Unjust Barrier: How Lack of Guarantor Services is Preventing UK Care Leavers from Accessing University Accommodation

The struggles faced by students in finding affordable and secure accommodation are nothing new. But for students who have grown up in care or are estranged from their families, finding somewhere to live during their university years can be an insurmountable challenge. The reason? Most universities and private rented accommodations require a guarantor to secure tenancy. This is where the problem starts for students who don’t have anyone to act as a guarantor.

Jess is one of the 16,000 UK university students who find themselves in this predicament. During her first term at Birmingham City University, she began looking for second-year accommodation due to intense competition for properties. But as a care leaver, she had no family or support network to act as her guarantor. This forced her to borrow extra money on top of her student loan and live on a £26 a week budget, leaving her to fend for herself with no safety net.

The anxiety and stress of finding somewhere to live began to affect Jess’s studies. She couldn’t focus on her university work and had to practically beg her university for an extension because of her situation. If something went wrong, she would have no place to call home. Jess’s experience is not unique; it’s a sad reality faced by many care leavers or those estranged from their families.

Unite Foundation is calling on universities to provide a rent guarantor service for students who don’t have a support network. Without this service, students can be asked to pay six or 12 months’ rent in advance, which is impossible for many. Fiona Ellison, the director of Unite Foundation, rightly points out that the current cost-of-living crisis makes this an unfeasible option for many students. The result is that some students may drop out of university, and the opportunity for a better future may be lost forever.

The National Union of Students also agrees that more needs to be done. According to Nehaal Bajwa, it is difficult or impossible to get a guarantor. This leaves students vulnerable to substandard housing or even homelessness.

Sam, a University of Strathclyde student, knows all too well the impact that a lack of a guarantor can have. She has had to ask her friend, who has a mortgage, to be her guarantor, which made her feel ashamed. The university must do more to address this issue, which is preventing many from achieving their academic goals.

It’s time for universities to step up and offer support to those students who have grown up in care or are estranged from their families. Students shouldn’t have to worry about where they will live or how they will pay their rent. The future of these students is at stake, and we must act now.

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