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Lisa O`Brien

Opinions needed about what my son should do.

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Posted (edited)

He is 23. Has been working, studying and doing hundreds of hours of voluntary work the last few years. Deferred his uni place last year so he could continue working in a pharmacy. He is due to start his degree in Liberal Arts with History in September. ( That's if unis are even going to be open in Sept). His Uni is actually a University College with only a thousand students. It does not have its own accommodation. So the options are to either take a room in official uni accommodation of the uni his College is attached to. Or privately rent in a house share. The official university accommodation is a long way from where he will be and it will be a fair commute every day in a city he has only visited a handful of times. ( Belfast). Rooms and places are filling up fast, even though it is not a given the university will re-open in September.  The uni wants a £300 deposit up front.  Most accommodation is around £120 a week. In the privately rented sector, there are much cheaper rooms to rent. Not by a massive amount, but by 20 or 30 pounds a week. Many of them are only asking for a one hundred pounds deposit. Some are asking for a month's rent in advance. One particular estate agents, who have some very nice looking properties very close to where my son will be studying, want a deposit, but say if Covid-19 isn't eradicated /reduced, and the unis DON'T go ahead in September, they will keep the deposit as it is non-refundable under ANY circumstances. So what should he do? Does he take a room in university owned accommodation, which is some distance away from where he will be studying each day, and where most likely , he will be the only student living there from his University College? If things still don't go ahead in September he will get his deposit back. Or does he take a room in a house, that is far cheaper, and very, very close to where he will be studying every day? But then take the chance he will lose his deposit of maybe £400 is unis are cancelled?  I don't know about anyone else, but the possibility of throwing away £400 if unis don't go ahead after he has booked his room isn't an attractive prospect. Again, like the uni accommodation, the privately rented accommodation in West Belfast is filling up. If he waits and waits and sees what the Covid-19 situation is like closer to September, there's a strong chance he will end up with nowhere to live come the start of term. Neither of us know what's the best thing to do. Any suggestions? Thanks. ( Sorry for the long post).

Edited by Lisa O`Brien

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That's a dilemma Lisa! I personally would go for the latter option as although Sean risks losing the £400, which is a lot of money for anyone to lose, you will both have peace of mind that he has somewhere to live (for me that would outweigh the risk) it will save a fair amount of money over the duration of his course, it's convenient for Uni both for study purposes and the social aspect of being with his cohort without having to travel long distances to meet up etc in his free time.  I'm clinging to the hope though that schools etc return in September to at least bring a little normality back to our lives. Good luck to you both in deciding which path to take. 

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Posted (edited)

Many thanks for your reply. Sean contacted the accommodation at Queen's University Belfast and asked them about what would happen in September to his £300 deposit should the unis still be closed because of Covid-19? Their answer? "Oh things will definitely be open again, including this university, in September". How can they possibly know that?  I know Queen's are one of the unis conducting research into it atm, but even so. I thought it was a bit of a bold statement to make !!

Edited by Lisa O`Brien
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Do the privately rented rooms include utilities, insurance and WiFi? 
How much would the commute from the halls to university be? 
What is the food shopping like at both locations? 
How long are the contracts for both places? University halls tend to be 39 weeks were as private can be 51 weeks. 
If the university he is attending has a contract that means students can rent rooms from the other university why do you assume he will be the only one there from his university? 
These are all questions we’ve asked ourselves whilst helping Dd make a similar decision recently. 
One thing that varies between halls but they do generally have social events to help the first years settle and have reception/security staff to offer support. 
 

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Posted (edited)

Thank you Jane. I'll try to answer as best as I can. Yes, the privately rented rooms include utilities, insurance and wifi. The commute to the halls would maybe be a tenner a day, but might be a bit less. I know that near Queen's University there are some quite expensive shops, including grocery shops. I think the nearest supermarket is a Spar. In West Belfast, it is generally a working class area. There are countless low cost shops, free advice centres for locals, community groups etc. The Uni accommodation contract is for either 38,39 or 51 weeks, depending on what you are studying. My son's course lasts for 38 weeks, so that would be the contract he takes.  For some incredibly unfair reason here in Northern Ireland, students are only allowed to take out a maximum accommodation loan of £3,475 a year. That works out at having about £91 a week to spend on rent for the 38 weeks, roughly. With the private rented, you can take out a rental on a place ( most places) for a minimum of 3 months at a time. So if you don't like somewhere you are not committed to living there for the full academic year and can find somewhere else to live. ( If you CAN, that is). I am assuming he will be the only one if he does go ahead with renting Queen's University accommodation, because from what we have heard, the very vast majority of students studying at St. Mary's do NOT use Queen's University accommodation, but rent out a private flat close to St. Mary's University College. Which is fine, provided he can find a private landlord that is reputable, etc. As it is private there won't be the same conditions, or maybe the same standards that the uni accommodation will have. The cheapest university accommodation is £85 a week. That includes utilities and wifi but nothing else. Yes, I personally like the fact that in halls there will be 24/7 security etc. There would be none of that in a house share with 4 other people.  As you can see, there are lots to consider. 

Edited by Lisa O`Brien

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Posted (edited)

The privately rented landlords have said they will keep the deposit if he books now and in September the unis don't go ahead because of Covid-19 being ongoing. Both Uni and private rented accommodations are starting to fill up for September, in anticipation of the unis opening again. The sensible thing is to hold back and wait, and see what the pandemic situation is like nearer the time before committing himself. But in doing that he is in danger of finding nowhere suitable, as all the best places in both sectors might be filled. So do we hand over a £400 deposit now, which is a lot of money for us, and risk unis might not go ahead and we have thrown a lot of money away?  Or does he hold out for now and wait;  and not hand over any deposit, while all the time places are being filled and there might be nothing left that is within his budget?

