Lancaster University has eventually announced the detail of the rent reductions agreed by University Council three days ago. Students who have permanently vacated their accommodation will be eligible for a complete rent waiver, but students whose possessions remain in their rooms will only be eligible for a 75% rent deduction. Any students still living in their accommodation will still have to pay full-rate rent.
Tenants' union ACORN responded by hailing the announcement as 'a huge partial victory', but with the caveat that it is 'deeply concerning' that some rents will still be charged in full:
This will largely affect international students who have been unable to return home due to border closures and may impact people who have remained on campus due to difficult living situations at home or vulnerable family members. The University’s decision to capitalise on rents in this pandemic shows a disregard for student welfare.
ACORN also pointed out that the University's new policy effectively gave students a financial incentive to break the government-mandated lockdown:
The charging of 25% rent for those whose possessions are still in their rooms is an attempt to secure needless profit from people no longer living on campus, and even encourages students to break the lockdown in order to collect belongings and avoid these charges.
ACORN said that the 'rent strike will persist until we see full cancellations', and encouraged all students to continue withholding rent. They recognise that the University is hoping that the announcement has fatally weakened the rent strike, but that this partial victory demonstrates the power students can exert if they continue to act as a collective: 'This decision is a clear attempt to divide tenants, but it has also shown that if we stand in solidarity, we can win for everyone.'
The LUSU sabbatical team said that they were 'thrilled' at the University's announcement, but that they are 'of course disappointed that they are still charging full rent for those who have chose to remain in their accommodation.' In line with democratically-decided students' union policy, they are mandated to support ACORN's decision to continue the rent strike.
Lancaster University's delay to make a decision on rents has been the cause of much student consternation. In their statement, the University says it 'has had to identify ways to save money to fund the rebate', and that these 'careful decisions ... therefore took some time.'
Update (21/4/20): Lancaster University provided Spineless with the following statement: ‘As part of our plan to support students through COVID-19, Lancaster University has taken the decision to offer reduced accommodation fees to many of our students in university–managed accommodation this term. We appreciate this is a very challenging time for our community and we hope our decision to waive accommodation payments helps ease the financial burden for our students.’ Details can be found here.