By Mark Ross, Opinion Editor
After the struggle to find accommodation for under £130 per week, most students can relax and plan a housewarming party. But for those brave enough to come from abroad to study in Bristol, they face yet another barrier: finding a UK based rent guarantor.
For the majority of UK students, a guarantor (the person, or people, who pay your rent should you not be able to) is a parent or guardian. But given that most landlords require a UK-based landlord, international students are left in a difficult situation.
They have two options. One is to pay six (or, in some cases, twelve) months of rent upfront, thereby removing the need for a guarantor. This could be a payment of anywhere between three and six thousand pounds. For the majority, this is financially devasting.
International students may have to graft for months in order to cobble together the payment. Or, they are tempted towards taking some form of loan – whether from family or less scrupulous sources - at their own peril.
The second option is to pay for a third-party to act as your UK guarantor. Private companies such as YourGuarantor and HousingHand offer guarantor services in return for a fee. Universities, such as KCL, Goldsmith’s and Greenwich, often pair up with these providers to offer student-discounted rates.
But this option is expensive. What seems like a meagre percentage fee (such as 4.1 per cent of annual rent for the Goldsmith’s/Housing Hand scheme) is actually eye-watering. Given that the University of Bristol prices an average private room at £6000 per year, the guarantor fee could be up to £400 – over one month’s rent in most UK cities.
Either way, international students are paying hundreds of pounds more than their UK counterparts, just to live and study in their university city.
So that would be Bristol Uni driving their students into the hands of debt collectors because they had the audacity to protest unfair rent this year. Absolutely disgraceful.— Jo Grady (@DrJoGrady) May 10, 2021
This is the reality of Higher Education; run by vandals, bullies and bad PR men. https://t.co/NaeDd8JvHN
Adam Michael, recently elected the SU Union Affairs Officer for next year, has lived this injustice. He was forced to ‘Work for three months’ over summer, just to be able to pay a large chunk of his rent upfront. Adam further explained to Epigram the struggles of students faced with similar obstacles:
‘International students come to Bristol in search of a better life; some international students are the first in their families to go to university. Guarantor requirements which are unfair in nature play a significant toll on their lives, including but not limited to their finances, education, physical and mental health. It's time students come together to speak out for better housing; for both home and international students.’
Graduate Hannah Chappatte has raised £700k to take her student rentals company to the next level.@hybr_uk wants to fix the “toxic” relationship between students and landlords.— University of Bristol (@BristolUni) April 5, 2022
It works with 3,000 students and has generated sales of £3.5million!
👉👉 https://t.co/fcKLfkGFLx pic.twitter.com/10e5rENtr3
The University of Bristol’s answer to this problem is one of these ‘discounted’ rates, offered through HousingHand. It offers a guarantor for £225 per year, although they also accept payments in eight £30 instalments as well. All while some home students can spend their cash on nipping home to Surrey for a Sunday roast.
This financial disparity between home and international students seems wildly unfair, which is why some students are looking to enact change. Michael is campaigning for a University-run rent guarantor scheme. This would work by the University acting as a guarantor for eligible students, which it could do for a much cheaper price than those offered by private operators.
'It's time students come together to speak out for better housing; for both home and international students.’
Sound too good to be true? University College London, which is already offering the scheme for a mere £50 a year, proves that it is not. Their programme is organised by the University’s accommodation office and is available to international and UK students.
And the risks to the University are mitigated by a set of eligibility criteria. Applicants must ‘Not have any outstanding debt to UCL’, have a ‘Clean disciplinary record’ in halls and no record of ‘Inappropriate behaviour,’ meaning that the University isn’t risking thousands backing a unreliable student who might trash their accommodation.
Michael’s campaign is based on the question: ‘If there is a tried and tested solution to international students’ woes, why hasn’t Bristol taken advantage of it yet?’
@Bristol_SU Living Officer Ruth and fellow #RentFairBristol campaigners have spoken to a lot of students today, most of whom are experiencing unaffordable and rising rents, damp and mouldy homes, and landlords refusing to do repairs. pic.twitter.com/WtZN2uGriy— Shelter Bristol (@ShelterBristol) March 24, 2022
The fact that Bristol students are still being exploited when such an obvious solution exists beggars belief.
When taken in the wider context, the University’s myopia is even more puzzling. International students’ fees are well over double those of domestic students: as Michael puts it, they are keeping the ‘University’s lights on’. Surely the University should be enticing international students to study here, instead of placing financial hurdles in their way?
The government’s inaction is equally astounding. Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has shown that international students contribute far more to local council budgets than they cost. The Sheffield Central constituency, for example, benefits from 3000 students ‘to the tune of £290m.’ Equality and access to education aside, it is in the UK’s interests to attract students from abroad.
What can students do to help?
Adam and his colleagues will soon be submitting a proposal to the University to get the ball rolling on Uni-run rent guarantor scheme. But this proposal will need signatures to be taken seriously. What we can do as students is make our voices heard and sign their petition.
This year's SU Officers, Ruth and Muazam, have already started making progress to resolve this issue. Epigram were informed by Bristol SU that their proposal for an in-house guarantor scheme has recently been approved by the University Accommodation Committee, and that they have been liaising with senior members of staff to have a pilot in place for the next academic year. This offers some peace of mind for students struggling to secure accommodation, to say the least.
Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O'Neill
Will you be signing the petition to endorse a Uni-run rent guarantor scheme?