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Shoulder to shoulder with rent strikers

Wednesday 17-08-2016 - 11:35

In April this year, National Conference mandated me to offer support to all students on rent strike. The decision to withhold rent, and join a rent strike is never taken lightly, and students involved in this political action take personal risks in the hope of bringing about change for the benefit of all students.

After conference, I wrote to university managements where students were on rent strike, re-affirming NUS’ support of the students taking action and calling on them to co-operate, provide affordable halls and ensure fair access for every student.

At UCL, almost 1,000 students took part in a rent strike which saw them withholding millions of pounds from the management. After five long months, and various threats, the strikers declared victory July after winning a rent freeze and £850,000 in rent subsidies.

Following the huge success at UCL, fellow strikers at Goldsmiths are facing an even more challenging fight with their management.

The students taking part in the rent strike at Goldsmiths have been subject to dodgy tactics before, when the accommodation provider attempted to change the due date for the rent half-way through the year, with students facing fines if they didn’t pay on time. However, new developments in the attempts to break the strike have become a lot more serious.

Early last week, some of the students on rent strike received letters, to their home addresses, from a private debt collection agency that had been instructed by Goldsmiths to recover the outstanding rent. These letters threaten court proceedings, money judgements, and inflated fees if students didn’t pay up immediately.

But it got even worse for some of the rent strikers, who were told by Goldsmiths staff that they would be prevented from re-enrolling on their courses for 2nd or 3rd year, and so were effectively being banned from attending university because they were taking part in the rent strike. Not only is this threatening and harassing behaviour unfair, it’s also potentially unlawful. Unless and until Goldsmiths confirm that they will not impose this academic sanction, I will refer this case the Competition and Markets Authority for further investigation.

Court proceedings against these students is scheduled to take place from Wednesday and I have written to the Warden of Goldsmiths to demand that he puts a stop to it, and gets back round the table with the students and their union to resolve the situation.

Threatening to take legal action against someone taking part in an organised strike is truly despicable, and an underhand attempt by management to bully students into backing down.

NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with all students on rent strike, and we will continue to offer all the support we can in the fight for students to access safe, warm, affordable homes.

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