STUDENTS are up in arms at the soaring cost of their accommodation on top of £9,000 a year tuition fees and government plans to scrap maintenance grants for the half a million students from poorer backgrounds who rely on them.
Many are calling for a national rent strike, following rent strikes that took place at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and University College London in June.
Tom Robinson of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts told News Line yesterday: ‘We believe student accommodation is exorbitantly expensive and completely wrong because it’s run for profit.
‘We call for rent cuts and caps. We’ve seen escalating action in the form of rent strikes. We want to take this to a national level of rent caps. I welcome the NUS vice president’s call for rent controls.’
Earlier yesterday, Shelly Asquith, NUS vice-president of welfare, warned: ‘The message from campaigners to the government and universities is clear: introduce rent controls or rent hikes will lead to rent strikes. Students are facing a housing crisis with an ever-narrowing gap between their incomes and what they are expected to pay in rent.
‘With student finance failing to take account of the growing cost of living, we are now at a point where the average price of purpose-built student accommodation represents 95% of the maximum student loan. There needs to be enforced rent controls to put an end to this.’
She added: ‘Universities have failed to secure affordable accommodation and have either invested in expensive stock themselves or sold off old stock to private developers. It has become such an explosive market and is cutting huge amounts of poorer students out of university.’
Housing charity Shelter director of communications, policy and campaigns, Roger Harding, confirmed: ‘With sky-high rents, students are struggling to find accommodation in the private rental sector. Even when people do find somewhere, we too often hear from students dealing with issues like poor conditions, unprotected deposits and unfair terms in tenancy agreements.’
Shelter’s Private Tenant Survey has found that 50% of students are struggling with rent and 40% of student renters had borrowed money to meet their monthly rental payments, in the last year. In June, SOAS students won compensation over substandard accommodation. SOAS students union said: ‘Residents at Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson halls have been withholding over £100,000 in rent as a protest against a lack of management response to cockroach and rodent infestations, unsafe and insecure infrastructure, repeated water and hot water outages, and many other problems besides.
‘The halls house 778 students from SOAS university, and are owned and run by Sanctuary Students. Over 150 residents from both halls withheld their final instalment of rent of at least £769.08 each, which was due to be paid on Thursday 23rd April. Following compensation offers, the Residents’ Council, which represents residents of the halls within SOAS Students’ Union, called an end to the rent strike and residents have paid their final instalments of rent.’
Last month, the NUS launched its #CutTheCosts campaign and plans to lobby MPs on September 18th against scrapping maintenance grants.