By Guy Taylor, Investigations Editor, and Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief
An online petition has emerged calling for the University of Bristol to drop the £1,800 charges being asked of two Bristol students, who moved into emergency accommodation to escape the domestic abuse of another housemate in December 2018.
Currently signed by 130 people, the petition details the two student’s claims they were told by the University’s Accommodation Office the move would be free and ‘were not at any point informed that they would be subject’ to the fees.
Unable to be released from their initial contract, the students accepted the move and are now being charged £1,800 by the University, in addition to having paid for the tenancy they initially left.
Emergency accommodation is granted to students in need after such events as fires, floods or incidences that make staying in a house unsafe, or for students whose personal safety is at risk.
Students are expected to pay the normal rent for any stay of more than one night, but the charge can be waived by the Head of Accommodation Office for a period of up to two weeks.
On 8 March last year a bill for £3200 each was sent to the students for the total stay beyond the initial two weeks – a charge the students thought was ‘a mistake’.
The University say that ‘in this case, an exception was made and rent was waived for the first two months until a tenancy agreement for the permanent accommodation was issued’.
However, the students say they ‘would have never moved into the flat if [they] would have known [they] would have had to pay’.
After being unable to verify that the students were informed of the initial charges the University then reduced the fee to £1800 in a tenancy agreement beginning 8 March.
The petition calling for the charges to be waived was started by Bristol, Cut the Rent and co-written with the students.
It also calls on the Accommodation Office and the University of Bristol to make a formal apology for the treatment of the students, which is reported to have included being laughed at by a senior member of staff.
It also reports on the ‘awful experience to live’ in the accommodation due to its ‘grossly unhygienic stains’ and ‘vile smelling liquid’ from the hoover ‘which caused the flat to smell for a week’ – a situation that was initially not reported on as the students believed they were living there free of charge, ‘so didn’t complain’.
Linn Rosa, of Bristol, Cut the Rent, has said: ‘There’s a lack of understanding from the University and Accommodation Office what kind of strain or burden this was for the students on their mental health’.
‘And it’s not just for this one case, but for the future, you are telling students that if they are in need of emergency accommodation you will have to pay for it – or we [the University] won’t really deal with your case appropriately and respectfully.’
Ruth Day, Bristol SU’s Student Living Officer, meanwhile, has said: ‘I was shocked to hear this situation. No student should be made to pay such huge amounts of money for emergency housing when they were not informed that this would be the case or given a contract to sign’.
‘The students involved were escaping a traumatic situation,’ she added, ‘which has now been made worse by the payment being demanded by the University. I urge the University to waive the fees for the two students and issue them with an apology.
‘It’s clear the process around emergency housing needs reviewing so students in difficult situations are fully supported and I’ll be taking this forward with the University.’
A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: ‘Stays in emergency accommodation are for a maximum of two weeks, as outlined on our website. Students requiring accommodation for a longer period will be moved into permanent accommodation as soon as this is available.
‘Students who are experiencing financial hardship in these circumstances can apply for support from the Student Hardship Fund and we also offer advice if students are experiencing any issues with private sector landlords.’
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