Mature student Keith Scattergood lives in a three-bedroom, detached house just seven miles from Oxford’s city centre. Nothing unusual about that, until you learn he has the whole place to himself but pays just £200 a month, including bills.

Keith is one of a growing number of ‘property guardians,’ drafted in to ‘caretake’ empty buildings around the country.

Living almost rent free allows them to save up for a deposit for their first home or, in Keith’s case, pay their way through college.

The live-in guardian scheme is run by Camelot Property Management which provides protection for empty buildings.

Although some are residential, most are commercial properties such as former office blocks, hotels, warehouses, nursing homes, hospital buildings and pubs.

The company claims it is a win-win situation in that by having someone living there, the landlords benefit as the building is less likely to fall prey to squatters, vandalism or metal theft.

And for property guardians, the benefits of paying less than half or even a third of market rates are particularly attractive in a climate where property prices and rents are sky-high.

A quick check of Camelot’s website shows 67 properties around the UK advertising for guardians, including rooms in an ex-care home in Swindon at £40 per week and a former school near Salisbury at £45 per week.

But there are drawbacks to being a guardian.

In many cases, the properties may be slightly run down and usually do not have central heating, although running water and mains electricity are guaranteed.

Although guardians have their own room, they may be expected to share a property with others.

And unlike a traditional rental situation, the guardian does not have tenancy rights.

Almost all of the properties are on the market, which means guardians can be given two weeks’ notice to quit.

Mr Scattergood, 29, in the first year of a furniture making and craft course at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, views the arrangement as ideal.

After living abroad, he was accepted on to his college course at the last minute and had ten days to sort out accommodation.

Unable to find anywhere within budget, he spent months in a youth hostel sharing a six-bed dorm, until hearing about the property guardian scheme.

Before moving to the house in Garsington at the end of February, he could have opted to set up home in a former Habitat warehouse in Wallingford, for £40 per week.

He said: “I think it is a fantastic scheme.There are some weird and wacky properties on the books and some may seem semi-derelict at first glance but that is doing them an injustice.

“When I first moved in here, there was not much carpet and no curtains.The garden was a bit overgrown and there were a few smashed windows.

“But that was sorted, friends gave me bits of furniture and I have put curtains up. After a few mornings doing the garden and cleaning the place up, it is pretty homely.

“There is no central heating but I have oil-filled radiators in the rooms. It still sounds a bit like a haunted house because of not having been lived in for a while but it’s a wicked place to live.

“They are trying to sell this place and I am here until they do. For me, it is ideal because I didn’t want to sign a contract and be committed for six months or a year. It is less than a third or quarter of the amount of rent I would be paying anywhere else. For me it has been very positive and I would recommend it.

“The worst scenario is that they sell the property, I get given two weeks’ notice and go back to living in the hostel.”

Property guardians typically pay a deposit. For Mr Scattergood this was £300 plus a £110 admin fee and after that, the monthly fee.

Guardians must be over 18, have proof of a regular income and no criminal record.

Camelot has about 1,000 properties on its books and although most are in mainland Europe, the idea is catching on fast here.

Other companies offering a similar service are Ad Hoc Property Management and Live-In Guardians.

Camelot’s marketing and sales support manager Fiona Hanley said: “When a property has been vacant for a long time it attracts squatters and vandalism but when there are people living there, they can report any damage or antisocial behaviour.

“But guardians are not expected to be a security guard. We offer a 24-hour security service so they call us and we act a lot faster than if the building’s owner was trying to sort it out themselves.

“People love it because it is affordable housing and the settings are offbeat. A photographer who was a guardian in a former warehouse in Battersea had a studio set up in the corner of his room because it was so huge.

“We have got an observatory near Manchester, churches, schools, warehouses and even a pink castle in the middle of an old Dutch theme park.”