Senior residents in University of Bristol halls of residence are planning to strike in response to the University’s decision to ‘dramatically and unexpectedly’ raise rents by an average of approximately 19.5% across all halls.
The change comes after Caroline Court, Head of Student Residential Life at the University of Bristol, revealed that senior resident rents had not been reviewed ‘for at least 10 years’.
In a letter petitioning for support from the senior resident community against the change, they condemned the decision as amounting to ‘a considerable drop in the university’s investment in their pastoral network’.
It was deemed as ‘a considerable pay cut to those on the front line of student welfare.’
Senior residents receive a 75% discount on their accommodation in return for providing a range of services to contribute to pastoral care and student welfare within University halls of residence.
Those signing up to be a senior resident for Stoke Bishop halls will see an average rent increase of 28.7%, with Clifton halls experiencing an average increase of 16.8% and City Centre halls seeing just a 3.4% difference on average.
The most extreme cases saw rents for certain rooms increase by 45%.
These rates do not apply to Unite-owned halls of residence.
The petition was created by three senior residents, led by Sarah Redrup, the former Student Living officer for Bristol SU , and Alex Cocker.
Cocker told Epigram that 85% of the responses to the petition were positive and that negotiations with the University were ‘hopefully’ due to begin soon.
The letter outlined key concerns from the senior resident community to the University, branding the ‘disinvestment’ in pastoral care at the University as ‘both insensitive and dangerous’ at a time when key issues such as mental illness ‘are at their height’.
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It also cited the ‘much greater stress and strain’ that these rent increases would place on the senior resident population and criticised the ‘disingenuous tactics used here by the hospitality services’, which had ‘gone against all principles of openness and clarity.’
Senior residents also claimed that rent figures for the 2017/2018 academic year were ‘communicated to us very late’, after the point when current senior residents had been asked whether they were going to return for another year and applications for new senior residents had been opened.
‘Our fourth and final concern is how this vast increase in rent is part of a larger and unsettling approach that the university appears to be taking towards student living,’ the letter concluded.
‘This approach is one that sees the halls of residences purely as businesses, to be managed with only profit in mind.’
Sarah Redrup, former Student Living officer for Bristol SU and a current senior resident, told Epigram: ‘It doesn’t matter that the rent is still cheap in comparison to private accommodation in Bristol – we should be worried that the University is able to make big changes without consulting us.’
‘A lot of senior residents are postgraduate and undergraduate students who simply can’t afford to live elsewhere.’
Caroline Court, Head of Student Residential Life at the University of Bristol, contacted the senior residents in response to the petition.
She highlighted that senior resident rents and the information pertaining to room types ‘remained out of date until recently’.
‘We found that some had been wrongly coded – the most extreme case being that of a room coded as a small single no basin which turned out to be a one bedroom self-contained flat.’
‘Clearly continuing to charge rents that did not reflect the accommodation provided was unfair in particular with regard to those SRs whose rooms are correctly coded,’ she said.
‘The highest senior resident rent charged next year will be £60.17 per week’
Ms Court reassured incoming and returning senior residents that, ‘The highest senior resident rent charged next year will be £60.17 per week for which senior residents will receive a self-contained studio or one bedroom flat, all bills paid plus 2 meals a day.’
Alex Cocker told Epigram, ‘Senior Residents are effectively paid through our rent deductions, so what this amounts to is a very significant pay cut to some of the most financially vulnerable students at university. I would be interested to know if Caroline Court’s pay is also being deducted by a similar amount.’
A freedom of information request also revealed that the Head of Student Residential Life receives rent free accommodation from the University. A member of staff, who wishes to remain anonymous, confirmed that this was a newly refurbished flat in Goldney Hall.
‘Caroline Court also claimed in her response that the new changes are in keeping with senior residents paying 25% of the equivalent undergraduate rent,’ Cocker continued.
‘However, from this year to next year, the amount of senior residents paying a rent equivalent to 25% of their undergraduate neighbours is dropping from 82% to 28%.’
Cocker called for the University to reverse its decision.
‘Whilst we appreciate that money is tight, we cannot condone such damaging behaviour.’
‘Therefore, we are looking to negotiate a cap on the amount that the residential and hospitality services can raise senior resident rents each year.’
A University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We began a review of senior resident accommodation last October to make sure that the current rents were fair. All senior residents were told in advance.
‘The proposed rent changes were circulated to wardens in February. Feedback and comments received were incorporated into the final proposals circulated last month.
‘The majority of senior residents will see a small increase in rent next year, and some will see a decrease. The largest increase, which applies to just eight rooms, is an additional £13 per week.’
If a strike does come into effect, it will reportedly take place in the summer term.
Do you think that the University is ‘disinvesting’ in pastoral care?