UCL students protest accomodation prices by withholding £250,000 in rent

Students at the University College London (UCL) are refusing to pay the rent for their student halls as they are steadily becoming more unaffordable and are demanding for a 40% reduction.

Over 150 students in two halls of residences, Ramsey Hall and Max Rayne House at UCL face eviction after withholding over £250,000.
Since 2009, accommodation prices are estimated to have increased by 60% at UCL and are bearing similarities to those being advertised in the private sector.

The rent strikers have paid their rent into a bank account run by the UCL union, which are being withheld from the UCL residences until their demands of reduced rent prices is met.

Out of all the halls available, the cheapest single room available costs £542.36 per month, which totals about £5,500 for one academic year. However, it is also common for students to pay up to £800 monthly for rooms in halls.

The boycott started last year due to intolerable accommodation standards, with loud construction work originating from outside and numerous cases of deceased vermin found within the property. After a petition to UCL from the students which was ignored, two rent strikes and a number of protests followed, through which the residents earned £400,000 in compensation.

Gabrielle Watkins, first year UCL student and boycott supporter told The Student: “Max Rayne Halls went on rent strike this year because it is not good value for money. It is dated and quite distant from the UCL main campus. UCL own the halls, so they do not need to charge so much.”

She argued that there was a vast amount of profit being generated that wasn’t being reinvested into the improvement and maintenance of the existing student accommodations.

Accommodation representative, Angus O’Brien, claims the drastic rise in rent prices is becoming a major factor preventing students from continuing their university studies.

“This is a massive problem across London and the country. We are showing that something can be done about rising rent prices; our action could be the start of something wider,” he told The Guardian.
Watkins shared similar views, saying that the high rent prices obstruct student from having equal access to education.

“Some people have argued that to avoid paying the high rent, you simply shouldn’t live in London. However, this is making it impossible for less well-off students to access some of the best universities, when really it should only be dependent on grades,” she told The Student.

“Other critics have said the students should simply get a job – most do, and it is still a struggle, leaving less time for studying and socializing (especially among those who have no financial help from their parents),” she continued.

The campaign has garnered considerable attention and varying opinions from both sides. Back in late January, vice president of welfare at the National Union of Students (NUS) commended the student’s actions.

“I take my hat off to the students at UCL who, for the best part of a year, have mounted a militant and successful rent campaign. Now they are taking their demands further and asking for a cut in rent. This is not unreasonable when the rent in London is more than 100% of the maximum loans and grants available for students. The UCL Cut the Rent campaign is right to point out that accommodation costs are equating to social cleansing of working class students from education. NUS fully supports the campaign,” she said in a press statement.

Despite this, a university spokesperson has defended the price increases claiming the university tries to keep rent as low as possible which is difficult given the centrality of the location of their halls within London.

Image credit: Steve Cadman 

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