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Homes Fit for Study – Research into Student Experiences of Energy in the Private Rented Sector


There is a long-standing and commonly held view that much of the private housing stock offered to students is of substandard quality in terms of maintenance, comfort and facilities and is often located in poorer neighbourhoods where properties are generally in an inferior condition. Nonetheless, there has been little research to understand the extent and nature of fuel poverty among this population, how it affects various aspects of their lives, or how it may be remedied. 

Key research Question

Following on from the 2013 NUS study exploring student experiences of the private rented sector, this study sought to identify the range of experiences of fuel poverty among different cohorts of students in the UK and the effects on their health and wellbeing. The intention was to utilise the data to establish some behavioural indicators of student fuel poverty, which could be used in conjunction with existing financial measures. Finally, the study examined what influences ‘smart technology’ could have on students’ choices. 

Summary of activity

The research involved three separate elements: a review of literature on students and fuel poverty, an online survey with 2509 students living in the private rented sector, and six online focus groups with 41 individual students. 


Online searching was the commonest method of looking for student lets, although this varied by region. The overwhelming majority of respondents viewed properties before agreeing tenancies. Proximity to the place of study was the main driver of choice. 

Approximately three-quarters of respondents were satisfied with their property (including sufficiency of space and suitability for study), although far fewer believed it represented value for money, and expectations were often low to begin with. 

Some 42% of those surveyed had received an Energy Performance Certificate, while 29% had not and 23% didn’t know. Most properties used gas-fired boilers as their main heating source, but very few had smart meters installed. Just under half of respondents said their dwelling was poorly insulated and/or draughty, with around a third specifying damp or mould on walls or ceilings, condensation or draughty windows and doors. 

Half of those surveyed said their property had been uncomfortably cold on one or more occasions and they had adjusted their behaviour to keep warm (e.g. by the use of hot water bottles or extra clothing), but the majority had chosen to actively restrict their energy use to limit their expenditure. Just under half had had difficulties paying energy bills on one or more occasions, a higher figure than that observed in the earlier NUS survey (2013). Switching supplier/tariff was rare, with some respondents believing only the landlord or letting agent was permitted to do so. 

Focus group respondents indicated that their experience of cold properties had contributed to negative mental health outcomes and greater vulnerability to colds and similar infections, but a strong association between mould and damp and poorer physical health was also made. Social interaction was also affected – for example, where energy costs led to disputes – as was the ability to study comfortably. 


Not applicable

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