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Opinion | The rent rebate is good news. But for some of us, it doesn’t go far enough

When I returned to university on 4 January, I didn’t think it would cost me £1624. I made the choice to come back for two reasons: I did not have space to study at home, and I thought that other people would be allowed to return soon.

By Rhianna Prewett, First Year, Politics and International Relations

When I returned to university on 4 January, I didn’t think it would cost me £1624. I made the choice to come back for two reasons: I did not have space to study at home, and I thought that other people would be allowed to return soon.

Like many other students in similar positions to me, I came back to halls since, at home, I no longer had a bedroom, and was also facing financial issues. In fact, every student currently living within halls at Bristol University had a personal reason to brave the isolation and come back to Bristol. This may be due to unsafe conditions at home, financial instability, internet poverty or the fact they need to keep hold of their jobs in Bristol for survival.

So why are we being ignored by the University’s rent rebate policy, when most of us would benefit from such financial mercy during these difficult times? Bristol’s most vulnerable students have been left in the dark.

You might be aware that Bristol University has just announced a 100 per cent rent rebate between 1 February and 26 March for students who have not spent the night at university since 5 January.

While this is great for anyone who was not forced to return to university before the lockdown, the University’s announcement is ignorant of the needs of students currently in their halls, paying extremely high prices for minimal services and isolation.

Issues that have arisen include a reduced catering service, reduced cleaning hours and a lack of liveable spaces other than the students’ bedrooms. To be clear, we don't want any staff members to be forced into unsafe working conditions, and I hope that the university is providing full support during this difficult time. We just feel that the university should consider expanding some of the rebate towards students who have no choice but to be in halls.

Within my hall, there are no living rooms and the kitchens are about two meters wide. All other spaces are shut, and we also have very minimal access to study areas, where many may need to go and focus and get their work done. Bristol University already has a mental health crisis and, for students currently stuck in halls, this reality is only going to become much worse, considering the scale of our isolation and the lack of living space.

Rhianna Prewett: ‘Bristol’s most vulnerable students have been left in the dark.’

Another reason many of us feel cheated is the lack of communication – the ambiguity of policies, announced multiple days after the lockdown was announced, and now the lack of support for us has left us feeling deserted. The day I moved back into my halls, the University of Bristol website’s advice was that if you needed to leave home, you would be welcomed to return.

None of us had a clue we would be completely isolated and stuck in an empty flat with a lack of support. Students are desperate, and the university has failed to acknowledge that.

And I’m not the only student in such an unenviable position. Here are some student reactions to the recent announcement by the university:

‘I feel like I’m being punished by the University for being a disadvantaged student who had to return to halls. I was lucky to have a friend who I have formed a support bubble with as we both have empty flats; however, this isn’t a reality for most and being alone will be devastating for the mental health of many.’ – Damien, Unite House

‘I feel completely and utterly let down by the University, with it being clear their main priority is not the wellbeing of the students but the means to ensure they are still able to make money from them.’ – Courtney, Durdham hall.

‘I feel neglected and I’m grateful to have my flatmates back but for those who are alone, having the emptiness of their flat as their only companion is detrimental to their health because they aren’t allowing anyone back with these new rules’ – Minhal, President of Unite House.  

All we want the University to do is listen and support us. We were made a lot of promises back in August that the university has failed to live up to. We understand the pandemic is an exceptional circumstance and we cannot expect a full university experience within our halls, but we do expect respect and consideration for our needs and, additionally, value for money.

Full rent rebate for those unable to return to halls in lockdown
University of Bristol urges students to stay put after announcement of third lockdown

We are now at a time in the year where we are expected to finalise housing for next year and with most 12-month tenancies not being covered by student finance and with a lack of available student jobs, this rebate could make a massive difference to disadvantaged students currently living in halls.

For other students reading this who want to demand action in solidarity with the students discussed within this piece, email the University accommodation office, or get in contact with the SU Living Officer, Ruth Day.

Featured Image: Georgiana Scott

Are you in your university halls during this current lockdown?