Education: A home from home

Whether living in halls or renting privately, the search for student accommodation is easy if you follow your instincts.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Some parents may have an outdated image of the quality of student accommodation, perhaps based upon their own experiences of decrepit and cramped halls of residence. But the majority of student accommodation on campus has been significantly improved.

As Susan Price saw when her daughter studied at the University of Hertfordshire: "The halls were brilliant, full of space and set in lovely surroundings. I was amazed at how nice the place was," she said.

Self-catered flatlets of a high standard are de rigueur in many colleges. New students should aim to get into halls of residence as this will be the perfect start to college. They will make friends quickly, and will not have to experience the pressures of finding private accommodation. If it is not possible for your son or daughter to get into halls - spaces can be limited - it may be necessary to rent in the private sector.

Your first port of call should be the college accommodation service which will have lists of recommended places to rent privately. Claire Hillman, University of Brighton accommodation officer, says: "We have extensive lists of owners who offer accommodation to students, from shared flats and houses, bedsits and studio flats, through to lodgings with meals provided. We are always happy to help on any housing matter."

If time is limited the student may wish to use a local accommodation agency. These are great if you have to find somewhere to live quickly and are not worried about parting with a lot of cash. Agencies ask for a month's rent up front, as well as at least the equivalent of a month's rent as a damage deposit. They also charge an agency fee once a property has been signed for. Some are better than others, so it is always a good idea to contact your teenager's college welfare services for advice on student-friendly agencies.

In all accommodation, landlords have a legal obligation to have gas appliances and flues checked once a year by a Corgi-registered engineer. They must by law issue the Corgi records to any new tenants before they move in. Numbers are thankfully small, but a handful of people die by carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty gas appliances, so it's vital that you see up- to-date records.

Fire safety is just as important. Check that there are adequate smoke alarms in the building - and that they all work. And make sure there are clear escape routes in the event of a fire.

Do have a thorough search round the house, look for signs of damp; ensure that everything is in good working order, and check that the windows and doors are secure.

Take note of the general area; if it is run down or shabby you may think twice about advising your son or daughter to live there. You should also look at local amenities: is the property close to shops and are the local transport routes regular? Is there a night bus service stopping nearby?

Nearly all landlords will ask your son or daughter to sign a contract outlining their rights and responsibilities. Never let them sign until you, and they, understand the contract. Once signed it can be expensive to get out off. College welfare services can advise on contract issues. Do not be surprised if you are asked to sign a guarantee in the event that your offspring does not pay their rent!

With so much to do, the task of finding suitable housing for your son and daughter can seem an awesome task, but follow your instincts and get help when you are unsure about anything. You will then be able to relax, safe in the knowledge that they are in the best possible accommodation.

And if they run into to difficulties help is close at hand from college welfare services.

Harvey Atkinson is a welfare adviser at Brighton University

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