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Cut The Rent at University of Bristol! (Open Letter)
Dear Vice Chancellor Hugh Brady,

The University is facing a student rent crisis. Rent has almost doubled in only the last decade, leaving students struggling to afford rent, if they even can at all, forcing some into poverty. The maximum maintenance loan does not cover the average rent in halls plus living costs. A student’s ability to afford to live in University accommodation should not be determined by whether their parents have spare income to support them. Everyone is entitled affordable, comfortable accommodation.

The average rent in halls currently stands at £161 per week and the lowest is more than £108 per week. This has led to a situation where University-owned halls is above the national average of rent in halls (£131 per week), and even above the regional average (£144 per week). In light of these figures, University provided accommodation fails any existing definition of “affordability”.

The NUS states that universities should provide at least 25% of accommodation at half of the maximum maintenance loan and 25% at half of the minimum loan. Appallingly, the University has only 1% of beds at half the maximum maintenance loan and no beds that are half the minimum loan. This means that students whose parents cannot afford to support them financially are left struggling to afford living costs. No-one should be forced to choose between secure accommodation or food, clothing and other essentials.

According to Shelter (the housing charity) no person should be spending more than 35% of their income on rent. Students’ main income is the maintenance loan; moreover, the maximum loan is granted on the basis that their guardians need not finance them through university. Yet despite an increase in the maintenance loan, no beds (even shared rooms) are less than 35% of the maximum maintenance loan (i.e. less than £72 per week).

This affects not just a given student’s financial situation, but also their quality of life. In recent surveys, nearly half of students said that their mental health suffered as a result of keeping up with their rent. Additionally, nearly a third said it affected their studies. The ongoing mental health crisis at the University is well-known. If the university is serious about combatting this crisis, action on student rent must play a part.

The University’s current priorities are clear. We have seen University managers’ pay sky-rocket while others in our community are left behind; we see the university spending more than £300m on a new campus; we have seen the University increase student intake for financial gain beyond our current means. We, as members of the University feel the need for change; to invest in the University’s growth, our first priority must remain with current and future students and staff welfare.

Given this reality and the need for urgent reform, we, the undersigned, demand the following:

1. 50-50: 50% of all beds at 50% of the maximum maintenance loan by next year.

2. Affordable rent: Commit to reducing rent so no halls exceed 35% of the maximum maintenance loan (£72 a week or less) by 2022 in line with Shelter’s definition of affordable housing.

3. Emergency housing: Provide more easy-access, free and long-term emergency housing for those facing homelessness and unsafe living conditions.

4. Bursary increase and reform: Provide an increase in bursaries and change the criteria to not include means-testing and a postcode lottery.

5. Transparency: Publish termly budgets of the running of university accommodation and increase transparency for rent payment schemes (e.g. advertising the option to pay in monthly instalments).

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