UCL responds to continuing rent strikes with aggressive threats
University College London (UCL) has sent students of Campbell House (above) and Hawkridge House warnings of serious repercussions if they continue to withhold rent. The students have been withholding rent since 8th May in reaction to the unliveable conditions of both of the UCL-owned accommodations.
UCL has threatened to prevent students from graduating or re-enrolling next year if they have outstanding debt. There is also the possibility of eviction as summer accommodation offers will be withdrawn.
David Dahlborn, UCLU Halls Accommodation Representative has branded these threats as “both vile and cowardly and represent a mentality at UCL that the bosses would rather expel their best and brightest students than take their complaints and demands seriously”.
The UCL accommodation office has attempted to dismiss the threats as standard letters that are sent to any student in debt, yet they have not addressed any of the potential welfare issues that threats of academic sanctions create.
After a series of email complaints, the Head of Residential Accommodation has now stated that they will not be seeking to apply any academic sanction while the compensation process is ongoing. This was not made clear in the original email. UCL is yet to send an official comment on the status of these threats, and what will happen when the compensation process is resolved.
Last year, the Office of Fair Trade (OFT) found practices such as those taken by UCL as unfair under consumer law:
“we [the OFT] consider that terms that allow the university to withhold graduation or progression, or otherwise exclude student from tuition for non-payment of ancillary services (such as accommodation or childcare), in a blanket fashion and regardless of the circumstances, are potentially unfair, and the use of such terms and practices may amount to unfair commercial practices”
The original email sent by UCL blatantly violated this ruling by using academic sanctions against the accomodation rent strike.
UCL is also being accused of violating the Student Accommodation Code (SAC) which provides a source of regulation for all halls of residence, and states:
“All maintenance works should be undertaken so as to minimise inconvenience to residents … endeavours should be made to avoid sensitive periods such as examinations”.
Disregard for the SAC can be seen in both Hawkridge and Campbell House.
Hawkridge House, in Kentish Town, is the site of overrunning construction work, scheduled to finish in January 2015. Students have been living in a scaffolding covered building with loud and dusty work, which continued into the exam period. The dust, noise and scaffolding are said to be triggering a host of health issues alongside decreasing the quality of the living conditions in the accommodation.
“If I could go back in time, I would never have signed the contract to be living here”
Numerous complaints were made and UCL managers finally responded by suspending the construction work until after the exam period and offering compensation of £132 per person. These measures were felt to be unreasonably low considering the terrible living conditions the students had been subjected to, and so, the rent strike has continued.
One student claimed: “If I could go back in time, I would never have signed the contract to be living here”
Have a closer look at the conditions of Hawkridge House here:
A similar situation has motivated the Campbell House rent strike.
Demolition work on Wates House, directly adjacent to Campbell West, has been continuing for several months. Noisy drilling and demolition work can be heard from 8 am, six days a week, with loud drilling measuring at over 90 decibels inside the rooms. These conditions impaired the students’ revision in the busy exam period.
UCL offered alternative study space and the opportunity to move rooms to the students. Once again, this response was not considered to be adequate. The rent strike continued.
Dahlborn has reported the situation at UCL to Universities UK as a breach of the SAC. UCL only made attempts to remove disruption to accommodation during the exam period after several complaints were made. Universities UK is yet to reply.
Representatives from the NUS have stated that they will work with UCLU and the students of Campbell and Hawkridge Houses if the threats are not withdrawn, and are urging the students not to be afraid of the hostile threats and pressure. Many of the students at both Houses are determined to continue the strike in order to win fair compensation from UCL.