Newcastle students impacted by the nation-wide housing crisis

An investigation into the current housing crisis in Newcastle

multiple writers
15th December 2022
Image credit: Rhys Mason
Over the last few months, students have been struggling to find accommodation; from undergraduates looking for a studio flat to international postgraduates looking for a house to live in with their family. Newcastle has become a city with a housing crisis.

So, 'The Courier' decided to launch an investigation into said housing crisis. We found that those who answered often found the same struggles and were looking for many similar properties - this could be the start of the end as if everyone is looking for a studio, for example, then there will definitely not be enough studios for everyone in Newcastle. Saying this, those who answered our survey said that they were looking for a house/flat with a private landlord all in the Jesmond area, with a couple saying they would extend their searches to Sandyford.

The reasoning behind the Jesmond superiority is the fact it is a student populated area and due to the convenience of shops, like Tesco, and there being a metro at either end of Osborne Road. Those who mentioned Sandyford spoke of how it is still a "student-y area", even though there are less bars and pubs around. Yet, what they were looking at the most was the prices! Sandyford appears cheaper than Jesmond for similar properties. Back in 2018, Prem-Lets advertised Sandyford as £65 to £75 cheaper per person, per week to help those "with a tighter budget". So in 2022, maybe Sandyford is the place to be?

86% of survey takers have already started looking at properties with 50% already having gone to house viewings. Amazingly, two participants have already gone to over five house viewings in a bid to claim a cheap but nice property, where they can spend their next academic year.

Unlike the halls that students tend to live in during first year, bills are an important factor when looking for a private house or flat. The prices listed on estate agents’ websites are solely for rent but an inclusive bills package is often offered by estate agents. Our survey asked if inclusive bills packages were something that students are considering whilst they search. 57% of respondents said yes to inclusive bills and 29% said maybe but are considering sorting bills independently as they may find a cheaper option. The appeal of inclusive bills is the ease of it being sorted for students rather than sorting separately. The payment process is often easier as students pay their own portion separately rather than transfer the money to one person’s bank account to pay as a lump sum.

57% of respondents said yes to inclusive bills and 29% said maybe

However, students are not getting a good deal through inclusive bills packages as the cap on bills is something students are not aware about. It’s particularly crucial for students to be aware of these caps as in this cost-of-living crisis, going over these caps can be quite detrimental for bank accounts. With the bills packages from the estate agents, students are paying for convenience. There are some good deals out there, through external companies. Newcastle-based Fused Bills, for example, provide a bills package with unlimited energy, gas and water - a canary in the coalmine that is the cost-of-living crisis.

Traversing the world of house-hunting can be particularly difficult for those students who have no experience from previous years. Students who have no experience with estate agents to know which are considered unreliable. The respondents of our survey are currently looking with Walton Robinson, Bricks & Mortar and Student Cribs. They are also using Uni Homes which acts a central database of all the houses and flats available rather than students looking on each estate agents’ websites. When asked which estate agents they are avoiding, one respondent claimed Bricks & Mortar showed “terrible service” in which the respondent was shown around a house with people “sleeping in the bedrooms”. Another respondent refuses to look with Walton Robinson and Pat Robson describing them as “absolute cowboys and scammers [who] refused to give a deposit back for the last tenancy” and had previous issues with maintenance issues not being dealt with promptly. It is worth speaking to other students, particularly older students if you are in first year, to learn about their experiences with their estate agents and landlords.

Walton Robinson and Pat Robson are “absolute cowboys and scammers [who] refused to give a deposit back for the last tenancy”

The final section of the survey conducted an investigation into people's worries and concerns of house hunting. Within this, it was surprising to see that only 29% have gone to NUSU's housing advisor in SAC. Especially since a couple of answers resinated with us, as students, going through similar difficulties.

One student spoke of how they are looking at properties; however, they are looking for a placement outside of Newcastle. They are not wanting to sign onto a house they won't need but feel the pressure to sign incase they don't get onto a placement year. Due to the nature of looking for a placement, most students won't find out until June/July 2023 - which means that majority of Newcastle properties, if not all, will be rented, leaving them without a house for the next academic year.

Meanwhile, another student is worried about the financial side to the housing crisis. They spoke of how English landlords are not doing enough to support their tenants, it is as though they don't care about us because we are students. This student suggested that landlords follow in the footsteps of Scotland - Scotland has an ongoing rent freeze. This means that tenants do not have to pay their rent until they are able to afford it, they will not be chased up when they are struggling. Maybe landlords need to think about this...

A upcoming company, Project Student Housing, has been following the crisis since it started and have released the following statement: "[W]e foresaw this being an issue 18 months ago and set about thinking how we could help solve the issue. For us, it was thinking of a way to benefit both landlords and students, and work in cohesion. That's why we have developed software for students to have developed SimplyRent, a software which provides digital leases, digital communications and digital payments while simultaneously providing an all-inclusive digital workflow system for landlords."

Alongside this statement, we reached out to Newcastle University for an insight into what they are doing to help their students:

"We are delighted to confirm that all students have been accommodated. We work hard to support students and, along with Newcastle City Council, we are monitoring the housing situation closely.

Our accommodation service, NUSU Student Advice Centre and University Customer Service team endeavour to ensure students have a place to stay when they arrive in Newcastle. 

We would advise students, particularly from overseas, not to travel unless they have secured suitable accommodation as the city has limited availability. It is important to note, Accommodation Services would urge students to accept an offer of accommodation from the University, in preference to declining an offer and then looking for an alternative, as students who did this struggled to find suitable accommodation. The Student Advice Centre in the Student Union can assist students and will refer those with immediate need, if appropriate, for emergency temporary accommodation."

There are talks of a refurbishment of Castle Leazes in the next academic year, and the university "recognises the importance of an accommodation guarantee for all first-year students" so they are "working in partnership with the City and Northumbria University to address the current and future housing market for students in Newcastle. There are multiple factors contributing to the availability of accommodation for students in years two and above and these are being considered in full as part of our decision making process."

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