University College London was “likely to have breached consumer law” by threatening academic sanctions against students who went on a rent strike over poor living conditions, according to the Competition and Markets Authority.
The CMA said in a statement published today that UCL is “now revising its terms and conditions and processes to ensure that students will not be subject to academic sanctions – such as being stopped from graduating or re-enrolling onto courses – because of non-tuition fee debts, such as rent arrears”.
UCL had already agreed to pay more than £100,000 compensation to the students who went on a rent strike after enduring noisy, vermin-infested accommodation.
An internal complaints panel said that 87 students who lived in the institution’s Campbell House West property near Euston should each receive a term’s rent rebate, worth £1,368.
The ruling by UCL’s complaints panel concluded that the living conditions were “unacceptable” and that the institution’s handling of the matter demonstrated “not only a lack of empathy towards the students’ circumstances” but was also “disingenuous to the students concerned”.
The CMA said in its statement: “Whilst involved in a dispute with a number of its students who went on rent strike in protest about their accommodation, UCL sent letters threatening to impose academic sanctions if rent remained outstanding.
“After it received information from Which? and the UCL student union, the CMA raised its concerns with UCL that it was likely to have breached consumer law.”
UCL “assured the CMA that the letters had been sent in error” and that it will not threaten or apply academic sanctions for non-tuition fee debts to the university, the statement added.
Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, said: “Students shouldn’t be prevented from graduating or re-enrolling because they owe money for accommodation or other non-academic services. We welcome UCL’s cooperation and commitment to complying with consumer law, which will be to the benefit of its students.”
A UCL spokesman said: “UCL welcomes the CMA’s confirmation that it does not plan to pursue any further action against UCL. UCL takes consumer issues very seriously and continues to review its current policies and practices to ensure compliance with the law.”
Consumer law has become a bigger factor in higher education in recent months. In March, the CMA issued guidance to universities on how to comply with consumer law.