Growing numbers of students in England have pledged to withhold rent on university accommodation that they have not been able to use during the Covid lockdown.
Organisers say this is building up to be a major protest, estimating that about 15,000 students at dozens of universities have signed up so far. They want a rebate on rent when many students are being kept off campus at the start of term. But universities say they only provide 20% of student accommodation. Universities UK says this means “many decisions on refunds will be made by private landlords and other providers”.
In November, University of Manchester offered a 30% rent rebate for the first half of the academic year, worth around £1,000 to each student in halls of residence. The move followed protests over lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic, which saw students tear down temporary fencing in one demonstration. The reduction will be applied to direct debit payments this month, with students who have already paid for the whole year getting a refund.
But organiser of the Rent Strike Now campaign, Ben McGowan, said the new lockdown means students are still paying for halls they are unable to return to, which has prompted a wave of student anger. On Twitter, campaigners listed more than 40 universities where they said students were pledging to withhold rent and students at universities that are not part of this campaign have said they will organise similar challenges on their own campuses.
At Nottingham Trent University (NTU), 244 students had so far pledged to withhold rent on university halls since their campaign was launched a few days ago. Nottingham Trent University says it understands student concerns over rents and urged the government “to show leadership to find a solution that is fair to all students”.