Keele University has agreed to give a rent rebate to students who normally live in halls on campus but have been stuck at their family homes since early December.
It means they won’t be charged from January 4 up until the lockdown restrictions are lifted, which is set to be mid-February at the earliest.
But members of the Keele University Rent Strike group say, while this is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough.
They also want a 50 per cent discount for students who have already returned to Keele as they are doing subjects classed as a priority by the Government. These include courses with a large practical element, such as health-related degrees, along with social work and teacher training.
Campaigners claim these students are unable to receive the full accommodation experience and are surrounded by empty rooms, so it’s unfair to charge them full whack.
Students’ other demands include:
- Being able to end tenancy agreements without the loss of their deposit;
- Getting the university to carry out health and safety checks and maintenance improvements on its accommodation.
Georgia Taylor, one of the organisers of the rent strike, said: “We’ve got 150 students up for it and more are signing up every day. We are still withholding rent until the demands are met.”
But she described the university’s offer of a rebate for many students as ‘really positive’. “It shows the strength of people power,” she added.
Twenty-two-year-old Georgia, who is studying politics and international relations, is currently sofa-surfing with friends in Bath as she’s been advised not to go back to her Keele accommodation. All her classes are now taking place online.
“The first rent payment for this semester at Keele was due on January 15 and is just under £2,500. Then in April, another instalment of around £1,800 is due,” she said.
Keele is one of dozens of universities across the country to be hit by rent strikes. Campaigners have focused on university-managed accommodation.
But that still leaves many students in privately-rented halls of residence or houses paying the full amount.
Professor Trevor McMillan, vice-chancellor of Keele University, has now written an open letter to local student landlords, urging them to ‘match’ the university’s rebate offer.
He said: “As a university, we feel we need to do all we can to minimise the negative impact of the current lockdown measures on students and our decision to offer a rent rebate is one of the ways we feel we can do that.
“For many, critically-important part-time jobs will have ended as a result of the lockdown measures, many families will also be facing wider financial hardships limiting their ability to provide support, and, for some students, this family support is not available.”
It comes as a survey by the National Union of Students has found 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent. And a third believe they will not be allowed to end their tenancy agreements due to the pandemic.
NUS vice-president Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said the Government needs to act. She added: “Students deserve better than to be financially punished for following public health guidance.”