“Another costly and unnecessary step”: University partners with private rental guarantor service

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Durham University has announced a new partnership with UK rental guarantor service Housing Hand, with the aim of supporting students to secure private rented accommodation.

Students will be able to use Housing Hand if they require a UK-based guarantor in order to rent a property. Currently, tenants often need to pay six or 12 months’ rent in advance in the absence of a UK-based guarantor.

The announcement, however, has been met with disappointment by some students, who are concerned about the cost and accessibility of the company’s services, and the lack of clarity about support for marginalised students in need of guarantor services. The University has indicated that it is considering ways that care-leavers and estranged students can be better supported in relation to the scheme, but has not confirmed any extra support.

Palatinate understands from the Housing Hand website that the partnership will enable Durham University students to access the company’s guarantor services at a specially negotiated rate of 5% or 5.5% of rent, depending on whether the fee is paid annually or monthly.

It shows a small move in the right direction for the University in helping disadvantaged students

Jamie halliwell, President of Durham University Working Class students association

For a standard 52 week contract at £110 per week, this would cost a student £286 or £314.60 per year respectively. By comparison, Your Guarantor, an alternative company, charges 3.5% of total rent with no minimum fee according to their website.

The Housing Hand website also notes that the company is also able to offer universities help in setting up “an in-house guarantor service”, indicating that this is a route that the University could have taken in its partnership with the company. Durham International Students Association (ISA) told Palatinate that in-house schemes such as these have been “beneficial” at other Universities, such as Cardiff, Sussex, Aberdeen, and Keele.

The partnership with Housing Hand comes after a pilot guarantor scheme run by the University in the 2019-2020 academic year, which cost £50 for the year and was capped at 50 people. The ISA said that, despite over 100 students applying, indicating “strong interest”, the scheme was discontinued due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An open letter addressed to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Antony Long in Michaelmas Term 2021 called on the University to re-introduce and expand the pilot scheme to help more students, and to scrap the £50 “poor tax” by making the scheme available for free. This letter was signed by numerous associations and societies, including Durham Working Class Students Association, Durham Mature Students Association, and Durham 93% Club.

Jonah Graham, SU Welfare and Liberation Officer, said: “The SU has pushed for a rental guarantor scheme for over five years – securing a university pilot scheme in 2018/2019. The University has been slow in introducing a scheme, leading Durham SU Assembly, myself, my predecessors, and other student activists to push the University to act.

Graham continued that, despite delays, he is pleased that the University is now demonstrating its willingness to act: “As the city’s biggest landlord and the reason students live in Durham the University has a duty to assist students in the increasingly problematic and predatory local housing market. 

The University’s decision to partner with an external private company does not adequately alleviate housing issues faced by international students

International students association

“I am, however, concerned by the scheme’s limitations due to cost and unclear support for marginalised students. I have had initial discussions with the University but will seek to secure more details concerning the change in price compared to the pilot scheme and fully explore options for students affected by care leave and estrangement.”

The ISA said that they have “spent the past two years pushing the University to reimplement the scheme or to introduce something similar”, whilst emphasising the importance of a scheme which is affordable and easy to use. 

They continued: “The University’s decision to partner with an external private company does not adequately alleviate housing issues faced by international students as the scheme is not significantly cheaper than going through any other private guarantor company which is available to students regardless of the new scheme. The pricing difference is marginal in comparison to what was originally intended. 

“The University is responsible for ensuring that international students can adjust to living in the UK with as few barriers as possible. The new scheme stands as another costly and unnecessary step that does not solve an issue that could be mediated but currently isn’t being mediated adequately.”

Jamie Halliwell, President of Durham University Working Class Students Association, said that he thinks the scheme is a positive step, “not just for working class students but also for estranged students”.

“It shows a small move in the right direction for the University in helping disadvantaged students but there is still a lot more to pressure them on.”

A University spokesperson said that Housing Hand is “the leading provider for rent guarantor services and is already in partnership with many other Higher Education Institutions in the UK,” noting that “students have a choice as to whether they sign up.”

They said that “the University negotiated a discounted fee” with the company and will receive no income from the arrangement, though will monitor uptake of the scheme and “take note of any student feedback received.”

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