told us that her current house in the Viaduct has gone up from £158pppw, bills included, to £210pppw for the next academic year. Similarly, another student has seen their house price rise from £150pppw to £190pppw. This year, with 4-bed house prices ranging from around £60pppw to as much as £260pppw (Frampton & Roebuck, Loc8me), students are battling it out to secure affordable accommodation that isn’t out in deepest, darkest Gilesgate. The Bubble heard from one student that, having arrived outside the estate agent’s at 4:30am, their group of housemates were met with three other households who had been waiting almost since midnight.


Another second year student told The Bubble about her experiences with Durham student housing, and the stories are both shocking and saddening. In her Fresher’s Week last year, the student was assured by her college that guidance would be provided on how to find housing, but disappointingly, this promise was never delivered on. “The college gave us no help whatsoever”, the student tells us, further emphasising how the “pressure to sign early caused a load of issues” within her group of housemates. This is a common feeling among students: many find that they are signing houses with people they met less than a month beforehand, having not had enough time to truly get to know each other. Similarly, the student commented on the fact that the experience of coming to university, which should be an exciting time in a student’s life, is marred by what she calls the “constant fear” of not having anywhere to live the next year. “I don’t know of any other uni that has this problem”, the student confessed. Her other experiences included being told on a Friday that a house was available to sign, then arriving at the estate agent’s at 9am the following Monday only to be told that the house had been taken before the business had even officially opened for the day. Regrettably, there are many students likely to identify with these stories, which begs the question as to why this is deemed acceptable, and who can be held to account to sort these issues out.


The crisis is such that some students are already thinking ahead to the next academic year in a desperate attempt to secure housing at as reasonable a price as they can get. Popular student housing agency Student Cribs has already got early access rent release lined up for 2023/24, with 4-and-5-bed property prices in the region of £150pppw – £190pppw.


All this is in line with the UK’s current cost of living crisis, with inflation hitting 9.9% in August 2022, according to a recent report by the Office for National Statistics. A survey by the National Union of Students has claimed that 96% of students are “cutting back” on their everyday costs in order to combat this rise, while 90% report that concerns around the cost of living have impacted their mental health. Durham University has responded by “invest[ing] significantly” in their Durham Grant Scheme, which offers between £230 and £2199 to eligible students to help with rising costs. They have also offered advice and guidance via their Cost of Living Hub for any student struggling to balance their finances. As ever, though, the question remains – is it going to be enough?


Unfortunately, such a deep-rooted problem is unlikely to be easily fixed. Landlords and estate agents reserve the right to raise prices between academic years as they wish, and they too have to combat the effects of the rising cost of living. Perhaps guidance from the university, so often promised and so little given, would be of benefit to incoming students in making them feel more at ease when looking for housing. If the “pressure to sign early”, felt by a large proportion of the student population, could be somewhat alleviated, students would have time to adjust to their new environment and find housemates with whom they get on well. Perhaps a further distribution of funding could occur to help financially struggling students deal with the effects of inflation. Whatever the solution, students everywhere are in need of one quickly.


Featured Image: PhotoMIX Company on Pexels

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