14 Feb 2017

Students struggle as rents rise while allowances stay put

9:22 am on 14 February 2017

Students in Wellington and Auckland are struggling to find affordable flats as rents surge but government assistance for those studying remains stagnant.

Wellington houses

Rents in Wellington and Auckland are rising but student living costs have not increased. Photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jared Kelly / Flickr

Last year, over 50,000 students received a weekly living payment as part of their loan through the Ministry of Social Development's Studylink scheme.

The maximum amount has not increased since the start of 2015, and some students struggling to keep up with rising rents say that's not good enough.

Anna Lawson, a commerce student at Victoria University in Wellington, receives Studylink's weekly living payment of $176.86.

Anna Lawson

Anna Lawson receives a weekly living payment. Photo: RNZ / Edward O'Driscoll

She is paying $180 per week for her room - $3.14 above what she can get through her loan.

She said it would be hard for others who relied solely on their student loans to pay for other essentials, like food, power and transport.

"I think it would be very difficult, like personally I have help from my parents. My mum actually took on some extra shifts to help me at the moment because I don't have a part-time job, but I imagine for people who can't get help from their parents, it would be extremely difficult considering it doesn't even cover rent", she said.

Ms Lawson estimates her weekly living expenses are almost $300 a week, leaving a gap of over $100 between her cost of living, and what the government gives students.

Rory Lenihan-Ikin, the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations's acting spokesperson, said the government needed to keep up with the rising cost of being a student.

Rory Lenihan-Ikin.

Rory Lenihan-Ikin. Photo: Supplied

"I think it's a joke that the government expects people to be able to live on what is a small percentage of the real cost of living in most parts of the country."

He said students were struggling to find flats, especially in Wellington, where the rent was upwards of $200 per week.

"It's over 100 percent of what students can borrow to live on each week, used up on rent alone."

Statistics from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that the current average rent for a room in a three bedroom house or apartment in Dunedin is $118 a week, compared to Auckland's average of $253 for the same type of room.

Rosie Goble, a Law and Geography student at the University of Auckland, lives in a flat with eight other people to keep living costs down.

However, she still has to pay $165 a week for her room, and has to work to get money on top of her loan.

"Me personally paying $165, which is very reasonable, I think, only leaves me $11 to supposedly buy food and stuff - I guess, transport as well."

Ms Goble said she didn't want to work as much during exam times, which meant she wouldn't have the extra cash that she relied on each week.

Ella McKewan, an occupational therapy student at Otago Polytech in Dunedin, pays $130 a week for her rent, and said the studylink payment covered most of her basic living costs.

"It's an adequate amount of money. There's not much left over at the end of the week, but it is enough to live off", she said.

Ella McKewan.

Ella McKewan Photo: Supplied

Mr Lenihan-Ikin said it was unfair for students who study at tertiary institutes in areas where the rental median was high, because they didn't get extra money based on where they lived.

"Where we've got centres, you know Auckland and Wellington, that are dramatically more expensive to live in than other parts of the country, you have to ask - why are students expected to be able to live on the same amount from the government?"

Minister of Tertiary Education Paul Goldsmith said the government adjusted the living cost maximum based on the consumer price index rate.

The living cost has risen by $21.86 since inflation matching began in 2009, but didn't change last year due to a negative rate of inflation in 2015.

However the CPI rate rose by 1.3 percent last year, indicating a slight increase to the living payments from April.

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