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Propertymark Protected agency wins prestigious Guardian award

Thursday 26 April 2018

University of Surrey Lettings (USL) has won the prestigious ‘Student Experience’ award at the Guardian University Awards 2018.

USL was the first educational institution to become ARLA Propertymark Protected, and the team firmly believe in setting high standards and that being qualified and voluntarily regulated is imperative.

Liani Mannifield, USL Accommodation Manager, and Saskia Cochrane, President of the Students’ Union, were thrilled to accept the award, which was presented by Radio DJ and TV presenter Lauren Laverne at the awards ceremony held on 24 April at LSO St Luke’s in London.

The ‘Student Experience’ award recognises innovative projects or initiatives that have positively enhanced the academic and/or personal experience of the student body. USL fought off strong competition from other universities with the category receiving the second highest number of entries across the awards. 

Liani said: “It is not only an incredible achievement to be recognised for the delivery of such a great project but also rewarding to see the positive impact this project has had for our students.”

The aims of USL

USL is a not-for-profit lettings service which was established in November 2016 as part of an initiative by the Students' Union to provide a comprehensive advice and support service to students renting off campus. It also aims to bring students and the local community closer by fostering good relationships and making sure that students are acting as respectful neighbours within Guildford.

They are accredited by the Guildford Landlord Accreditation Scheme (GLAS) and work alongside Guildford Borough Council to promote professional landlord accreditation. The team also work closely with other ARLA Propertymark agencies including: Knight Frank, Leaders and Romans as part of their commitment to providing a fair deal for students.

Liani explains why the award means so much to the team: "It shows that the work we are doing is having a real impact on the student body. It has been a working partnership between the university and the Students’ Union which has proven hugely successful in delivering some terrific outcomes. USL are the first lettings agency owned by a university. 

“The award is recognition from the sector that there is a real need for such a service to be more widely available. It is a tremendous achievement for myself and my team but ultimately we are thankful that we have the opportunity to support our students."

A little help from ARLA Propertymark

Liani continues: "From the outset, it was essential that USL set the standard for letting agencies in the local area, and obtaining ARLA Propertymark membership played a key role in that. USL became the first university to gain membership and three of our staff gained Propertymark qualifications within the first six months. 

"ARLA Propertymark have been instrumental in the role they have played by supporting us with awareness campaigns, local government and ensuring we have knowledgeable staff.”

USL provides a practical advice service to all students preparing to or already living in the private sector. They also manage the University's head leasing scheme, which allows private landlords to rent their properties directly to the University as their tenant and then the property is sublet to students without a monthly fee percentage.

President of the Students’ Union, Saskia said: “We are delighted that USL have received well deserved recognition for their hard work. The topic of student accommodation has been on the Union’s agenda for many years and together with USL we are confident that great improvements can continue to be made. Having a comfortable, secure and appropriate place to live at University is incredibly important and is fundamental to the student experience.”

The wider community

USL is keen to make a positive impact in Guildford. During its first 18 months the team reached out to the local community, to engage with resident associations, estate agents, landlords and the local council, to help foster greater understanding. The work the team have done has resulted in other letting agencies changing their practices and engaging more positively with the University and their students. 

Professor Jane Powell, Vice Provost Education and Students, said: “We’re delighted to see University of Surrey Lettings receive this accolade, which is a very pleasing recognition of the hard work the team have put in to make it a success. We are determined to make our students’ time at university the best possible experience for them, working closely with the Students’ Union, to ensure that they feel part of the wider community locally - and this is a great example of how we’re doing so. 

The Guardian summarised USL's application, saying: "A shortage of private sector accommodation in Guildford meant many students were either forced to travel long distances to university, or accept sub-standard accommodation at unreasonably high cost.

To help solve this problem, the university created a lettings agency in collaboration with the students’ union. The agency aims to raise the standards of private sector accommodation for students, lobby local politicians on issues relating to student housing, provide practical support and advice for students navigating the private lettings market and increase the proportion of rooms in Guildford available to rent for Surrey students. A closed Facebook group that has over 4,000 members also offers regular updates on the private rented sector."

This is the sixth year of the Guardian University Awards and the awards are highly recognised across the higher education sector in the UK.