The president of the Union of Students in Ireland has said that the Government must introduce legislation which offers protection to student renters.

Many students have been told that their planned student accommodation is now being offered on the open market, particularly in Donegal, Galway and Kerry.

Purpose-built student accommodation that had been ringfenced is now not being made available in many instances.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Beth O'Reilly said: "The private companies are seeking a profit and if there isn't legislation to ensure that student accommodation stays as student accommodation, these companies are going to seek out a profit in whatever way they can.

"We'd like to see legislation that protects student renters and ensures that their purpose-built student accommodation doesn't get its use changed to private use accommodation or just as holiday rental accommodation.

"We need to ensure that the Government is aware that this is an issue that is happening on local levels, not just in the cities. It needs to be addressed through legislation," they added.

"We just don't have the number of beds that we need for students. When we're losing the beds that we have, it's creating a huge crisis for any student looking to enter into higher education," the USI president said, adding that she does not have specific numbers in terms of students impacted.

The Department of Further and Higher Education said Minister Simon Harris has made the provision of on-campus purpose-built student accommodation a priority.

It said the pace of development has not been sufficient and the cost of the accommodation has posed significant challenges for families.

Mr Harris has prioritised two new policy interventions, it said.

These include giving Technological Universities the authority to borrow to fund student accommodation and the State "bridging the gap for publicly funded colleges between the viability of delivering purpose built student accommodation and subsequent rental affordability for students with detailed work on this policy being finalised".

Meanwhile, the Labour Party said it backs the call from the USI to introduce legislation to safeguard student accommodation.

Senator Annie Hoey, the party's spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, says the issue of lack of supply has "been building last four or five years".

"We have an overall housing crisis and the student accommodation crisis is just one part of that," she said.

Beth O'Reilly said the Student Accommodation Strategy, which outlined bed builds and projected student accommodation demands, has not been updated since 2019.

"We're operating on pre-Covid numbers and we really don't know where we stand. From a casework level, we know how many students are coming to us day in day out that are looking for accommodation and can't find it.

"There is a huge shortage of beds available from private landlords and there is a huge stigma attached to letting students rent in your house. A lot of the students that would enter the private rental market are being priced out.

"Even on the highest rate of SUSI, even with grant payments, students can't afford to pay for private rented accommodation," they added before saying that legislation for students who have digs tenancy agreements is also needed.

'Limited' options for Govt

The Minister of State for Skills and Further Education has said that the Government has "limited" options with regard to how to address the issue of student accommodation owners opting not to rent to students.

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said: "We're limited in terms of what approach we can take to people who own private student accommodation. You're into the whole area of constitutionality and property rights.

"It's a situation that is a difficulty for us to handle as a Government. Within the private sector that issue is becoming acute now. Some private operators made their facilities available for the Ukrainian cause and some of those bed spaces are not being made available for accommodation of students which is regrettable.

"I would call on those private operators to reconsider their approach and their stance," Mr Collins said.

Last September, Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien issued a circular stating that purpose-built student accommodation should be safeguarded for use by students.

"The circular was for any new permissions or any proposed student accommodations which would be applied for and built into the future.

"Any new planning permissions issued by local authorities have been directed by circular to ensure that any student accommodation planning applications would be conditioned for use as student accommodation," Mr Collins said.

Meanwhile, Mayo-based David Friel, who is a student at Atlantic Technological University in Letterkenny, Co Donegal paid a deposit on accommodation earlier this year but, along with more than 50 other students, has been told that the accommodation is no longer available.

"We put down our security deposits around the end of March. There was around 50 or 60 of us that put down this deposit," Mr Friel said.

"In the middle of June, we got sent the emails to say that they could no longer provide the accommodation in Letterkenny for us.

"The reason that we were given was the cost of maintenance and that they could no longer afford to keep the students in the accommodation.

"I'm still looking for accommodation but there's nothing available for us," he added.