The Courier interviewed Newcastle University's Athletic Union Officer Fergus Mainland to discuss the new campaign, 'Home Truths', the survey speaking up for student housing
Students have been invited to complete the survey below. All results will be compiled into a report for the City Council in the fight to create a better quality living for those forced to accommodate to poor housing conditions.
Where did the idea for Home Truths begin?
'We've had plenty of meetings with the City Council and realised that the system they've got in place for the issues surrounding housing is not simple. It's difficult to find on the council website and the onus is on the person with the problems whether it's a student or someone else regardless. It's a long complicated process just to get an outcome you want, whether that be a deposit back, or a landlord to pay for something'
'The premise of this is we want to gather plenty of evidence that we can show the council that might put legislation in place that can hold landlords accountable. We want more information out there to show students what they're entitled too, what they're not entitled too, just to help make that difference for student living. We're raising awareness of student housing problems and looking to drive a change at council level to see something positive come about it.'
What made you set up Home Truths?
'There were so many times we'd be in meetings with the council, and they would say, 'we need people to come to us'. We thought we'd go out, find all the information and say to the council, we've got an entire ward in Jesmond, Sandyford, Heaton or in the city that you're not doing enough for and you haven't got enough staff managing complaints, issues or landlords. We thought we'd put this together and see what we can do.'
Have you got a big team behind the survey?
'We've had the entire Sab team out on campus, those who haven't got covid. We're bringing in an assistant to write the report for us. It's something that a lot of us are passionate about. There are three of us looking at various parts of housing, it's such a big issue that occurs year after year.'
'It's as though students accept that they have to live in bad housing, it's always a right of passage, something that students have to just get on with. We shouldn't have to put up with bad housing because landlords are interested in gathering money instead of looking out for the best interests of students. Not all landlords are bad, but we've got to have a system set up in place by the council that ensures that everyone is looked out for.'
Would you argue that students are easy targets for landlords?
'You come out of halls in first year, and all of a sudden you're in the property market, you're looking for a house, signing agreements, you don't often know what you're signing. If you can get your parents to look over it at least, then that's great. You're also pushed into scenarios with bills packages, and all this information is just thrown at you. As a student, you're supposed to try and dissect it all.'
'One of the other projects we tried to do was with the council website, setting up a designated website with a section for students. We've made some progress, there's a section on it, it's about making the website more accessible for students to find. It's ensuring that students have that information readily to hand from the City Council to show the things that students should be looking out for when signing up for a property, tenant's rights. Otherwise, you end up with people pressured to sign up to bills packages, or paying a months rent otherwise they lose the property. It's frustrating that this information isn't there when it should be'
What change would you like to see from the survey?
'I want to see a better regulated student property market, one where when students sign up for an agreement, it's upheld, and you end up with a far more transparent agreement between landlord and tenant, one which switches to the City Council actively looking to uphold the standard of property, as opposed to waiting for information to come to them.
When your position as Athletics' Officer ends this year, who will take Home Truths over?
'It will be up to next years sab team to decide who takes over. We want to see change, so that next years sab team works with a city council that is more open to change and more open to bettering the process of reporting bad accommodation. It's so important that the student voice is heard'
You can find more information at nusu.co.uk/hometruths