A student group has launched an online petition threatening a rent strike if their demands, which include a rent reduction of at least 30% for the remainder of this academic year, are not met.
Sheffield, Cut the Rent have said it will be shown to the University to indicate the level of support that exists for a rent strike amongst students.
Charlie Lutz-Collier, a Politics and International Relations student on the organising committee for the strike told Forge Press the online petition, which gained 380 signatures in three days, was written by the committee after discussions between over 250 students in a group chat.
Their demands also include: ensuring students are offered a no-penalty early release clause from their tenancy contracts; improved communication from the University regarding students’ return following the Christmas break; and improved access to food packages, laundry services and mental health support.
The committee, which was formed from the group chat early last week, aims to provide information to students regarding the rent strike and will be liaising with the University.
It includes first year students living in University accommodation, as well as a Masters student who has been working to expand the rent strike information among postgraduate students living in halls.
Lutz-Collier said the committee will present the petition to the University once they reach 500 signatures, adding that 500 times the next rent payment for those in University accommodation, which for him is £1,920, “is a lot of money for the University to lose”.
He said: “Even the amount [of signatures] we have now is enough to get some concessions from the University”.
Last week it was announced the University will be awarding a two-week rent refund for students in University-owned accommodation, accounting for the time in which students are not required to be on campus following the student travel window.
Lutz-Collier said the refund, which amounts for 5% of the total rental costs for the academic year, is “a bare minimum”.
He added: “We want at least 30% for the whole year, not just the two weeks that they’ve tried to kick us out for.”
Students at other universities across the UK have also launched their own rent strikes, including the University of Manchester who were awarded a rent rebate of 30% after a month of protests.
Lutz-Collier said: “We recognise that we are in a very different situation to Manchester. They had a catalyst in that they built the fences around Fallowfield.”
“We’ve not had that at Sheffield so the demonstration aspect of our strike is definitely going to be less than Manchester because that’s not the nature of the issue at Sheffield. This is something that the committee has agreed upon.”
The Sheffield petition also includes justification statements for the demands, which Lutz-Collier said were formed from the committee’s collective experience and what has been reported to them from other students.
Signatories can confirm whether they agree that there has been a lack of available facilities around campus and inadequate mental health support for students, and if care packages should be free and include crucial items such as sanitary products.
Lutz-Collier said for him, while “the camaraderie around campus in the sense that we’re all in this together” has been positive, academically his experience has been “terrible”, having had only one in-person seminar every two weeks.
He also believes there has been poor communication from the University, particularly in regards to mental health support.
“One of the best things for student mental health is meeting like-minded people but all the societies are done over Zoom, especially political and other discussion-based societies.
“We’ve barely been allowed to meet people who we want to meet who have similar interests to us. It’s the case that if you don’t get on with your flat, that’s it.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “We understand this has been an incredibly difficult year for students and throughout the pandemic, we have been working hard to support them in the best possible way.
“Due to the government’s guidance that students should travel home earlier than planned, all students living in University owned or managed accommodation, whether traveling home or not, will not be charged rent for the two week period from 5-18 December, with this amount automatically deducted from the next accommodation payment.
“As part of our continued efforts to enhance our support provision in line with changing circumstances, the University has also established a new £3 million Covid-19 Support Fund for any students who are facing particular challenges, for example to help with costs incurred to improve IT connectivity for studying remotely.
“We will continue listening to our students and reviewing the issues they raise, as well as working closely with the Students’ Union to ensure we are providing students with the most effective and appropriate support.”
Image: George Tuli