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Student rent strike continues despite university affordable housing pledge

HOUSING BRISTOL: affordable housing, students

Students on ‘rent strike’ say they will continue to withhold rent payments from the University of Bristol, despite a pledge to make a fivefold increase in affordable accommodation.

Photos: Dan Hobson

In March, campaign group Bristol, Cut the Rent called upon students in University of Bristol-owned halls of residence to withhold their rent payment on 24 April in a protest over the affordability of accommodation.

Since then, more than 150 students have pledged to withhold their rent — at an estimated cost to the university of £100,000-£300,000 — and a series of demonstrations have taken place.

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The campaigners are demanding that 50% of all university-owned accommodation should cost below half of the maximum student maintenance loan. They also want an increase in accommodation bursaries, more emergency housing provision and more transparency regarding the university’s rent budget.

On 2 May, campaigners met with Simon Bray, director of residential and hospitality services at the University of Bristol, and Robert Kerse, chief operating officer.

Following the meeting, Mr Bray said the university will increase the number of lower level ‘value’ rooms that cost below half of the maximum student maintenance loan from 1% to 5% — making 431 rooms in total — and has promised to create more emergency housing provision. He also pledged that rents will only increase by 2.7% on average, in line with the recent annual change in inflation (RPI).

Ruth Day, of Bristol, Cut the Rent, said it was a positive first step. “We are happy that the number of lower level ‘value’ rooms has increased from 1% to 5%, as it is getting closer to our demand of 50%,” she said.

“We believe that the university can go much further. This is a positive first step but the strike will continue”

“There is a lot more negotiating to be done, though. We believe that the university can go much further. This is a positive first step but the strike will continue.”

The university has confirmed that “usual debt collecting procedures will be applied” to strikers.

Ruth said: “The university has committed to sending us their debt collection procedures. Seeing those will depend on the advice we give to students going forward. In the meantime, the strike continues.”

Mr Bray said the aims of the university were aligned with the campaigners, insisting both wanted student accommodation to be as “affordable and accessible as possible”.

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He said: “We don’t make a profit from our student rents; all income generated is used for operating, maintaining and improving the residences.”

“The price of our accommodation is similar to that charged by universities in the other cities in the south of England and we benchmark it against commercial accommodation providers in Bristol to ensure it remains competitive,” he added.

“We plan to review the financial support offered to students living in our halls of residence again ahead of the 2020/21 academic year and will work in partnership with students and Bristol SU to identify other opportunities that will enable us to lower rents without taking money from teaching and research.”

Talks between the campaigners and the university will continue later this month.

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