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A Parent’s Guide To Starting University

By Simon Thompson
Starting university is not only a life-changing event for new students, but a watershed for their parents as well.

As soon as a place at university is secured, the countdown for the start of term begins, which can be just a few short weeks away for late-comers who grab a last-minute course.

Moving in to a home of their own gives your son and daughter responsibility for looking after themselves and managing their money for the first time.

Even if your son or daughter stay at home to study, starting university signals a new beginning for you all as mum and dad relinquish some control.

Experience shows that the best student/parent relationships involve mum and dad stepping back to let their children make their own decisions while staying in the background to offer a helping hand.

With that in mind, here is some advice pooled from other university parents about how they coped with some common problems for students.

Living the dream

Dream accommodation for a student is often the stuff of nightmares for their parents.

For the parents, somewhere clean, near shops and transport and located in a ‘nice’ neighbourhood comes top of the list.

Students often want a home with other students, near nightlife and fast food and within stumbling distance of lectures.

Most universities offer a mix of accommodation to suit different needs and budgets.

Many guarantee a place in halls of residence on campus or with an accredited private landlord. Often these ‘guarantees’ come with conditions and are subject to availability. The truth is few universities have enough beds in halls of residence to accommodate every student and their guarantees are not necessarily as watertight as they would suggest.

In the past year, Leicester’s de Montfort University put up some students at a motorway service station hotel students at Falmouth slept in doubled up rooms that were posted as single accommodation.

The general rule of thumb is apply early for the best accommodation.

Accommodation comes in three types -

On campus halls of residence

Living on campus means learning and leisure facilities are on the doorstep - including the students union.

Rooms have broadband, many are en suite and modern blocks group several rooms around a shared kitchen and lounge with TV.

Off campus halls of residence

Many of these halls are privately owned and run but offer the same facilities as university halls. These can be from small blocks to skyscrapers, so check out both before making a decision.

Private student digs

These are shared houses let to small groups of students by private landlords. Most universities have an accreditation scheme that vets landlords and their properties to ensure they meet the highest health and safety standards.

Others may be provided privately or through letting agents.

All the small things

Viewing accommodation is important. Most families will take in the neighbourhood, condition of the rooms and information like who pays the rent and bills, but do not forget to consider all the small things that are just as important as well:

Council tax - Full-time students are exempt from paying council tax, but if you get a bill and think you should be exempt, contact the local council.

A full-time student is someone enrolled to attend a course lasting at least one academic or calendar year - and who attends for at least 24 weeks out of a year for 21 hours or more a week.

TV licence - If you watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV, you need a licence regardless of what type of device you use to view – like a laptop, PC, mobile phone, games console, digital box, VHS/DVD recorder or anything else.

Watching programmes online at the same time as they are shown on TV also needs a licence, like live music or sport.

If you live in halls of residence, they probably have a licence covering communal areas but you’ll also need to be covered for your room. Check this out with the halls manager.

If you live in a shared house, who needs a licence depends on the tenancy agreement.

A joint tenancy agreement for the whole house normally needs a single licence for the property.

If you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room or your own entrance to self-contained accommodation, you’ll need to be covered by a separate licence.

Utilities - Most hall accommodation rents includes heating, lighting, satellite TV and broadband/wi-fi. Shared houses may have different arrangements and make sure they are clearly explained to each renter so they understand their financial obligations. If one renter collects and pays the bills for the rest, you want to know for sure that the bills are paid in full and on time.

Cleaning - Hall managers or landlords are responsible for looking after the cleaning in communal areas like kitchens, stairways, gardens and outside paths. Students need to keep their personal space clean and tidy. Some halls offer room cleaning for an extra fee.

Linen - Generally, linen is not provided, so students need to take their own bedding, towels and any other linen, like tea towels. Some halls of residence may sell linen packs for around £25.

Laundry - Halls will have coin-operated laundry rooms. Check private accommodation for washer and dryers otherwise you may need to scout a launderette.

Kitchen equipment - Halls will have cutlery and appliances, but students will need to provide mugs, cups, plates and any special items for the fridge, freezer or cooking, like plastic containers or casserole dishes.

Car parking - This is often a thorny issue for student accommodation that does not have dedicated parking. Some universities, like Oxford have a ban on students bringing a car in to the city as a condition of attending a course, although some detractors dispute this is enforceable.

Secure storage - Some belongings are too big to keep in rooms, like sports gear or bikes. ask about for secure rooms or cages for storage. A locker at a local self storage unit may be a cheap and cheerful solution as somewhere to keep unused luggage and large items that are not in continued use.

Reservation fees and deposits - Halls of residence will want a reservation fee and a probably a bond. Halls and private landlords are likely to ask parents to stand as rent guarantors. Special rules apply to protecting deposits for tenants who rent shared houses - see Protecting your deposit below

Staying out-of-term - Most university and private halls rents are from September to July, including term breaks. Students can stay in halls out of term if they like.

Rental agreements

Tenancy agreements depend on the type of property your son or daughter is moving in to. Most halls give a licence to occupy, but many private landlords letting shared houses use assured shorthold tenancy agreements.

Licence to occupy

A tenant has a much reduced right to stay in a property under a licence to occupy in comparison to an assured tenancy agreement. A licence to occupy differs from a tenancy agreement because the arrangement does not create an interest in the property.

Guests at hotels and bed-and-breakfasts or lodgers have a licence to occupy. The key difference between a tenancy and a licence is exclusive possession. Most students living in a shared house would have a licence rather than a tenancy.

