Plymouth University students on 'rent strike' in protest at having to pay during lockdown

  • Watch Sam Blackledge's report

Students at the University of Plymouth are threatening to withhold rent payments as the lockdown continues to affect their studies.

A campaign group is calling on the university and private landlords to offer rent rebates for those who are unable to make it back to campus due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Some undergraduates, whose rent is due on Saturday, have told ITV West Country they are not planning to pay.

Maths student Ava is planning to withhold her next rent payment. Credit: ITV News

Maths student Ava Keeling, from Cornwall, usually lives in halls of residence. All her lectures are online due to lockdown, and she is currently staying at home with her family.

"I think it's very unfair to have to pay rent for accommodation that I am not able to access at the moment," Ava said.

"Part of the reason we pay so much is for the experience that you get being in university halls. This year we haven't had any of that experience.

"I pay £149 a week for my room, which is a single bed box room in a six-person flat. You're happy to pay that if you're getting the university experience."

Sam Grotzke says he hopes the University of Plymouth will offer rent rebates. Credit: ITV News

Sam Grotzke, one of the organisers of the Plymouth Rent Strike group, said: "We're asking for a rent reduction or rebate for students in halls or private accommodation, especially for students who can't access that accommodation. We've seen rebates in Exeter, Falmouth and Plymouth Marjon. So if the neighbours are on board, hopefully it's only a matter of time before Plymouth gets on board too."

Iain Maitland, from the South West Landlords' Association, said: "Most of the landlords in the private rented sector have one or two properties, they are not big affluent landlords. Most of them have mortgages, there are maintenance costs and regular upkeep costs on the properties which do not go away.

"Landlords do need to be paid, but we have to have a sensible solution which is probably students and their parents talking to landlords and coming to arrangements where maybe their rents can drop a little bit, but you can't not pay them all together, otherwise when we do return to normal there will be no accommodation."

A spokesman for the University of Plymouth said: “We are in active talks with the company that provides our university-managed accommodation to see whether financial relief can be offered for those students who are unable to make use of their accommodation during the current lockdown.

“However, the majority of our students are in private (non-university managed) accommodation. We know that in general there are many students facing financial and other difficulties.

"This is why we are launching an enhanced hardship fund that we hope can support a larger number of students who have real financial difficulties associated with rent, IT or anything else. At the same time the University with the higher education sector is in discussion with the government on the issue of student hardship.”

Most student accommodation in Plymouth is owned by private landlords. Credit: ITV News

The Plymouth Student Rent Strike group has issued the following demands:

  • 40 per cent rent reduction for students for the rest of the academic year.

  • Waive rent for students unable to access their accommodation during lockdown.

  • No evictions

  • No penalty early contract release

  • No penalties for rent strikers

  • Bring student accommodation in-house. Universities should provide decent and affordable accommodation to students; rents capped at no higher than a quarter of the average student maintenance loan.

  • Better furlough payments for student staff and no zero hour contacts on campus (except for when employees specifically opt for them)

  • Rent rebates for those who have already paid rent in advance.

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