University leaders in York call for government action on student rents

Published: 15/01/2021

Vice Chancellors and Students’ Union leaders say students deserve a rent rebate for accommodation they can’t use during the national lockdown.

A close up of a red and white sign for York St John SU

York St John Students’ Union President Jamie Andrews has written an open letter to local MPs supported by the Vice Chancellors of York St John University and the University of York. They are calling on the government to provide a support package so that students aren’t left out of pocket. In meantime, students who are in University owned accommodation are able to apply for rental credits for the lockdown period. 

Jamie explains why he was inspired to take action: “It’s deeply wrong that students are paying for accommodation that they can’t use and many are justifiably angry. They’ve been told not to come back to campus for this lockdown and are being left out of pocket for doing the right thing. Refund decisions shouldn’t be based on individual universities’ and landlords’ spending power, this has to be at government level to ensure parity and fairness. This is why we’re calling on our local MPs for their support.”  

The letter has been sent to Rachael Maskell MP and Julian Sturdy MP, calling for them to lobby government for a financial support package for landlords and universities so they can offer rent rebates. It is signed by Jamie Andrews (President of York St John Students’ Union), Patrick O’Donnell (President of York University Students’ Union), Professor Karen Bryan (Vice Chancellor, York St John University) and Professor Charlie Jeffery (Vice Chancellor, University of York). Also in support are Dr Pürnur Altay (President of York Graduate Students’ Association), Emma Palmer (President of Wellbeing & Diversity York St John Students’ Union) and Jenny Marchant (President of Education York St John Students’ Union). 

The letter reads: 

We are writing to you as representatives of the Higher Education institutions in York to raise concerns regarding the approach to higher education during this current national lockdown. University students have often been ignored or treated at best as an afterthought whenever new guidance has been announced and this time is no different. The latest, last minute lockdown has caused real confusion across the higher education sector with many students now being told to stay in their family homes where they spent the Christmas break.   

This has raised several questions surrounding rent rebates for students who cannot access the accommodation they are paying for. These questions are being directed towards individual universities and landlords where in many cases, the institution and landlords cannot afford to refund accommodation costs, and as a result the students are the ones left with financial worry and distress. We are therefore requesting that you, as our local MP, urgently lobby the government to introduce national comprehensive financial support for universities and landlords that will in turn allow them to provide rent rebates without suffering sudden unplanned financial burden as a result of pandemic measures.   

We would also welcome your commitment locally in supporting our campaign to ensure that students at both York St John University and the University of York are treated more positively by a government that doesn’t seem to recognise the needs of university students. 

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Vice Chancellor of York St John University said: “Students who are in University owned accommodation can apply for rental credits for the current lockdown period. We have also increased the hardship funding available to students through our YSJ Student Support Fund and made it easier for more students to access. However, we fully recognise the impact that unfair accommodation costs are having on our students, particularly those in private rented accommodations. In addition to lobbying our local MPs, we are also working with Universities UK to ask what further support can be provided to students to resolve this difficult situation.”

Students who rent one of the University’s 1,104 rooms are eligible to receive rent credit for up to 10 weeks (pro rata), for accommodation that is unused between 4 January and 8 March. Applicants will be given a rental credit to offset the cost of their post-Easter accommodation.  

Representatives of York St John University and the University of York have also written to private landlords and lettings agents in the City of York regarding supporting students with accommodation costs(pdf 0.5MB).

Students who are struggling financially can apply for assistance from the YSJ Student Support Fund. The Fund can be used to support students who are not returning to York but who are committed to binding private sector accommodation contracts. Students who are already living in university accommodation, either because they are eligible for timetabled face-to-face sessions, for physical and mental wellbeing reasons, or because they do not have adequate study facilities at home, can also access University’s extended Student Support Fund 

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