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Photograph by Glenn Michael Harper & Edward Hull

Last week we reported that University College London (UCL), one of London’s top universities had threatened its students that they will be prevented from graduating, barred from returning to their courses and evicted from their halls if they do not call off an ongoing rent strike protest against “unliveable” conditions in student accommodation.

This was despite the fact that UCL was fully aware of the Office of Fair Trading (‘OFT’) ruling that “use of and reliance upon contract terms to withhold graduation or progression or otherwise exclude students from tuition for non-payment of ancillary debts (such as accommodation or childcare), in a blanket fashion and regardless of the circumstances, is open to challenge as unfair under the UTCCRs and/or unreasonable under the UCTA. We also consider that practices around the use of such terms may constitute unfair commercial practices under the CPRs.”

And “The OFT expects all universities to refrain from using potentially unfair and/or unreasonable terms and practices and not to mislead students about either party’s rights.”

The university indicated that the strikers may be exempt, but that the sanctions would still apply to other students.

I and David Dahlborn, the UCLU Halls and Accommodation representative met with William Wilson, Director of Student Residences, to argue this as illegitimate and most likely illegal, whilst the striking students continued the campaign, attracting national headlines (including the Standard and the Guardian).

The university has now back-tracked on the threat to all students- strikers and non-strikers. In a U-turn, William Wilson said “We will not be applying any academic sanctions to any accommodation debtor”.  He also noted “I believe this is in line with the approach you were asking for last week”- indicating that this is a direct result of student pressure.

Whilst this is brilliant news for all students who were threatened, it is worrying that the university tried to use illegitimate and most likely illegal forces to threaten tenants, and that it was only with pressure from the students union that they back tracked on this horrible intimidation tactic.

It is unacceptable that the university even considered these sanctions, and that these sanctions were in-line with the policy the university holds. Whilst the students have been assured that they will still be allowed to re-enrol and graduate, no apology indicating the wrong-doing of the university has been issued to the students concerned, who have suffered great distress and worry from these threats. Moreover the university are still pressing on with non-academic sanctions including removing them from summer accommodation.

Following this, it is with the upmost urgency that we call for a review on the universities debt policies, and that UCLU is a key part of this change. We also demand that the university issues an apology to students for the stress and worry that they wrongfully put them through, and meet the full demands of the rent strike.