< News

Energy poverty impacting students

Emma Lewins
April 25, 2023

According to research by SOS-UK and Universities UK, 59% of students have felt uncomfortably cold in their current accommodation, and 54% are currently living with damp or mould. Poor housing should not be a ‘rite of passage’ that anyone has to go through, and we have seen that students’ experience of housing has worsened over the past few years.

“Landlord blames us for the cold conditions of the house and expects us to just put the heating on more, but we cannot afford to” - Student

Students have a high risk of falling into energy poverty, as it’s often their first time renting and managing bills. Many students also live in houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs), which often remain exempt from energy performance certification (EPC) if they are not let as an entire property. This allows landlords to rent out the most inefficient properties to those on the lowest incomes. This loophole, coupled with very limited knowledge and experience of how to navigate the energy system, means many students already live in energy poverty.

“There's been times where it's too cold to sleep. Drying clothes takes up to a week, I have been repeatedly ill all winter.” - Student

Freedom of Information requests showed that councils are not consistently enforcing minimum energy efficiency standards. Of the 30 councils approached with the FOI request:   

  • Only nine have issued compliance notices to landlords
  • Seven confirmed a breach of the regulations
  • Just six issued fines to landlords as a result

Despite 368 confirmed breaches across the country, just 25 resulted in fines. The majority of councils have yet to issue a single fine to landlords for breaking the guidelines, leaving renters trapped in cold, damp properties that are too expensive to heat adequately during an ongoing cost of living crisis.

We need the government to:

  • Ensure all properties, including Houses of Multiple Occupancy, require Energy Performance Certificates.
  • Support councils to enforce regulations, including training and support for council staff.
  • Provide short-term emergency support for those most in need (including students).
  • Deliver a fully-funded programme of retrofitting insulation for homes that are privately rented.
“The government needs to close the loophole and ensure all properties, including homes of multiple occupancy, require energy performance certificates. Upholding energy standards is crucial in the face of the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis. Councils need more support to enforce regulation. Poor housing should not be a ‘rite of passage’ that anyone has to go through.” - Larissa Kennedy, President of SOS-UK

“The latest findings from the Homes fit for study survey are concerning. Students are struggling to deal with rising costs, fuel poverty and are living in poorly maintained rented accommodation, all of which is having a negative impact on their education. Universities have stepped up efforts to alleviate financial pressures on their students however it is imperative that government look closely at the maintenance support package as maintenance uplifts, particularly in England, will not cover the real terms cut that students are seeing.” - Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice Chancellor of UWE Bristol

What can we do?

  1. Spread the word on social media! Download our campaign assets.
  1. Use #HomesFitForStudy, tag us, and share this blog post.
  1. Write and share a blog or include this in your newsletter!
  1. Write to your MP about energy poverty, feel free to quote some of the statistics and share any experiences to highlight how important this issue is.
  2. Find out more about your rights as a tenant and how to keep warm and well

SOS-UK is part of the Warm this Winter campaign, demanding emergency support now and a long term plan to lower bills for good. Take further action with them, and call for mass home insulation with Friends of the Earth.