Between November 2017 and January 2018 we carried our research into the provision and selection of privately rented student housing across the seven SAVES 2 countries - Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania and the UK. Recently this analysis of current trends in the rental accommodation market for students was made public and we can now provide some insights. More than 3,500 students living in private accommodation, and more than 400 stakeholders of the rental property market, answered our survey questionnaires, and a further 51 students and 29 landlords participated in our focus groups so as for all views on the topic to be captured and documented. From the students’ perspective, we investigated their drivers of housing and appliance choices, thoughts about energy efficiency, views from their experience as tenants on whether the landlord finds energy efficiency an important topic, the availability of financial motivations for selection of better performing homes or appliances and their exposure to fuel poverty. On the other hand, from the landlords’ side, the analysis looked at their perceived importance of the energy efficiency of their property, their motivations to improve the quality of their property, and their experience with students as tenants.
According to our results, the vast majority of the students , look for affordable houses (45% of the total sample) or houses close to their places of study (56%), instead of energy efficient houses (2%). In addition to this, the high percentage of students (60% Ireland, 48% Romania, 34% Cyprus, 33% Greece, 31% Lithuania, 31% UK) who have not received and/or requested the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of their accommodation indicates low levels of energy awareness. In accordance with this, most of the landlords who participated in the focus groups of the study remarked that their student-tenants never asked to see the EPC of the property. Moreover, the low importance of the energy efficiency and/or the energy rating of appliances is another indicator that shows low energy awareness levels amongst the surveyed students.
A quite alarming fact is that in almost all countries students felt colder than they would have liked in their current accommodation during last winter with the highest shares recorded being in Ireland 66%, the UK 56% and Greece 48%. Additionally, a large number of students, with Ireland (45%) again taking the lead, stated that they turned their heating off in order to keep costs down. Finally, a high percentage of students reported undesirable living conditions with the most common problems reported being damp or mould on walls or ceilings, as well as draughty windows or doors. When it comes to the actions that landlords have taken in relation to poor housing conditions, the results are not very encouraging as most of the focus groups participants regarded energy efficiency important only as a means of decreasing the running costs of the property. The majority of landlords considered grants and financial incentives as the most significant driver to carry out energy efficiency improvements.
Consequently, the mixture of substandard houses and low levels of energy awareness has a severe impact on students’ wellbeing. Significant proportions of students reported feeling miserable due to poor housing conditions (Bulgaria 44%, UK 40%, Ireland 32%) or reported feelings of anxiety or depression (UK 30%, Ireland 27%, Cyprus 21%). Furthermore, the shares of students who reported that new health problem(s) had developed (Ireland, 17%) or existing health problem(s) becoming worse (Bulgaria, 33%) are worthy of note.
Given the results, it can be concluded that a significant share of students experience fuel poverty and sophisticated social intervention and social innovation should be adopted to address this. Understanding the contextual situation of privately rented accommodation in the seven SAVES 2 countries can enable the identification of specific recommendations to help reduce the exposure of students to fuel poverty. Stakeholders should work together to increase awareness among students of the benefits of energy efficiency. It is time that the widespread cultural expectation that it is acceptable for students to live in poor housing conditions is challenged. We should be encouraging everyone to shape our common eco-friendly energy efficient future.
The full report of our findings can be found here!