English universities are paying out millions in rent rebates to students unable to return to accommodation during the COVID lockdown.
Many universities told VICE World News they intend to not charge or to refund students the costs of accommodation if those students are unable to live there during the current national lockdown.
The news comes at a time of growing rent strikes across the country, with thousands of students demanding rent reductions to make up for limited facilities, as well as the ability to break off from contracts penalty-free. Currently, there are rent strike campaigns at over 45 universities across the UK.
For many universities, paying rebates will mean huge financial losses. The University of East Anglia has announced it will provide students with an eight-week rent rebate if they are unable to occupy their accommodation, costing £4.7 million. The university has also moved to online learning until the 1st of March, to “enable students and staff to plan more effectively.”
Other universities – many with strong rent strike campaigns – have also announced rent rebates.
The University of Manchester, which has provided students with a 30 percent rent decrease after a rent strike campaign that saw students occupy a building, has said it will not require students to pay rent during the period of the national lockdown if they have not already returned to the accommodation.
The University of Cambridge has announced that its colleges will not be charging students rent for the lockdown period if they are not already in halls. The University of Exeter, King's College London, Imperial University, and Brighton University have also announced rent rebates for students during this period.
Essex University, based in one of the worst parts of the country for coronavirus cases, has also told students it will not charge them for rent if they have not yet moved back into halls after Christmas.
Not all universities have provided students with a rent rebate, however. Bristol University, which temporarily threatened to deduct unpaid rent from bursary students who took part in a rent strike, is yet to announce any rent rebate.
Lancaster University has said that it will not be providing rent rebates for students, instead continuing to offer, “high-quality education” and by providing “extra resources into mental health support and pointed students to a range of essential provisions, including via the Students’ Union, as well as delivering social activities within the regulations.”
Pressure is meanwhile mounting on Scottish universities, many of which have not confirmed rent rebates. Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservatives have backed the demands of student rent campaigns for refunds, calling for the ruling Scottish National Party to force universities to deliver rebates for students who cannot return to university halls.
Larissa Kennedy, the president of the National Union of Students, said: "It is simply unacceptable that students are being told to not live in housing they have paid for, on public health grounds, yet are receiving no government support.”
“We are rightly seeing the largest mobilisation of student housing activists for decades,” she continued. “This movement will only continue to grow unless the government, universities and landlords act now. All student renters must now be offered rent refunds and the option of leaving their tenancy early, if universities and landlords need financial support to make this happen then the government must step-in.”