Raising the roof

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Student halls of residenceIf you or your son or daughter has secured a place at university this year, congratulations for many missed out after a record A level year. Now comes the next challenge: finding accommodation as wherever you’re studying – be it London or Liverpool – you’ll need somewhere to live. Unfortunately finding affordable accommodation in the UK isn’t easy – especially as a student. CD Traveller considers your options…

Accommodation is by far the most expensive part of university life – even more so than tuition fees. The one glimmer of good news? Students are exempt from council tax. It’s important to choose your accommodation very, very carefully. Where you live will dictate the friends you make, food you eat and environment in which you work.
Living at home
More and more students are trading independence for less debt by commuting from home and it’s easy to see why – there’s definitely a substantial financial saving to be made in staying with the folks. There are also all kinds of subsidies – think access to electricity, the internet, phone, fridge et al. Staying at home could almost mean leaving university with little or no debt…

Most universities offer students one year in halls of residence. Halls are usually a positive experience; close to college, they’re a fab way to meet people. They also tend to have added extras such as washing machines, television in a common room and games rooms. There tend to be two types of halls – the older unmodernised kind which have plenty of character but are often prone to infestations of cockroaches or the swankier (read more expensive) new halls which come complete with ensuites.

Catered halls
Rent includes bills and most meals, but will you really be out of bed every day in time for breakky? If you decide to live in catered halls but never make it to meals and have to fork out for food on top of what you’re already paying to live there, your loan won’t last long.

Self catered halls
The name says it all – you do your own catering. Obviously if you go for this option, it helps if you can cook and cope with cleaning up after yourself. Be warned though – students share fridge and cupboard space so food will walk!

To share or not?
Sharing a room reduces the rent but can have certain pitfalls. Sharing can be a total nightmare if you also have to live with your room-mates disgusting habits or their boy/girlfriend who has become part of the furniture. Taking a single room means you won’t be disturbed by a rat arsed room-mate late at night.

Before making any decisions, it’s important to find out as much information as you can.
Once you have signed on the dotted line, early release can be impossible. Even illness or abandoning university altogether doesn’t exempt you from having to pay the rent and if you can’t cough up the cash, you could find yourself barred from studying. The Office of Fair Trading has declared the practice illegal – but it continues to be widespread throughout the country.

Renting privately might sound appealing – but forget dreams of a Friends-esque flat for while some providers offer appropriate accommodation, others are driven by profit; rents are rocketing and quality is going down.

If you’re renting, payment of household bills will eat up a sizeable chunk of your loan. Renting also involves a hefty initial outlay with payments in advance and a deposit against damages. The most common problem with renting privately is getting deposits returned after the end of the tenancy.

Who to live with
Think very carefully about who you choose to live with. Moving in with your mates isn’t as straight forward and stress free as you’d think! Emily Dubberley, author of Friendship and How to Survive It says: “No matter how close you may be to start with, it’s much easier to like someone when they haven’t finished your milk for the third time in a week and put the empty carton back into the fridge.”

Looking for a house
Your university accommodation office can help. Most have a database of properties advertised to students by landlords and letting agents as well as a small team of trained advisors on hand to help if you do run into difficulties. Also have a look at notice boards, local newspapers and internet sites like www.loot.com. When viewing properties, it’s important not to panic! Most problems arise when students make snap decisions because they feel under immense pressure to find somewhere quick. Lots of landlords are experts at putting students under pressure. Resist! Make sure you know what other properties are going for in the area and that the agent answers all your questions properly.

Before you move in:

It will usually be a condition of the tenancy that a deposit – up to two months’ rent – is paid before you’re allowed to move in.

Check all gas and electricity meters before you start using them and decide in advance whose name is going on which bill and how they are going to be paid. The NUS suggests a typical weekly expenditure of about £10 for gas, electricity, water and phone bills…

Be safe not sorry
It’s your landlord’s responsibility to ensure your house is fitted with working smoke detectors and that all electric equipment is checked on a yearly basis.

TV licence
If you have a TV, you need one. Buy online at www.tvlicensing.co.uk but first “ask if there’s already a valid licence for the property. You may be able to save money if the last tenants did not cancel the existing licence,” says Lettings expert, Pat Barber.

Students are a prime target for burglars. Laptops, DVD players, i-Pods, digital cameras – they all add up. The chances of being burgled are less if you live in halls, but always remember to lock your door when you’re not in your room. If you’re renting, take out insurance and don’t leave valuables lying around or keys in obvious places. When going home for the hols try and make your house look inhabited by leaving a light on.

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