A literature review considering the changing nature of student housing in the United Kingdom and its impact on environmental health

Commendation for Significant Achievement


  • Isobel Westwood


Housing, students, environment, health, environmental health


It is key that students secure their accommodation carefully, as their housing can have a great impact on their health. Choosing the wrong housing can lead to poorer overall health. It is becoming more popular for university students to live away from home and with their limited funds, this means that students often lean towards cheaper and therefore lower quality housing. Common implications of poor housing are respiratory problems caused by mould, transmission of communicable diseases, or the development of mental health issues like anxiety or depression. All of these factors affect students’ ability to learn. To find relevant literature, search criteria included “student housing”, “student accommodation”, “environmental health”, and “health”. The traditional housing experience for students was often living in university-owned halls of residence in their first year, before moving out of the city centre into HMOs rented by landlords exclusively to students. Despite, the increasing populating of newbuild private student flats, a significant proportion of student accommodation remains 3-floor terraced houses with a large number of bedrooms and little space. To a more unscrupulous landlord, these HMOs were less a way to provide good housing to vulnerable students and more a way to fit as many students as possible into as little space as possible to achieve maximum profit. It was even common for some communal areas to be renovated into another bedroom to fit more tenants in and make more money. These houses often had mould that could lead to tenants developing respiratory conditions and suffering exacerbated symptoms. Lack of space meant mould was often more likely and would promote poor mental health due to the unwelcoming atmosphere. Students in an NUS survey reported they often felt their landlords did not respond quickly enough to complaints of poor conditions or required maintenance whichled them to seek other accommodation with other landlords. The neighbourhoods these houses were in often became “student ghettos” where the area became overrun with students as many houses were bought by landlords and rented to students. This often made the permanent residents unhappy due to the increases in antisocial behaviour and the student residents constantly changing every academic year. Private purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) has become increasingly more popular recently. Student accommodation buildings, newly built with the specific intention of private ownership and use as halls of residence for students, are usually formed of cluster flats, the most common style
containing ensuite bedrooms and a communal living area. The buildings are gated for security and to create a community of student residents. The concept behind these PBSA is that the onsite management team, overnight security team, and cleaning staff will work together to ensure the buildings are kept clean, safe, and well-maintained. However, this is not always the
case as there are reports of poor conditions like mould, pest infestations, and amenities breaking without being fixed or replaced. This accommodation is also often very expensive which can make it inaccessible to a number of lower income students who then find themselves being pushed back into poorer quality housing.