Pictured above is the SU's advertisment of UK Student HousesCambridge SU/Facebook

On 18th February the Cambridge Student Union (SU) Facebook page shared a paid partnership post with UK Student Houses, a company which is also advertised on the SU’s website, with the intention of providing “great savings” for students.

The post advertised UK Student Houses Cambridge based property letting service which holds over 40 properties throughout Cambridge. UK Homes for Students is, however, merely a trade name for Homes For Students LTD, a company which has received extensive criticism for its business practices via online reviews from former letters.

Homes for Students LTD is one of the biggest UK student letting agencies, holding 92 properties across 35 UK towns and managing 22,500 beds through their various trading names. Operating under Homes for Students, Prestige Student Living, Essential Student Living, and UK Student Houses, Homes for Students LTD has rapidly expanded since its incorporation in 2005. The Covid-19 pandemic has not slowed down this expeditious expansion, with the company planning to reach 30,000 beds under management by the end of 2021 and almost doubling their net assets from 2019 to 2020; going from £2,652,529 to £4,487,619.

However, Homes for Students’ success has been blighted by an overwhelming weight of negative reviews which record reports of false advertising, withholding refunds, and taking advantage of students. Many leaving reviews for Homes for Students and Prestige Student Living report that the company has ignored requests for refunds and reimbursement for students who have been unable to move in due to Covid-19 restrictions. One reviewer wrote that Homes for Students had been “completely dismissive of the fact that Durham University asked students to not return to the city unless necessary. They are delaying answering any questions about contract cancellations and refunds in the hopes they will fool everyone into paying their next rent instalment.”

Another review for Prestige Student Living, a trade name for Homes for Students LTD wrote that, “I would avoid Prestige at all costs. My son and many of his fellow tenants are currently having a really hard time trying to recover their rent as a result of the Covid lockdown. The landlords and Prestige student living at Renslade House Exeter have steadfastly refused to offer any refund - completely at odds with all other student accommodation.”

When approached for comment a spokesperson for the SU saidtold Varsity that “Fundraising through commercial advertising helps the SU supplement its revenue and continue to expand its range of support services for students. Cambridge SU advertising services operate to a strict internal policy which is reviewed annually, through student and staff consultation, to ensure it reflects the views of our membership. The SU welcomes student feedback on any commercial partners that we work with and will listen to concerns raised and act, where necessary, to revise or cancel any campaign that is deemed inappropriate.”

The statement added that the SU had not previously been made aware of the concerns over UK Student Houses, and that the SU will be investigating this instance “to ensure that partnership is consistent with our policy and values.”

The Cambridge SU has been approached by Varsity to clarify their advertising policy, but so far has not responded. As such, it is unclear whether this partnership is in violation of their advertising policies or whether it would be permitted.

The Cambridge SU’s advertising is managed by an advertising agency SU Network. SU Network, according to their website, offers “marketing and sponsorship opportunities across multiple university campuses; to Students’ Unions, we offer Business Development and Finance support services, and the opportunity to grow and develop the above sales channels.” The company is partnered with several other Student Unions, including those of Surrey, Oxford and Bedfordshire Universities.

Homes for Students LTD has been approached for comment.