Canberra students struggle with rents

Canberra university students are living in their cars, dumpster diving for food and couch surfing at friends' places as they grapple with the ACT's expensive rental market.

Two reports released on Wednesday paint a dire picture for people studying in Canberra. A joint Anglicare and National Union of Students survey found 57 per cent of students in New South Wales and ACT had negative experiences with where they were living, while the latest Rental Affordability Index showed ACT students were paying one-third of their income in rent.

The Anglicare and the NUS housing research found 70 per cent of students lived off-campus with the remainder on-campus. More than half lived with roommates, with 20 per cent paying rent to live with family and 10 per cent living with family rent-free.

Students' top complaints were that rent was too expensive, accommodation was poorly maintained, that they couldn't study at home or landlord and lease issues.

Australian National University Bachelor of Arts student Catherine Claessens recently moved into a Lyneham share house after spending some time in social housing unit Havelock House. She works about six hours a week and no longer receives Youth Allowance, leaving little money left over once rent is paid.

The 25-year-old makes do by shopping at discount supermarkets, occasionally dumpster diving for food and riding her bike instead of riding public transport.

"It makes it hard when, for example, I have health emergencies, if I need antibiotics, if I've got an infection, prices of those sorts of things go up so you kind of have to look at what you can eat and where I can go for the week," Ms Claessens said.

"I'm pretty good at minimising my expenditure and being really frugal but I usually have to choose between going out for drinks once a week with a friend and getting medication or seeing my psychologist."

Ms Claessens said others she knew had it harder, pointing to a friend studying his PhD who lived on less than $200 a week and ate only tuna and rice.

"I have other friends who are regularly having to borrow from family and are working multiple jobs," she said.

"I am technically employed at three or four different places but continually having to move around to get different work, so that's pretty unstable and stressful."

ANU Student Association education officer Robyn Lewis said she had heard of students who lived in their cars for months while finding affordable housing, while others had offered up to $100 over a rental property's asking price to try and secure a home.

"Some students say they pretty much have $10 left after paying rent to deal with food and transport and stuff like that," she said.

"As well as that, [there's] problems with landlords and real estate agencies who don't respond to maintenance requests which means the house is growing mould, it doesn't have a functioning heater for months."

The Anglicare and National Union of Students report also found 91 per cent of New South Wales and ACT students sometimes or frequently had trouble paying for study items, 84 per cent said work had a moderate to severe impact on their studies and 89 per cent strongly disagreed Centrelink was enough to live on.

Students living away from home receive up to $437.50 a fortnight in Youth Allowance plus up to $133 a fortnight in rent assistance.

The National Shelter, Community Sector Banking and SGS Rental Affordability Index found rents in the ACT were acceptable to the average rental household, said to be earning $104,500 a year.

But, the report said, "low income households in the ACT face particularly unaffordable rents ... as rents are pushed up by the overall high income earning workforce".

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said some students on Centrelink were eligible for scholarships and noted a certain amount of money could be earned before payments were cut.

"Australia's strong welfare system provides significant supports to students and recognises the challenges facing by students, particularly those living away from home," he said.

But National Union of Students welfare officer Jill Molloy called for urgent action.

"If we don't take action now, we risk becoming a country where only those whose parents can afford to support them will be able to study without living in poverty," she said.

This story Canberra students struggle with rents first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.