‘I left halls because of mental health and they told me to drop out or keep paying rent’
‘You’re cordoned off from everyone else and you’ve got no one to speak to’
A student who left his halls because of his mental health was told to drop out of uni if he wanted to stop paying rent.
Callum Wilson, a third year politics and sociology student at Newcastle, left his room in Unite’s Quay Point block at the start of October after his mental health began to deteriorate.
Callum was told on the phone that a Unite manager had decided he’d have to drop out if he wanted to end his tenancy, despite having sent the company a doctor’s note detailing how moving home was best for his mental health
“I feel as if profits are being prioritised over students’ mental health,” says Callum.
Unite says it has since deviated from its usual policy and found a replacement tenant for Callum’s room, allowing him to stop paying rent.
Like many students, Callum found the return to campus difficult and isolating. Already taking medication to help with his diagnosed anxiety, Callum found his halls made this situation worse. “You’re kind of cordoned off from everyone else. You’ve got no one to speak to. I couldn’t go in anyone’s rooms because it was my own studio,” Callum told The Tab.
The Tab’s You Matter campaign is reporting on the student mental health crisis this term.
Read about how uni confessions page admins are witnessing a side of the crisis that most people can’t see.
Unable to go onto campus, or really meet anybody, Callum found himself constantly ringing mates just to get by. He had signed his £140-a-week tenancy in February, before he knew what this would be like. Calling his parents, he went home on 4th October and handed his keys in.
After moving home, Callum told the Student Loans Company that he’d done so, and so expects to get a reduced loan from now on. “I physically couldn’t afford to keep paying,” he says.
When he asked about ending his tenancy, Unite asked Callum to send evidence, so he provided a doctor’s note. It said: “The COVID-19 situation is having a detrimental effect on Callum’s mental health. He is struggling being confined in student accommodation.
“I would be supportive of him being able to move out of his current housing situation to hopefully reduce the amount of mental stress he is under presently.”
However, after sending this over – at the end of October – Callum was told on the phone that Unite had decided he’d have to drop out of uni altogether if he wanted to end his tenancy.
Then, on Friday, Unite sent an email telling him: “In order for your booking to be cancelled, a replacement customer is needed.”
It added: “You should now advertise your room as available online or in local student housing offices.”
That day, Callum says he also spoke to someone at Unite who said there was a 60 per cent chance they’d be able to find a replacement tenant for him, but that it wasn’t certain.
“I just think that’s disgusting because I’ve gotta wait until someone else takes over. They’re still prioritising money,” he said.
For Callum, the process left him upset. “They’re changing the goalposts,” he said.
“It’s indecent to expect people to stay somewhere which is making their mental health worse.”
Callum acknowledges that the contract he signed is legally binding, but says: “I signed a contract in a time when Covid wasn’t known about, no one knew what Covid was and Covid completely changed our way of lives.”
Since speaking to Callum, The Tab reached out to Unite, who said it had eventually decided to find Callum a replacement tenant itself.
A spokesperson said: “Students sign legally-binding tenancy contracts before moving into their new homes with us which clearly sets out our cancellation policy, which is common practice in all standard tenancy contract agreements. This means, following the seven-day cooling-off period, if a student does not want to remain living in a property due to personal reasons, they remain liable for rent until they find a replacement tenant.
“In this case, we have been in regular contact with this student for a number of weeks. We have been made aware of this individual’s circumstances and, as a gesture of goodwill, have managed to find a tenant to take over the remainder of this lease. We have informed the student they no longer remain liable for rent payments.”
The Tab’s You Matter campaign is putting a focus on student mental health right now. If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58.