Edited by Lisa O`Brien

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The one, major drawback about St. Mary's University College is that it doesn't have its own accommodation. Everything else about it seems wonderful.

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https://www.smucb.ac.uk/downloads/saffairs/Accommodation Booklet 2017-18.pdf

 

This is a couple of years out of date but assume you and Sean have seen an updated version? 
 

My Dd is due to start university this autumn and found the decision making around accommodation difficult. Eventually she went for halls although she doesn’t need to pay a deposit until the allocation is made later in the summer. 

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If you contact the university would they put him in contact with someone in the first year of his course to give advice? Or are there any Facebook groups etc for students from there? 

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14 hours ago, Jane said:

https://www.smucb.ac.uk/downloads/saffairs/Accommodation Booklet 2017-18.pdf

 

This is a couple of years out of date but assume you and Sean have seen an updated version? 
 

My Dd is due to start university this autumn and found the decision making around accommodation difficult. Eventually she went for halls although she doesn’t need to pay a deposit until the allocation is made later in the summer. 

Thank you for this. Don't know how you managed to find it as it was taken down ages ago. I remembered that there was a list of local landlords with lodgings. However, now this whole page no longer is up I assume they no longer have these landlords on their list? Stranmillis University College , which is the other University College connected to Queen's is stunning, and do have their own accommodation. But it is way too expensive. Students in Northern Ireland are given a maximum accommodation grant of £3,475 a year. In England i think they get five and a half thousand, so can pretty much choose to live wherever they want. There are lovely, new buildings in the centre of Belfast owned by Student Roost. Only foreign students or those paying a substantial amount extra themselves would be able to afford to live there. Arlene Foster, the first minister, has actually been talking about reducing the amount students get here. She thinks they get too much.

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4 hours ago, Peony said:

If you contact the university would they put him in contact with someone in the first year of his course to give advice? Or are there any Facebook groups etc for students from there? 

Thank you Peony. I'll tell him to look.

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I obviously don’t know you economic circumstances but would Sean be entitled to the maintenance grant on top of the maintenance loan? 

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Just looking at this, but is it the landlord or the estate agents who are saying that a deposit is non refundable under any circumstances?  And is that actually legal? I know nothing about the law, but are they all doing this? 

 

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5 hours ago, Jane said:

I obviously don’t know you economic circumstances but would Sean be entitled to the maintenance grant on top of the maintenance loan? 

He doesn't know yet. Has applied online, so is waiting to hear what he is entitled to.

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13 minutes ago, Fonty said:

Just looking at this, but is it the landlord or the estate agents who are saying that a deposit is non refundable under any circumstances?  And is that actually legal? I know nothing about the law, but are they all doing this? 

 

Hello. I've no idea if the estate agent is acting for a private landlord. I know it is illegal in England, Scotland and Wales not to issue tenants with a refund in certain circumstances. I don't think it applies here though.

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Thinking out loud here, for what it's worth:

 

A colleague who teaches at a couple of London unis was talking about next year's intake the other day, and suggested that it was possible they might have to start off with online classes from day 1.  That could be what the accommodation officer was thinking.

 

Presumably this degree is going to take several years, and Sean may therefore need to consider what he needs to do over the summer vacation in terms of renting.  I would assume that uni accommodation will be more or less term-time only, and that they rent the rooms out for conferences or whatever over the summer, whereas if he's in private rented accommodation is it likely that he'll have to go on paying rent over the summer to retain the room?  That's how it used to be in my day (although that was a very long time ago!)

 

In England and Wales, if you rent you pay a standard deposit which the landlord is legally obliged to put into some sort of special account for you and refund you - minus breakages etc. - at the end of the rental term.  I don't know whether that's the same in NI - and/or whether this is some additional deposit?

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My DD is currently at university (well at home doing online lectures/seminars etc). She has been in university flats this year and they are not charging for the summer terms accommodation provided she is fully moved out within a week of the lockdown ending. Still has belongings in her flat as she left in a hurry to be at home for the lockdown. She is renting a house with friends next year and has actually already signed the contract (in February) - no deposit to pay other than the standard one which is part of the Tennancy Deposit scheme and as such is returnable at the end of the tenancy minus costs of breakages etc. I am wondering if your non-returnable deposit is actually one from the estate agents ? We have never actually gone through an estate agency for any of my DCs  - my son had 4 years in private rentals at uni and now rents in London - always done direct with a landlord. Given your sons age and circumstances I would probably suggest going for a private house share but I would widen your net in searching as I really have never known it go though an estate agent and I think that is bumping your costs up

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13 hours ago, alison said:

 

A colleague who teaches at a couple of London unis was talking about next year's intake the other day, and suggested that it was possible they might have to start off with online classes from day 1.  That could be what the accommodation officer was thinking.

In all honesty this is what we are expecting to happen for my Dd course for at least the first term. Husband works at a university and they are working out the logistics of when they reopen how they will cope with crowds in corridors at ends of lectures, spacing in labs, width of corridors etc because they fully expect social distancing to be advised for the ongoing future. Never mind the logistics of getting everything online for lectures. 
My niece also due to start university in September has already been told her course will now start in January. 

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