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UK students are holding rent strikes to fight against ‘extortionate rents’

University students across the UK are planning to protest against steep hikes in rent for student accommodation by organizing strikes at their respective universities.

Students at 25 campuses attended workshops over the past weekend on how to successfully hold a rent strike, which basically sees participating students refusing to pay rent until some agreement is reached between them and university management.

Speaking at one of the workshops in south London, the National Union of Students‘s (NUS) Vice President for Welfare, Shelly Asquith, said that between 2012-13 and 2015-16, student accommodation costs had risen by 18 percent, advocating rent strikes as one of the best ways for students to do something about it.

“Extortionate rents, coupled with course fees and other rising living costs, are now preventing lots of working-class students from attending university altogether, especially in cities such as London,” she added, as quoted by The Guardian.

Asquith also said that according to NUS figures, “over 50 percent of students say they can’t afford their basic expenses of rent and other bills”.

Earlier this year, students at University College London (UCL) carried out a five month-long rent strike which saw the university’s management acceding to their demands, including various concessions such as a rent freeze, and the introduction of a £350,000 accommodation bursary for disadvantaged students.

Their success has inspired students at other universities to consider using the same tactic, and Asquith believes that the strikes have the potential to spread to other universities.

“When people first hear about rent strikes they think, ‘That sounds a bit scary,’ but where they have happened lots of students who don’t see themselves as political have got involved because they see hundreds of other people in their halls doing it. It’s about strength in numbers,” she said.

According to Martin Blakey, Chief Executive of student housing charity Unipol, student rents are increasing hand in hand with a rise in studio flats and high-end accommodation, particularly in London.

Based on data collected by Unipol and NUS, students in London were paying an average of £226 per week last year, compared to £134 for the rest of the UK.

“If you look at London, it’s really the eye of the storm and it’s a warning story of what might happen elsewhere. This year in Nottingham there’s about an extra 800 bed spaces coming online from purpose-built operators. And of that about 650 of those are studio flats, i.e. very expensive,” he said.

Blakey said the trend in more expensive student housing was not driven by what students want, and urged universities to consider more reasonable options for cash-strapped students.

In addition to giving students tips on how to negotiate with university management, the NUS is also providing legal advice and a safe account where students can deposit their accommodation fees.

Image via Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

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