Bristol Uni stands by threat to use private debt collectors against student rent strikers

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By Filiz Emily Gurer, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Roya Shahidi,  News Co-Deputy Editor

Rent Strike Bristol describe the University of Bristol’s approach to student rent strikers as ‘emblematic of the university’s vast disconnect with students.’

The University of Bristol is set to proceed with its threat to use private debt collectors to retrieve unpaid rent from student rent strikers.

Following a meeting on 14 May with the University, Rent Strike Bristol have stated that ‘University management have agreed to delay their pursuit of strikers’ rent through outsourced debt collectors until June at the earliest’ and to ‘be more transparent with students about this timeline.’

In a press release, Rent Strike Bristol expressed their dissatisfaction with the meeting, stating that ‘University management acted patronisingly and disingenuously towards strikers’ and ‘attempted to minimise the rent strike’s communication with the press.’

The University of Bristol had announced earlier this month that they were going to pass student debt to private company STA in a move to retrieve unpaid rent from the rent strike. Bristol University is reportedly the first university to pursue this route in response to rent-striking students.

In a statement to Epigram last week, Robert Kerse, Chief Operating Officer for the University of Bristol, had said: ‘We have pre-agreed that no debt will be sent to an outside collection organisation until June 10 at the earliest.’

The University's decision to use private debt collectors has been widely condemned by staff and students alike, with some academics at the university renouncing their nominations for the Bristol Teaching Awards in solidarity with student rent strikers.

Rent Strike Bristol accuse the University of poor communication, reporting that ‘The news of debt collectors being brought in by the university was inconsistently and poorly communicated to striking students- with some students receiving emails outlining the intended debt collection process and others left in the dark- leading to great confusion and panic.

‘The very real threat of long-term financial ramifications was delivered by the university half-heartedly through vague emails and sparse phone calls, without any concern for student wellbeing.’

Expressing their dissatisfaction with the meeting, Rent Strike Bristol say that ‘During the meeting the Rent Strike was asked not to worry or confuse students about the impending utilisation of debt collectors, in a veiled attempt to minimise our contact with the press.’

Speaking of the meeting, Louis, a rent strike organiser and Bristol student, commented: ‘University management seemed unwilling to accept their mistakes in regard to communication with students and tried to put responsibility on the rent strike to help.

‘Reps from the strike emphasised our willingness to negotiate yet the university felt no need to budge and seemed content with letting debt collectors get involved, knowing that students would be the ones to incur the costs of this process, which was even worse than we first thought as we thought they would accept the cost of going to debt collectors. Management truly seem completely callous about the demands of students.’

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Approached for comment by Epigram, Robert Kerse, Chief Operating Officer for the University of Bristol, defended the University’s position, saying: ‘We met with Rent Strike Bristol on Friday and heard their concerns, while making clear that no debt would be passed on to outside agencies until after the exam period.

‘During the meeting we reiterated the £16.5m support package that we have extended to students in halls. This includes significant rent rebates, uncapped grants for those in financial difficulty and the option to leave halls without having to pay for the rest of the year. We believe that our package is among the most generous out of more than 100 universities in the UK.

‘As a non-profit organisation with nearly 30,000 students and 8,000 staff, we need to safeguard everyone’s future.

‘We feel that this offer fairly reflects the very challenging year that students have had without causing detriment to our other students and staff.

‘If any student needs help with their finances I would encourage them to contact the Student Funding Office by emailing student-funding@bristol.ac.uk.’

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O'Neill


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