Early lease campaign gathers momentum

An OUSU campaign for the later release of letting leases has been backed by students and MPs, but letting agencies warn that the change will not come easily.

Oxford student housing release dates are some of the earliest in the country, with most leases coming out in November, forcing some students to choose who they live with within weeks of arriving.

The campaign aims to get the ‘big five’ letting agencies to coordinate a later release date so as to assuage the welfare problems caused by the current need to prematurely make housing arrangements.

OUSU president Martha Mackenzie said that she had been “overwhelmed by how supportive people were” when they first brought the motion to the OUSU council. “The online petition has got 1,400 signatures. It feels like there is a lot of momentum behind it and also that it is achievable.”

Mackenzie said that the responses from letting agencies had been a “mixed bag”, but that “a couple have actually been quite keen to talk about it. It’s still early days, but if we manage to get them all in a room together, then there is potential for real traction”.

She also said that some agencies “find it a hassle dealing with students who don’t really know what they are doing, and students that drop out, and they would actually quite like to move back and just need that incentive of as many people as possible doing it as well.”

Charlie Bartlett from Premier Oxford, one of OUSU’s ‘big five’, said: “Unless you come up with a way of policing it then I just don’t see a way of making it work”.

He continued: “If there was a set date that was agreed between all the agencies in Oxford then I would be all for [the change], but there is no way in the world that you will be able to police that. You will get the smaller agents just releasing them earlier than ourselves.”

Bartlett also described how Premier had released their leases in mid November this academic year and that they were all out by the first week in December. The campaign has received backing from MP Andrew Smith, who described the present release dates as “ridiculously early”, noting that they “cause all sorts of problems for students”.

Continuing: “I understand the letting agencies all look over their shoulder at the others on this and are each reluctant to make a change on their own”.

St Peters Welfare Officer Annie Barker said that the current early releases “force students to decide on groups prematurely” continuing that this can lead to “severe problems” both for the students and for the letting agencies “should people leave houses without paying”.

Barker described how she had seen welfare issues arise because of the early release, with people excluded from houses due to a lack of rooms and people “who had not yet found their place in college panicking and getting truly depressed as they did not feel like they will find a group to live with.”

A third-year at Wadham Max Goulding noted that the releases were also a problem for “those going into or in their final year who are often still unsure what they are going to do in their next year.”