Students share rent demand concerns
STUDENTS facing rent demands despite their universities being shut down have spoken of their plight.
Ulster University and Queen's University Belfast have closed their campuses.
Those who left their halls of residence can cancel their contracts without financial penalty.
But the position remains uncertain for those renting from private landlords.
The NUS-USI union said many students could not pay "through no fault of their own".
It said many relied on part-time jobs to support their education.
While the government's wage retention scheme offers support for some, there were "many falling through the cracks".
The union said it had heard from several students who lost jobs prior to support packages being announced.
Rental issues are being handled on a case-by-case basis, which "is creating a lot of stress for students".
Katie Capstick, a human rights law student at UU, said she lost her part-time job with a foreign employer.
"As a masters student who was not eligible for a loan, this means I have completely lost my income - income needed to pay rent. Due to the lockdown, I have had to return to my family in England and now my flat is unoccupied and inaccessible," she said.
"Despite these issues, my landlord is still demanding almost £500 per month in rent."
Ronan Page, a mental health nursing student at Queen's, said the virus affected him more than other students.
"Not only was Queen's shut but I also was pulled out of placement. However, when I moved home due to the virus I still had to pay rent.
"Rent for me has been a big issue due to the fact that student nurses don't get any loans or grants but rather a bursary which was nearly £120 short of my rent," he said.
NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh said government advises that students talk to their landlords and ask them to be flexible.
"Our experience shows that many landlords are continuing to insist that students pay rents that they cannot afford, sometimes for properties that they are no longer living in," he said.
"Student loans barely cover the cost of basic living expenses which is why so many rely on part-time work to survive.
"Many students are also not entitled to student loans at all, including post-graduate students and some mature students. We have also heard from nursing students who are struggling as their monthly bursary of £430 is not enough to meet their expenses.
"We need government to ensure that all students who are struggling at this time are able to access Universal Credit, and to introduce regulations to force private landlords to suspend rents. We need penalty-free termination of contracts and a rent freeze for 12 months."