I’ve paid £2,900 for a uni room that I’m legally not allowed to live in

‘I am just sitting here accumulating debt for a room I can’t use’

University students up and down the country have been stuck at home since the government’s December travel window opened and closed, and they haven’t been legally allowed back to their university accommodation since. In January, thousands of students from universities across the UK threatened to withhold their rent as a result of government guidance telling students to stay at their homes, whilst still having to pay their rent at their term-time accommodations. However, some students have been paying thousands in rent payments for rooms they have not been living in since the second national lockdown late last year.

Alex Shirreff, a first year politics student at the University of Lincoln is one of many students who has not been back to their accommodation for months. Alex went back to this home in November when the second national lockdown was announced. Throughout his time at university, the only people he met were his flatmates and five of his coursemates who he only spoke to briefly before and after in-person seminars.

Alex spent four weeks in his accommodation at the start of term in October. His accommodation ranges from £4,129.80 to £5,018.40 for a 40-week contract. “I paid £1,663 for the first term and I am expected to pay £1,330 for the second term even though I haven’t spent a single day in Lincoln,” he said. “So I have paid about three grand for a room I got to spend four weeks in.”

Despite the University of Lincoln reducing its fees by 20 per cent for students in uni managed accommodation for their second term rent installment, Alex is still not living there and feels he shouldn’t have to pay for a room he hasn’t been in since November 2020.

Alex said: “If we aren’t moving back in April, I am cancelling my rent because I am not paying another grand and a half to not stay in an accommodation.”

When he first moved back home in November, Alex thought he would return to uni after one month or two. He originally figured that he would be paying that much money if it were a normal year, and so didn’t see himself “losing out on anything.” It’s been four months since Alex was last in Lincoln and he is “starting to get pissed off”, saying “I’m basically just accumulating debt for a room I can’t even stay in.”

There are options for Alex to come back to his accommodation. His university told students if they are “unable to access online learning from your current location, for example, because you do not have suitable study space, or access to essential equipment, or where you are currently living is not a safe place for you, or you require specific support such as support for your mental health; then you can move back to Lincoln to access these facilities.”

However, for Alex, it isn’t that simple. “Of course I could just say I need a study space and move back down but there isn’t any point if I don’t know anyone down there and there is nothing to do anyway,” he said. “It is just ridiculous I am paying all this money for what feels like a fraction of the actual uni experience.”

Alex joined two societies since starting university, but said: “You still can’t get to know people individually because on all the calls you are speaking to everyone. I have made zero friends this year. This was my first real opportunity to go out and meet new people but it’s gone.

“I feel like unis have engineered things to be as hard as possible to meet people, and I get why because of Covid but nothing has been done to alleviate this. I should be enjoying one of the best years of my youth, yet I feel like I have just been abandoned by the uni and the government. It’s like as long as they get the money, none of this stuff matters. It just feels like a waste of a year and it is stupid I have to pay nine grand for it.”

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