A university has threatened to use bailiffs to collect unpaid rent from students.
The move, by the University of Bristol, is believed to be the first time a UK university has hired a third party company for debt collection.
Students demanded a cut in their halls of residence fees when lectures were cancelled and moved online in lockdown.
The group Rent Strike Bristol celebrates winning a 25% rent rebate after refusing to pay in October, but they are holding out for a 30% reduction.
An escalation in the stand-off has now seen emails sent to students informing them they have two weeks to pay before the university sends their details to debt collectors STA International.
The university’s chief operating officer Robert Kerse said: ‘The latest letter tells them that the debt may be passed to a company, as is standard procedure once we have exhausted our own income collection processes, which have been extended by three months this year.
‘We have regularly reminded students what support is available and have encouraged them to get in touch if they’re having any financial difficulties.’
The move has been criticised by students and the university’s own members of staff.
Lecturer Oscar Berglund, who teaches international and social policy, said students are ‘rightfully angry about broken promises’.
He said: ‘How on earth can you claim to care about student wellbeing if you set debt collectors upon your 18-year-old students?
‘Bristol University do the right thing and forgive this debt.’
He also blasted ‘lies upon lies about “blended” learning’ and said students should have been told from the start that lectures would be online so that they could make an informed choice about moving into halls.
Speaking on behalf of the university, Mr Kerse said the institution makes no surplus profit from students’ rent.
‘All accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining and improving our halls of residence,’ he said. ‘This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.
‘Recognising the impact the pandemic has had, we have offered students rebates which are the equivalent of a 25% reduction in rent over the duration of their tenancy and the option of tenancy release for those not wishing to reside in their university accommodation any longer.
‘We believe this to be one of the most significant rent offers across the university sector.’
A spokesperson for the university said the ‘few’ students withholding rent are doing so ‘to the detriment of 29,000 other students’.
‘We have got a new crop of 8,000 students coming next year and we have to pay for all of their resources as well,’ the spokesperson added.
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