UCL students refuse to pay rent in protest over ‘social cleansing’

Last year’s concessions weren’t enough

A group of first year UCL students have launched a new rent strike in protest over the rent currently charged at university-run accommodation.

The 500 students, part of Cut the Rent, have demanded a ten per cent retrospective and future rent cut for UCL-run halls of residences. They have committed to withholding rent until their demands have been met.

Although the students had originally voiced their concerns over high rent to UCL Head of Student Accommodation Duncan Palmer, he failed to respond to them or a petition that called for a “universal 10% rent cut”.

Last year, over 1,000 students withheld rent from UCL leading to a £850,000 rent cut and a £350,000 bursary for students from low-income backgrounds. Following this success, Cut the Rent movements were established in 15 other university campuses at the start of the academic year.

Cut the Rent argue that last year’s rent concession has failed to address the problem of high rent in university accommodation. Since 2009, rent charged at university accommodation has increased by 56 per cent.

Although UCL can evict students who withhold rent, Cut the Rent claim it would be a “press humiliation” for the university.

Fine Art student and rent striker, Fay Rushton-Ryan explained that: “Last year’s concessions are an acknowledgement of a serious problem of affordability at UCL, but they only temporarily and superficially address its symptoms.

“The rent in UCL halls rises every year and the poor conditions of the accommodation stay the same.  I and many others are spending the majority, if not all, of our student loans on rent. Only a universal rent cut can solve the problem of unaffordable accommodation at UCL.”

Jack Kershaw, Classics Student and one of the rent strike organisers said: “I’m rent striking so future students can study at UCL on the basis of academic ability rather than financial background. We must fight against the social cleansing of our University.”

A UCL spokesman said:

“UCL is committed to keeping rents as low as possible for its residents in Halls. We currently offer some of the cheapest accommodation in central London when compared to equivalent London institutions and private sector accommodation.

“84% of our own accommodation is below the average student rent of £226 per week in London and 24% lower than the average student rent of £146 per week across the rest of the UK. We already comply with NUS’s recommended fair rent structures which would see a minimum of 25 per cent of all bed spaces charged at 50 per cent of a student loan to ensure access for low income students.

“In addition to this, UCL has also frozen its lowest rents for 2016/17 and is offering £350,000 in accommodation bursaries to its 2016/17 residents for which applications are currently open. The bursary will provide discretionary financial support towards accommodation costs for residents most in need of financial assistance. These commitments reflect UCL’s undertaking to ensuring affordable accommodation and fair access for every student.

“UCL is a non-profit organisation with all rental income re-invested back into the Estate including the £33 million refurbishment of Astor College Halls of Residence which is underway and the planned £45 million refurbishment of Ramsay Hall. This major investment by UCL will provide increased student bed spaces and better facilities for students with disabilities in the Bloomsbury area.”