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Manchester students faced with ‘unsafe’ housing during lockdown

Students have threatened a rent strike if the conditions, which include floods, pests and broken windows, don't improve

University of Manchester students have threatened a rent strike over “unsafe” living arrangements while being asked to confine themselves to halls due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

The freshers allege that since moving in, they have been plagued by floods, pests, broken appliances, smashed windows and no hot water. 

Videos posted on social media showed flooding in one accommodation block, for which the University charges £151 a week, with water pouring from the roof.

In another clip, silverfish can be seen clinging to the walls.

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The students have also spoken out about feeling unsafe, saying there is “nothing they can do” to stop break-ins and demanding better security. Images seen by The Big Issue also show smashed bedroom windows and broken door handles.

With Greater Manchester currently in the “high risk” coronavirus tier, students are being asked not to mix and remain within their bubble. 

With most classes also moving online, this means spending more time than ever in their accommodation. 

The undergraduates claim no thought has been given to their safety, and that they were moved into halls “for the sole purpose of the university profiting off our rent.”

A university spokesperson said students are “strongly encouraged” to stay in their accommodation but “if in exceptional circumstances students wish to return home for a period, and no longer require their University accommodation, we will work with them to make sure they can safely leave the campus.” 

The first years have now demanded a 40 per cent rent reduction and early release clauses from tenancy contracts.

They say they will stop paying if the University does not increase support.

Chris, a first-year living in halls and helping to organise the campaign, said around 20 undergraduates had come together wanting to “do something about” the conditions.

He said 200 other students had since committed to cancelling their standing orders, amounting to a combined £307,000 in rent.

“That’s a lot of money, and I’m not sure absolutely everyone will strike, but I think it’s more the fact so many students have said they will support it,” he said. 

“I’m confident that even if we get half of that, it’s still enough.”

Chris added that he wasn’t “particularly worried about the legal repercussions” stemming from the strike.

“We have talked to charities who specialise in legal disputes over landlords and renting. Even if there are legal repercussions, they are not likely to be huge. 

“The university might be very quick to jump to the conclusion that we’re breaking the law, but I can’t see that. 

“If several hundreds of students are doing something like this and the University did take legal action, it’s going to look even worse on them.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said all students had to make an “informed choice” as to whether to study in person, but that they were “strongly encouraged” to remain in accommodation and not return home.

They said: “We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, which includes a partnership with a major food retailer, delivery of parcels, wellbeing support, and assistance with practical matters such as arranging for laundry and prescription medicines. 

“We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”

Image credit: Pete Alderson/Wikimedia Commons