Student renters, who are striking in Bristol over paying for accommodation they have been told they should not return to, are right to go on rent strike, Bristol Green Party has said.
Government advice for students has changed since being encouraged by universities to return to campus and sign housing contracts, and many students have now been advised not to return to student accommodation. Universities have provided support for students in halls, but are calling on private landlords to take advantage of Government support and do their bit to support students.
Lily Fitzgibbon, Green Party candidate for Bishopston and Ashley Down ward, set up a petition to the Council requesting the Mayor write to private landlords and letting agents serving student tenants, asking them to provide rent relief. This is something that the University of Bristol and the University of West of England have already done. It also calls on the Mayor to write to the Minister of State for Universities to demand extended financial support to universities and students during the pandemic.
Fitzgibbon, who is also co-chair of Young Greens of England and Wales, said, “We are asking landlords to step up for their tenants and take advantage of the financial support that the government has put in place for them such as mortgage holidays. Expecting students to pay for accommodation and services they cannot use is totally unreasonable.”
In parallel with the petition, Green Party councillor Carla Denyer has submitted a motion to a Bristol City Council meeting on 16th March, making the same demands.
She explains, “The University of Bristol and UWE have both offered concrete measures to support their students in halls with rent, including rent rebates and no-penalty contract releases where needed. However, most students rent in the private sector, and they cannot access this support, despite facing the exact same issues. They are paying a high financial cost for obeying the law and following public health advice. So we are asking the Mayor to support the campaign and use his significant influence to persuade landlords to step up and support your student tenants in these difficult times.”
Ani Stafford-Townsend, Green Party candidate for Central ward and who has signed a cross-party open letter calling on landlords and letting agents to work with student tenants, said:
“Covid-19 has hit all areas of our society hard, but students in Bristol have been particularly affected by continuously changing guidance on movement and travel.
“The average rent for a student at Bristol University is £131 per week, and even more for UWE students. Maintenance loans today do not cover living costs and with the hospitality sector closed down, part-time jobs they’d do just aren’t available.
“Students were encouraged by their Universities to return to campus in September, often under the promise of in-person teaching. Contracts for accommodation were signed, but Government guidance rescinded just days before term began. Now many have also been advised to stay at home following Christmas, with no review until the Easter break at the end of March.”
Stafford-Towsend lives and runs a business in Central ward, an area which contains many private student lets. Ahead of the first lockdown, Ani set up mutual aid groups in their local area, ensuring that students knew this included them.
With the national lockdown easing, a review of teaching provision for students currently studying online is expected during the Easter break.
Lily Fitzgibbon is the former Green councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down ward. She served from 2021-2023.More about Lily