Assured shorthold tenancy agreements

An assured shorthold tenancy (AST) is sometimes called a ‘default’ letting agreement, because if a landlord has no written contract, the arrangements between the landlord and tenant revert to an AST.

The term refers to the tenancy agreement and covers the legal rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant.

The agreement can last for any term, but most are for six months and few landlords agree to more than a 12 months.

A tenancy agreement creates a legal interest in the property that restricts the landlord’s right to take possession.

On the other hand, the benefit for landlords is no reason is needed to take possession of a property once the correct notice is served to end the AST.

If a landlord wants a tenant to leave, the notice is generally two months, while if the tenant wishes to go, they have to give one month’s notice. A landlord has to request the tenant to quit by completing and serving a Section 21 notice. The section refers to the relevant clause in the Housing Act. 1988.

If the tenant fails to leave, the landlord can pursue eviction through a county court.

Deposit Protection

Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes make sure landlords and letting agents keep safe any money handed over as a bond or deposit. All assured shorthold tenancy agreement deposits in England and Wales must be protected by law, while a similar scheme is about to start in Scotland.

How tenant deposit protection works

In law, a deposit or bond remains the property of the tenant even if handed over to a landlord or letting agent to meet the terms of a tenancy agreement.

A TDP scheme guarantees the deposit is handed back to a renter when they live the home, provided they have kept to the terms of any tenancy agreement and caused no damage to the property.

If the landlord does not place the deposit on protection, the tenant may claim a penalty of three times the deposit in court. The landlord will also lose some rights to take possession of the rented property.

Landlords must provide the following information in writing to the tenant within 14 days of receiving the deposit:

• Details of the TDP holding the deposit

• Information about the scheme’s dispute resolution service

• Instructions on releasing the deposit

• Returning a deposit when the tenant or landlord is absent

• How the TDP scheme protects the deposit

• Confirmation of the deposit paid and the rented property’s address

• Contact details for the landlord and/or letting agent

• Contact details of any third party paying the deposit

• Services covered by the deposit

• Reasons why a landlord can retain all or part of the deposit

• How the tenant can dispute the amount retained from a deposit

Who keeps the deposit?

The government has approved three independent TDP schemes who hold the money for the duration of the tenancy.

Returning a deposit to a tenant

At the end of the agreement, the money is reclaimed and, under certain circumstances, the landlord can keep all or some of the cash to cover the cost of repairing any missing or damaged items.

If the tenant and landlord dispute the claim for loss or damage, each TDP scheme has an adjudicator who will look at the evidence from both sides and recommend a solution.

Fair wear and tear

Arguments over fair wear are the biggest bugbear between tenants and landlords.

The landlord often argues that keeping some or all of the deposit is justified because of damage to the property, while the tenant claims the so-called damage is fair wear and tear and was only to be expected and should not result in losing any money.

The law says that landlords cannot retain deposits for fair wear and tear without defining what the term means - although most people consider the term covers bumps, scrapes and scuffs that result from everyday living.

The solution is a detailed inventory compiled on taking the keys - just like walking round a hire car and noting down any dents or paint scrapes before driving off. Always complete the inventory with the landlord, agent or halls manager and make sure someone takes a lot of photographs to illustrate any points that may cause confusion later.

Moving to university

The big packing mistake is trying to plan for eventuality and filling bags and boxes with tons of stuff that will never see the light of day.

The best way to pack is to try and balance what your son and daughter really needs against what they would like.

Under packing is always the best option, because until a student gets in to a routine, they just do not know what that might need.

Start by making a some lists - one for clothes and personal items with another for study. Remember shelf and wardrobe space is limited and do not double up - for instance do you really need a stereo system and a computer with speakers?

Remember universities are not islands in the middle of nowhere, shops and supermarkets are nearby for those forgotten essentials.

What to do on moving day

The anticipation and excitement of making and moving to a new life and home is a recipe for disaster - like forgetting documents and other important ‘stuff’.

Here are a few tips to make the day go smoother:

Keep some cash handy

Top of the list is access to money. At the start of term, that student loan or other cash might not hit the bank just when expected, so it’s better to have some ready cash and some money in the bank for those initial expenses.

Check out the forms

Reading forms is not high on the list for most teenagers heading for university. Make sure any forms, identification and photographs that are needed are packed and easily accessible.

Have a quick look around

Take a note of essential facilities like reception, the bar, somewhere to eat, bus stops and nearby shops. Detailed exploration can come later.

Appliance of science

No matter how many exam passes they have, students are notoriously dense when finding out to operate ovens, water heaters and other run-of-the-mill electrical appliances that are not linked to computers or games consoles. Before leaving, mum and dad should demonstrate the finer points of switching appliances on and off.

Don’t overstay your welcome

By all means help to make your son or daughter comfortable in their new home, but leave them to unpack and don’t stay longer than is polite and necessary because they will want to settle in and meet their new neighbours.

Student insurance

The student insurance market has a bewildering array of offers and incentives all shouting for students about to leave home for the first time to sign up.

Don’t just the first policy you find - check out the cover you need and go through the exclusions to make sure the policy does what it says on the tin.

Don’t buy expensive cover before checking out your home insurance. If the policy has all-risks cover and your son or daughter lives at home during term breaks, then it’s likely their valuables and belongings are covered even when they are at their digs.

Even if the policy doesn't have all risks cover, it's probably cheaper to add the option than to buy student contents insurance.

For the insurer to pay up if a student makes a claim, the valuables or belongings need to be kept in a secure room or locker.

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