Students and student representatives have expressed serious concern over new plans from the University of Edinburgh which could see student tenants who fall behind on their rent or fail to pay charges prevented from graduating or re-matriculating.
In a move designed to effectively side-step the Scottish Government’s new deposit protection scheme for residential tenants, the university’s Accommodation Services (AS) department will cease collection of tenancy deposits. Charges for damage to university-owned residences will now be pursued similarly to library fines, with potentially serious consequences for students in debt at the end of the year.
An email from AS to university tenants, seen by The Journal, warns that “if a tenant remains in debt to Accommodation Services at the end of their contract, they will not be permitted to graduate or matriculate, whichever is appropriate, until the debt is cleared.
“Accommodation Services also reserves the right to take legal action to recover any debt.”
The email also stated that “any damages should be paid within 14 days of the charge being raised,” but gave no information as to whether tenants would be able to challenge charges they felt were unfair.
The university said that the decision had been taken in order to cut administrative costs, and stressed the impact of the new £250 ‘pre-payment charge’ which replaces the old security deposit and is refunded against the first month’s rent rather than at the end of the tenancy.
A spokesman told The Journal: “With this new pre-payment scheme, allowance still needs to be made for damage and other charges incurred by our residents but, as with all our financial
arrangements with students, if anyone has an issue or problem then they can talk to us and we will proactively look for an equitable solution.”
But Max Crema, the newly-installed Vice-President (Services) of Edinburgh University Students’ Association, expressed scepticism, telling The Journal that “asking students to find a large sum of cash before they’d received their first student loan or grant was always unfair, especially on those coming from a disadvantaged background, and I’m glad that the university has recognised this.
“However, they seem not to have followed this logic through as far as they could have, and are still charging students exactly the same amount of money that they always have, before they’ve received any financial support.”
Mr Crema added that he hoped EUSA could resolve the situation through dialogue with the university.
Alex Paul, a third-year student and continuing university tenant, said: “I’m concerned that the university thinks it’s acceptable to duck their responsibilities towards students by opting out of a Scottish Government scheme intended to protect students from dishonest landlords who unfairly charge for damages.
“It sends out the message that the university thinks this is an acceptable practice and the protection of student tenancy rights is not a priority for them.”