An MP has backed calls by students to have their third-term university accommodation fees cancelled as many return to their family homes to lockdown during the Covid-19 crisis.
Student groups have set up an online petition and rent strikes as some private accommodation providers refuse to waive payments despite rooms lying empty.
Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South, praised the city’s university for releasing students from their contracts until the end of the academic year and called on private firms to do the same.
“I will continue to lobby all major student accommodation providers, that have failed to offer this release so far, to take steps to support students and act in the interest of our community.”
Beth Evans, a second-year physical geography student at Queen Mary University of London, said that having to pay her £2,500 fee to Sanctuary Students for the summer term having returned home and lost her part-time job working in a cafe will leave her financially stricken until the autumn.
The 19-year-old, who has set up a petition on change.org, told the PA news agency: “Many students rely on part-time jobs and their student loans do not cover their rent, my parents can’t support me financially and having to deal with this is making the transition to moving back home and continuing to study online even more stressful.”
“Without our accommodation these students may become homeless, while others have informed us they are in self-isolation.
“It is therefore absolutely essential we can keep our buildings open, and our support staff in place, so we can continue to provide them with access to safe, secure, managed accommodation.
“While we realise our decision not to terminate contracts early will be disappointing, we have been informed by the universities minister that students will still be receiving their tuition fee and maintenance payments for term three as scheduled, whether or not campuses are closed, or learning has moved online.
“The Government has also outlined information encouraging tenants living in rented accommodation to pay their rent as normal, while accessing the new financial support packages it is offering if needed.”
“A number of providers have waived rents for the summer term which will be a relief for students in this challenging time.
“Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for the remainder of the current academic year.”
Eva Crossan Jory, NUS vice president (welfare) said: “NUS is working hard to ensure there are protections for all student tenants in place during this crisis.
“We want to see student accommodation providers release students from their contracts at no penalty, when students’ welfare or education is being significantly impacted as a result of coronavirus.
“NUS is also calling for a suspension of rent and utility payments for those impacted by coronavirus, an end to evictions during the crisis and a number of other protections for renters.”
A University of Portsmouth spokeswoman said: “The university has offered to release all students from their contracts in university-owned accommodation for the final university term.
“We hope that this intervention by Stephen Morgan MP will help persuade other private providers of halls of residence in Portsmouth to do the right thing and offer the same option to student tenants now, to give them the certainty that they want and need in these difficult times.”