A large provider of UK student housing has engaged debt collectors to pursue tenants who are withholding this term’s rent after the coronavirus crisis forced universities to close.
Notices have been served to tenants of properties run by Sanctuary Students, whose nationwide accommodation includes a number of halls in London, some of which are for students from the London School of Economics or the School of Oriental & African Studies.
The move puts Sanctuary at odds with other student accommodation providers such as Unite Students, Liberty Living and Blackstone-owned iQ Student Accommodation, which have waived rent for tenants wishing to leave early.
Tomasz Jablonski, a first-year student at Soas and tenant at Dinwiddy House in King’s Cross, was contacted by debt recovery company Daniels Silverman and told to pay his outstanding balance of £1,736 within a week “to avoid the possibility of further action being taken”.
“I don’t have money to pay right now,” said Mr Jablonski, who lost his job in a pub when the virus broke out and moved home to Poland in March. “I’m not working so I don’t know how I can get money to pay it. If I have this debt my credit score will be worse because of it. I don’t know where I’ll live next year . . . It’s making me very anxious.”
Hundreds of Sanctuary tenants are taking part in a rent strike. Only a handful have been contacted by debt collectors so far but strike organisers expect all participants to be served notices in due course.
Sanctuary Students said that without its accommodation, “these students may become homeless. It is essential we continue to provide them with support staff and access to a safe, secure, managed place to live.”
It said student loan payments had not been halted and that the government had encouraged tenants to continue paying rent and that it would be happy to offer students with financial concerns “flexible payment options through an agreed payment plan”.
Valeria Racu, a member of the Soas student union that has helped co-ordinate the strike, said many tenants had little choice but to leave.
“This is a highly pressured situation. [Tenants] are international students, disadvantaged students, people forced to fly home.”
Eva Crossan Jory, who is responsible for welfare at the National Union of Students, said Sanctuary was “behaving appallingly”.
The company, a subsidiary of housing association Sanctuary Group, “is supposed to deliver affordable housing that meets the needs of its tenants,” she added. “But they continue to behave worse than many for-profit student accommodation providers during this pandemic.”