Students refuse to pay £250,000 - to protest unaffordable rents

Students at University College London (UCL) are withholding £250,000 of rent until their demands are met.

More than 150 students at UCL announced today they won't be paying their rent until they receive a 40% rent cut, in a protest against spiralling living costs at the university.

The protesters claim that the average rent at UCL has gone up by more than over 50% since 2009, making even the cheapest rooms more expensive than student loan payments. The student union, meanwhile, said that the increases were “tuition fees by stealth” which ratchet up the stress and debt of students at the University.

Looking for a third job to cover rent

Angus O’Brien, UCL union’s student halls rep, told the Standard he knew of one student who was looking for a third job in order to make rent payments.

“It’s forcing students to be dependent on other sources of income. That could be their parents, which stops people from less privileged backgrounds from studying at UCL.”

One of the rent strikers, Nyima Murry. said:

“The housing situation in London has to be made affordable. Landlords have refused to cut the rent, so we have no option but to do it ourselves.

“Hopefully, we can inspire others to do the same.”

Will it work?

Last year at UCL, protesting students were given a payout of nearly £300,000 following a rent strike over poor conditions at the Hawkridge House halls in Kentish Town, so withholding rent at UCL is clearly a method that could work in the long run. The protesters then were complaining about noise, and dust that triggered migraine and breathing difficulties in the students, but the methods were the same - withholding rent until UCL caved.

In the meantime, the students' protesting the rise in rent are getting a lot of national press attention. Protesters are hoping the University may be inclined to strike a deal to make it stop.

Young Greens join protest

The Young Greens - the youth section of The Green Party - are standing in solidarity with the protesters, tweeting:

The NUS also stated their support for the campaign. Shelly Asquith, vice president of welfare, told the Guardian:

“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.”

UCL reaction

A spokesman for UCL said:

“UCL Estates is actively seeking dialogue with the Cut the Rent campaign so that we can discuss the issues and set out how the finances of UCL accommodation work."

“We make every effort at UCL to keep rents as low as possible, which is a difficult challenge considering our central London location."

“Our rents are competitive in comparison with equivalent London institutions, and far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector."

“The NUS’s accommodation costs survey recognises UCL’s efforts in this regard, and acknowledges the university’s commitment to keeping a significant proportion of its accommodation in the lowest cost band of £120-150 a week.”

The protesters are largely from Ramsey Hall, which charges between £159 and £262 per week, and Max Rayne House, which charges £103 to £232.