Make yours a happy home

Clearing is only the first hurdle, now you need to find somewhere to live
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The Independent Online

Phew! You have made it through the scramble and anxiety of Clearing and secured a place. Surely it’s time for you to relax and celebrate? Wrong. In their desperation to find a university, students often forget they have another problem to solve – housing. Many universities already have students bursting out of oversubscribed halls of residence, so how can those coming through Clearing avoid being lumped with the dregs?

Like most students, undergraduates entering via Clearing have three options if they don’t want to live at home – university halls, private student accommodation offered by companies such as UNITE, and the private rental market. Which one you choose depends on your priorities and the options available.

Phil Andrews, head of residences, conferences and events at the University of East London (UEL), says halls should be your first preference. “In the first year we recommend you live on campus, because it’s easier to make friends and we can control the student experience,” he says. “I hear horror stories about the private sector – break-ins, no return of deposits, the place looks great on the internet but it’s actually appalling.

“The private sector is also a lot more expensive in London, and the average student commuting time... living off campus is 50 minutes.”

Even if you don’t get your first choice of accommodation, most universities can help you get the best deal possible. Andrews has a full-time team of 10 working with students to help them find accommodation that suits them, and drafts in more staff during the Clearing rush. It’s also common for universities, such as UEL and the University of Derby, to work with local councils and landlords to offer guides and certification schemes that help to filter out the worst parts of the private market.

Others go even further. Leeds Trinity University College and the University of Portsmouth’s halls are often oversubscribed, but they organise free house-hunting events with their student unions. These schemes invite those looking for housing in for the day, introduce them to potential flatmates and lay on free minibuses to show them around approved properties. Portsmouth also offers online support and ready-established Facebook groups that you can join to hunt for flatmates.

Of course, there will be compromises. The best accommodation is usually snapped up by those who secured their places earlier, and Clearing students would be advised to get in quick to prevent further disappointment. At the University of Derby for example, all first-year students are guaranteed a place on campus if they apply before 31 July. If you miss that deadline but apply before 31 August, first years are still guaranteed accommodation, but it may be in the private sector. After that, it’s more difficult.

“We work on a first-come first-served basis, but we’d never leave a student high and dry,” says Teresa Walter, marketing officer for student living at the university. “Last year, applications were through the roof, but there were only a handful of students who couldn’t find accommodation in halls or the private sector, and we do everything we can to help them out.”

Like most universities, Walter says Derby’s en-suite rooms and those nearer the town centre tend to go first, but that at least means the leftover hall places are affordable. It’s also worth checking out what your accommodation means for commuting times and prices – renting off campus can look less attractive after travel costs.

Rent is almost always the deciding factor. Again, this will vary according to your location – if you live in London, the private market is likely to be more expensive than student halls, but that’s not true everywhere.

A recent nationwide study by the flat-sharing website found students could save on average £750 a year by flat-sharing in the private sector. “With capped fees, and funding under threat, accommodation is a huge source of revenue for cash-strapped universities,” says the company’s director Jonathan Moore. “By shopping for cheaper private accommodation, students can shave off the best part of £1,000 in rent each year.”