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Edinburgh students “living on couches”, unable to rent flats as Freshers Week looms

Many students who study in Edinburgh have been finding it impossible to find accommodation and are facing commutes from other cities, or living on other people’s sofas. 

The Student spoke to several students looking for flats in the increasingly competitive and expensive Edinburgh housing market.

Mair Thomas, 19, is a student of nursing at Edinburgh Napier University. She and her friend were living in university accommodation but she explained that, as the rent was £750 a month, ‘it soon became too much’. She said:

“I would literally have £20 for food, so we made the decision to move out. We started looking in April thinking we’d find somewhere before the summer holidays but we did not expect just how hard it would be. 

“We have enquired about so many flats with either no reply or saying bookings are full – when we did eventually get a viewing and apply for a flat, 9 out of 10 times it went to professionals. 

“There was a viewing we attended and the letting agent told us before we’d even looked around that we wouldn’t get it because we were only going into second year [of university].

“We have cried several times as it’s just so hard. I have had many breakdowns including while I was on placement.”

Mark, 27, is starting a BA in Acting at Edinburgh Napier in September. They told The Student that their search for a flat started ’about four months ago’. Since then they have spent roughly an hour a day searching for available flats. They were originally offered university-run accommodation but they needed more time to find a guarantor and, by the time they did, the only available room was more expensive. They have now had to change their plans and no longer think they will be able to live full-time in Edinburgh. Mark told The Student:

“It’s not over yet, but I have been very frustrated.

“Originally I was planning to move entirely but it’s become a bit too complicated now, especially with there not being much time left.

“I’ve got a 28 day notice on the flat I’m in right now, and I’m in Perth, so now I’m looking for a part time lodging, three nights a week.” 

Olga Sawczuk, 21, is a student at the University of Edinburgh. She had planned to do a year abroad in Amsterdam this year, but was unable to find anywhere to live in the city, despite travelling there to attend viewings in person. 

She restarted her search in Edinburgh a month ago, after giving up on Amsterdam. Olga said:

“Anyone would feel worried if they had nowhere to move in and the semester is approaching.

“I finally managed to get some viewings, but they are for the first week of September, so my move in date has to move from early September to probably early October.

“In September, I’m going to live on other people’s couches.”

Emma Deeprose, 39, currently lives in Dundee, and was delighted to receive an offer to study Textiles at Edinburgh College of Art this year. She started looking for accommodation in June, using ‘pretty much every minute [she has] spare’. In that time, Emma had been able to secure one viewing, and was told that there had been more than two hundred enquiries. She told The Student:

“I’m struggling terribly to find accommodation and am trying not to panic.

“I’ve turned down extra hours at work to keep time open in my schedule to potentially go to viewings, and I’ve had none.” 

Emma said that some people have been offering landlords a year’s rent in advance, which she cannot afford to do. She considered the possibility of commuting from Dundee but it would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. She told The Student:

“I’m really panicking that I’m not going to be able to take up the course.

“I’m a mature student, I’ve been unhappy with my work life for my entire life and this is my chance to do something about it.

“I get quite emotional about it. If I don’t go to university now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Emma has since reached out to The Student to say she has now secured somewhere to live, an hour’s commute from her campus. 

According to a report by CityLets from the first quarter of 2022, rent in Edinburgh has increased on average by 14.2 per cent in the last year. 

Across the country, rents are getting higher and the supply of rental properties is dwindling. Zoopla reported at the end of 2021 that across the country, ‘Demand for rental homes is 43 per cent above the five-year average, but the number of properties available to rent is 43 per cent lower than usual’. 

Additionally, the University of Edinburgh accepted 700 more students in 2021 than the year before, and over 1600 more than in 2017, according to their own admissions report. 

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson told The Student:

“We have chosen to not increase prices for our accommodation since rent levels were agreed in November 2021. Our students pay a standard rent that includes all utilities.

“All students who met the requirements of our accommodation guarantee have been offered a place in University residences. We have also offered accommodation to more than 1500 returning students who fall outside of the guarantee.

“We will be operating a virtual Accommodation Advice Room from 1 September, in conjunction with the Students’ Association, in order to help any students who are having difficulties finding accommodation for the start of the semester.

“We provide our students with a range of financial and wellbeing support, and any students who are experiencing financial difficulties are able to access our hardship funding schemes.”

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Napier university told The Student:

“We sympathise with students who are facing a highly pressured housing market.

“[We] guarantee an offer of accommodation to all first year and direct entrant undergraduate students, subject to a series of eligibility criteria.

“We also have a support service offering advice for those who are planning to rent privately.”

Aditi Jehangir from Living Rent, a tenants union in Scotland, told The Student:

“Across Scotland, students, like all tenants, are struggling to find anywhere to stay. Coupled with soaring energy bills and rent skyrocketing, this autumn is ushering in a perfect storm for tenants across Scotland.

“Students and all tenants need rent controls to bring rents down to ensure tenants across Scotland have access to affordable, quality, secure homes.

“On top of national reforms, the government needs to ensure that towns and cities have the power to take back homes that have been converted into short term lets to ensure that all residents have access to affordable housing and are not priced out of their communities.

“In the face of a government that is failing to take proper action and big business that is putting profit over the safety and wellbeing of people, now more than ever we need to come together.”

Image ‘Marchmont Road, Edinburgh’ by Tom Parnell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.