Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Make The Smart Move - Housing advice week

This week represents Housing Advice Week at Cardiff Student’s Union. A week worth of housing advice to ensure that you; ‘Make the Smart Move’.

One of the keys messages is Don’t Rush – there is more supply than demand for student housing so don’t be pushed into signing an agreement, houses become available all year around. There is no panic so look around and don’t feel threatened into an agreement. Please be aware of agents who insist that all good houses go early.

Cardiffdigs has a section on moving into the private rented accommodation and a list of avoiding the pitfalls:

And to coincide with the week the Advice and Representation Centre have launched a new housing booklet to help you find the best accommodation. We caught up with Jane Harding from the Advice and Representation Centre on the third floor of the union who gave us an interview to talk about some real issues around housing and the key points. You can listen to the interview through the podbean section on the blog entitled Jane Harding interview and here is the transcript with some key advice.

Jane thank you for coming

Thank you, it’s good to be here

So tell us a bit about your role in the Advice and Representation Centre (ARC)

I’m a student advisor, I give general advice to students on a range of issues, we give advice on accommodation, housing issues, utility problems, consumer advice and some money advice too. I work in a team with two other advisors and our manager who also provide advice and assistance with any academic issues; academic representation, academic appeals. We can assist students who are going through unfair practice and disciplinary procedures and also if students want assistance with making a complaint against the university then we can also assist with that. My specialism is housing advice.

Housing advice, ok and that’s really what we want to talk about today. So what are the main issues that students face when they are looking for housing?

The main issue is finding something that is a good quality, good standard of accommodation and they have a good landlord or letting agent, and that the contract is sound and I think that if student have those things in place then they will have a very happy and successful tenancy.

So are there some key points that student should look out for, obviously the strap line for housing advice week is ‘Make the Smart Move’. So how do you go about making the smart move?   

First off we have a housing advice booklet that gives some very very useful information and just about everything you need to know when you are about start to rent private rented accommodation is included. The housing advice booklet is being distributed, if you haven’t got a copy come into ARC and get one ( It really is a very useful document.

It goes through advice about signing contracts, it’s very important to read a contract carefully, an experienced advisor at ARC can check that contract for you to make sure it’s a good and legal document. We can point out any things we think are not legal, things that we think are unfair, point out any mistakes as sometimes they are standard documents and sometimes there are simple mistakes that need to be removed and generally help you with that. It’s very important thing to realise is that they are joint contracts; so a group of students is legally bound by that contract until its end. So it’s very important to read your contract carefully.

The housing booklet also contains advice about tenancy deposits and the fact they need to be protected. We have a section on bills and council tax and TV licenses, we have a very useful checklist and I would really recommend that students use that checklist when looking for accommodation because if most of the answers on your checklist are YES then you are probably going to get a nice place to rent and everything should be ok. We also have sections on repairs and standards of accommodation.

A really useful booklet that is available at ARC. Where are you based for those students who don’t know?

We are based on the third floor of the Students Union building. We have drop in sessions weekdays daily between 10am and 3pm, expected for on Thursdays when we open at 1pm. You can e-mail us too at

That’s great. Now there are obviously a lot of letting agencies across Cardiff. I think we have somewhere in the region of 110 letting agencies and a lot of them aren’t accredited. So can you run us through some advice about when we are going through a letting agency?             
Kieran you are absolutely right – there are a lot of letting agencies across Cardiff. The issue that we have with letting agents in the UK is that anybody can set up a letting agent, you do not have to belong to any accreditation organisation or be monitored in any way. I believe you can also have a criminal record, unfortunately. Yes I think you probably can which makes it very difficult to know you are going to get a good standard of service. Letting agents can be accredited and there are a number of accreditation organisations which does make it a little confusing but Cardiff has a local accreditation organisation called ALMA, Association of Letting and Management Agents. ALMA have a website and you can get a list of their agents, but there are a lot of national organisations; ARLA, RICS, NARLS.

And the message is students really need to look at going with an accredited agency because if there credentials are right, then essentially that filters down into the landlords and the accommodation and the accommodation standard.

Plus you can also make a complaint about an organisation; you have a body to complain to if their standards are not good. Also landlords can be accredited and Cardiff Council does a scheme supporting landlord accreditation.

The Landlord Accreditation Wales (LAW) Scheme that they can get accredited through.

The university have a private sector housing list out in February and they support Landlord Accreditation Wales. So that is a good way of making sure you get a good landlord.

And so Don’t Panic, I know the message is Make the Smart Move but a lot of people get, not hassled, but gently steered into signing the first contract that they see, they rush into a contract that isn’t sensible, the advice is get someone to read through it before you sign it.

Absolutely. Any good letting agent or landlord should give you a copy, not necessarily the actual document but a copy of the document that you will be signing. So you can easily get it checked. If they are not prepared to give you that document to be checked then that raises concerns straight away. We have ten key steps to finding good accommodation and number one in that list is don’t rush. There is plenty of student accommodation out there. I’m still seeing students who are signing contracts in May even June. Like I said before the Universities lists don’t even come out until February so there is time. A couple of things to be mindful of is larger properties do go quickly, there are some ten bed properties if you did decide to go into a larger property like that then it might be a good idea to start your search a little bit sooner. Also there is no harm in looking, there is no harm of getting an idea of what’s out there and if there is a property that is really good and you feel very positive about it there is no problem with signing a contract now as long as you feel that it is a good contract and you would be happy in that accommodation.

And that you are going to be happy with the people that you live with, because essentially you might have only known these people for the last two or three months.


And one of the key steps here is ‘Do good neighbours become good friends’. Essentially you might know these people through halls but living with them is a completely different ball game.

It is a completely different ball game and the one thing we see a lot is student circumstances change. They might have signed a contract now and then in a few months time they might have decided that they don’t want to live with that group of people or that something might have changed in their personal life which means that they can’t carry on with the course. And then students are in a situation where they have to find a replacement because once you are in that joint contract you are bound by that joint contract until it ends the following year.

I think that’s a really important point to get across that this is probably the first main contract that any individual is going to sign, over and above your phone contract this is the first big contract that you will ever sign so the ten key steps which is fantastic advice is things like:

Don’t Rush
Do good neighbours become good friends?
What you see is what you get
Beware of promises
Size does matter; a little bit about licensing
Play it safe
Protecting the bond
And that there is no escape but essentially one of the main points is

Think twice get advice

So if you are not sure of any aspect of looking for your house contact ARC and come and see Jane and her team who do a fantastic job on the 3rd floor just go and see them and they will be happy to answer any questions.

And however small the question or it could be a massive issue or a tiny little concern you have we are absolutely happy to help with anything

Answer any queries and I think the message is also it doesn’t matter what year you are in either.

No it doesn’t. I think housing advice week is targeted at first years because like you say Kieran it is the first contract you are every going to sign and it is a very big decision.

But that doesn’t exclude the second and third years. Come for the advice this week because people may have had bad experiences potentially in the second year and we don’t want that replicated for second and third years.

We do offer students advice throughout the year, we do have students that have problems with things like repairs and problems with getting their tenancy deposits back and problems with sometimes landlord harassment and lots and lots of issues come up throughout the year and we are happy to give advice on any of those matters.

That is a really important point. That ARC isn’t just about housing, it’s about any kind of advice any kind of welfare that you need just drop in and they will be happy to help you engage with the union.

Jane I’m really grateful for you coming in and talking with us

It’s been great to talk with you Kieran

Good luck with Housing Advice Week.

The message is Make the Smart Move and get advice.        

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