Over three months has passed since I moved out of Halls of Residence but the nuisance of accommodation charges still hangs over my head and many other students.
Returning from a holiday in mid-August I switched on my Blackberry to be greeted by an unexpected e-mail from the accommodation office informing me that I had been issued with a £30 fine to carry out required repairs – ‘settee drawn on’.
This I assume is a charge that had been issued to all eight of the residents of my flat equalling a grand total of £240, enough to buy a brand new sofa? But surely a bit of pen on a settee doesn’t necessarily result in the need for a brand new piece of furniture?
Friends of mine in the same Halls of Residence were also issued with fines to cover repainting of the corridor – a whole £12.50! The need for repainting was in fact due to damp caused by a leaking shower that the maintenance department failed to repair on multiple occasions. Residents issued with fines were invited to appeal within 15 days which I and many others were keen to do. A month or so passed without any contact from the accommodation office and suddenly September was upon us with the need to register.
However, unbeknown to any of my friends, flatmates or myself this simple task proved impossible due to the above charges. Leaving us unable to register, select course units, take out items from the library, receive bursaries or scholarships or ultimately graduate. Some continued to appeal the charges and others simply gave up and paid in order to register; one justified this “it seemed like the only thing to do in the end”.
On the other hand another (the victim of the £12.50 hallway charges) continued her appeal and with some commendable badgering managed to get her and her flat’s charges alleviated.
One of her e-mails to the accommodation office stated; “The somewhat highhanded approach here seems to be a deliberate attempt to discourage students from appealing charges, as there is a need to pay the charge in order to commence with the following year”.
The way in which these charges and fines are applied to student accounts strikes me as unfair as staff are not concerned with how the damage occurred or who specifically is responsible for it.
Within the Terms and Conditions of Residence in University Accommodation 2009-10 it states that staff “will use reasonable endeavours” to identify who has caused the damage. Yet, as someone who spent very little time in my lounge area or using the supposedly damaged settees I feel that staff have not done this adequately. Nor have they endeavoured to repair the damage to the settee instead it seems they are just choosing to replace it.
Understandably it is not always possible to establish the cause of damage, however the instances that I have encountered strike me as an opportunity for staff to swindle money out of students to cover due refurbishment or general wear and tear that is not the responsibility of the students but rather the accommodation and maintenance services of the university.