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Student rent strikers facing increased pressure from the University of Bristol

The University of Bristol has sent warning emails and phone calls to students with accounts in arrears for rent.

By Roya Shahidi, News Reporter

The University of Bristol has sent warning emails and phone calls to students with accounts in arrears for rent.

Students who have not yet paid their first rent instalment have received warning emails from the University’s Accommodation Office.

The email to students in halls states that rent references, which can be necessary when signing tenancy agreements in the private sector, will be undermined by students’ accounts being in arrears.

The email from the University's Accommodation Office to students in rent arrears | Epigram

The increasing pressure to pay rent particularly affects students who are withholding their rent as part of Rent Strike Bristol.

The University of Bristol has already given some concessions to students living in halls.

These include three rent rebates: a 10-day rebate in December, a 30 per cent rebate for the 19 December – 1 February and a 100 per cent rebate for 1 February – 26 March.

However, the initial demands of Rent Strike Bristol have not yet been met. These involve a 30 per cent rent reduction and no-penalty contract releases.

The 100 per cent rebate is also only available to students who have not moved back to halls in this period.

Speaking to Epigram, one first year student involved in the rent strike, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘I came back to Bristol in early January when the University said that in-person tutorials would go ahead. However, days after I arrived, the University announced the new rent rebate.’

Another anonymous first-year student told Epigram that: ‘Although there have been some rebates, we have not received everything we were promised in our tenancy agreement.

‘For example, facilities such as bars and social spaces have not been available for student access. Furthermore, throughout the whole of this academic year my flat hasn’t had heating, even after making several complaints to the maintenance office.’

Both students reported receiving phone calls this week regarding overdue rent payment, as well as an email which warned of the implications that having an account in arrears could have consequences when renting in the private sector.

On this point the first student added: ‘Luckily, I have already signed my tenancy contract for second year, otherwise I would pay my rent to avoid a potentially damaging rent reference.’

Speaking to Epigram, Rent Strike Bristol said: ‘They [the University] are being quite aggressive in trying to get students to pay the entirety of their rent in order to get a reference which we feel is unfair given the third rent payment isn’t even due yet.

‘They should be making it clear that students can get a reference if they wish without paying, just that it will state that students are in arrears. Students would be able to discuss the situation with lettings agents which could give them more freedom.’

Rent Strike Bristol added: ‘It has also dampened the energy of the strike that we initially had. It’s hard to cultivate that momentum when you’re restricted by lockdowns, but we will continue the strike and are looking to take more actions in the next few months.’

In a statement to Epigram, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘Under our standard arrears process, students who had not made their October payment by this stage would be issued with a notice to quit and we’d begin eviction proceedings. The letter was designed to tell students that we’re amending that process this year due to the current circumstances but that the debt remains payable.

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‘The letter also outlines what support is available if students are struggling financially. Our Student Funding Team can offer advice on payment options and other funds, as well as ensuring students are taken out of the arrears process once they have a plan in place.

‘We’re not threatening bad references - but we are duty bound to let students know that non-payment will mean that if we are asked for a rent reference this will reflect they are in arrears.

‘There is no requirement to pay all fees up front.  Any fees outstanding will reflect agreed rent rebates. Currently, the first two payment dates for rent have passed so our tenants are due to have paid 70 per cent of their rent. These payment dates are outlined within their tenancy contract which they accepted.’

Featured Image: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh

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