By Nadine White
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Hundreds of students have joined a rent strike in protest at private accommodation providers which have refused to cancel fees for the summer term.
Many students have had to vacate their halls of residence and return to their family homes as universities closed down amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
While some providers, including the Universities of Portsmouth and London, have agreed to waive summer-term fees, some private providers such as Sanctuary Students have refused to release students from their contracts.
Masters student Tama Knight, who is studying gender, development and globalisation at LSE, is one of 314 students who have signed up to the protest.
The 24-year-old said she left Lilian Knowles House on March 23 as she feared for her ability to effectively self-isolate in a building with shared facilities including kitchen, dining and laundry area.
She added that although people are still receiving student loans, many have lost part-time jobs that they relied on.
Knight said: “From a humanitarian standpoint, Sanctuary Students’ decision has the potential to financially devastate students, essentially punishing them for making decisions about their safety in a global situation completely outside of their control.
“It is morally wrong to expect students to bear the economic brunt of the challenging times by taking a position so devoid of empathy and solidarity.
“From a more pragmatic standpoint, Sanctuary Students as an organisation can access government support which is largely unavailable to students.
“Many students, especially international ones, can expect no government-based financial support in this crisis. It is ridiculous to expect students to fulfil their contracts as normal in such abnormal times.”
This comes weeks after students across the country demanded that universities reimburse them for all teaching time missed.
A petition requiring universities to reimburse student tuition fees during strike action has received over 115,000 signatures from frustrated students who are refusing to pay for a service they have barely received.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan has voiced his support for students stuck with paying rent for properties they cannot use, and the Department for Education has urged private hall providers “to consider students’ interests and fairness in their decisions about rent charges for this period”.
In a statement on its website, Sanctuary Students says: “While we understand that you must make the right decision for your health and well-being, and that of your family’s, we regret that we cannot terminate any contracts early if you have decided to leave your accommodation.
“We realise this will be disappointing for you but it is not a decision we have taken lightly.
“Many of our students rely on us to continue providing them with a safe and secure home, and without us they would be at risk of becoming homeless.”