Drop Charges for Students in Emergency Housing by the University of Bristol

Drop Charges for Students in Emergency Housing by the University of Bristol

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We the undersigned call on the University of Bristol to drop the £1,800 charges (along with other associated costs) that are being demanded from two students for emergency accomodation they moved into in order to escape from domestic abuse.

As the University has admitted, these students were told by the Accommodation Office that this emergency accomodation was free and were not at any point informed that they would be subject to these charges. With their previous landlord unwilling to release them from their initial contract, these students will be faced with paying over £1,000 a month each on rent if the University does not back down - enough to push anyone into hardship. 


We also call upon the Accommodation Office and the University of Bristol to make a formal apology for the treatment that these students have experienced. During a deeply traumatic period, they have been put through additional and unnecessary stress by the University’s mismanagement of this situation. We urge the University to investigate their procedures which allowed this situation to happen, to follow up on complaints made against a senior staff member in relation to this case and to abolish fees for emergency accommodation. The purpose of emergency housing is to remove one layer of insecurity and hardship for students facing traumatic circumstances. The current provision fails to do this and leaves people in already vulnerable situations in a situation of financial uncertainty. 

 

Background:


In December last year, two students were forced to move out of their house-share in order to escape the domestic abuse of another housemate. After 6 months of attempting to manage the situation these students decided that they could no longer stay in this environment and moved out to stay with friends.


After approaching their landlord and explaining their situation these students were told that there was no way of having the person perpetrating the abuse removed from the property, and that they would also be expected to pay the full years rent regardless of the fact they had moved out to escape this situation.


After approaching the University’s Wellbeing team, the students were advised that it was better to resolve this situation through the University first before going to the police. The students were told that they could access the University’s ‘emergency accommodation’ for the rest of term which would be free. The students accepted this offer, as it allowed them to escape their house-share whilst also removing the hardship of having to find and pay for a new property alongside paying for the original tenancy that they were unable to get out of.


Although grateful to have a secure place to live, the students were concerned with the state of the emergency accommodation. In their own words: “there were grossly unhygienic stains all over the kitchen and in the bathroom, the majority of the windows would not shut properly, both radiators in the bedrooms were not working, the hoover was filled with vile smelling liquid which caused the flat to smell for week. They told us cleaners would come every week, but only arrived once a month and then once more right at the end. It was an awful experience to live there but at least it was free for us to stay there.”


The students were never given a tenancy agreement to sign, which they assumed was due to the fact that they were not expected to pay rent for the accommodation.


On March 8th, they were sent a bill for over £3200 each - for a flat they had previously been told was free. After approaching the accommodation office to see if this was a mistake, the University doubled down on the fees - stating that emergency accommodation was only free for two weeks and insisting that the students had been informed of this when they moved in. The students were told their only option was to apply to access the financial hardship fund through a different University department.


After a few weeks of back and forth - including a meeting with a senior member of staff who laughed in the students faces - the Accommodation Office admitted that the students had never been informed that there would be charges for the accommodation. The University reduced the bill, but are insisting the students pay from March 8th - the day they received the first bill - since at this point the students were “aware that there would be a charge”.


We don’t believe this situation is fair. The students moved into the flat believing it was free - they rather obviously did not move out of the flat at the point they received the first bill as they believed the charge was a mistake and was being investigated by the University, and were also waiting to hear whether they could access the financial hardship fund.


More to the point, these students decided to access the accommodation rather than pursue other courses of action (such as trying to get their abuser removed from the flat via the police) on the understanding that this accommodation was free. In their own words; “we would have never moved into the flat if we would have known we would have had to pay - we can’t afford £1000 a month rent.” When these students approached the wellbeing team they made clear that their worry was being left having to pay for two flats - it’s hard to understand why emergency accommodation was recommended if there was rent to pay - as it fails to solve that problem. 


Please support these students by signing this petition and urging the university to drop these unfair fees.