Playing with Fire

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King’s and KCLSU collude to wait a month before kicking students out of South London accommodation.

King’s and KCLSU worked together to prevent residents from knowing about a so-called ‘potential fire hazard’ for over a month after the decision was initially taken to move them out.

Between 500-600 students living at the University’s Champion Hill accommodation in Camberwell, South London, were told on Monday the 13th of January that they were to be moved out within the following two weeks.

In a statement posted on the 14th, King’s Residences confirmed that residents at Beech, Maple, Oak and Rowan blocks would be “moved to alternative accommodation” because of fire safety concerns at Maple block that needed further investigation to gauge the level of risk posed. Students in the Platanes block have not been affected.

Students had just over two weeks to move out, having to select a date between 22nd and 31st to make the move, with arrangements provided by professional movers Harrow Green guaranteed. Students will have to continue paying rent at their current rate unless they are not provided with equivalent accommodation and will receive three weeks’ rent in compensation if they take up offered alternative accommodation, and ten weeks’ rent compensation if they find their own alternative accommodation.

After King’s announced on January 14 that residents of the University’s Champion Hill accommodation would be moved out within two weeks, the university clarified that this decision had been made on December 19, a month before students had been notified. King’s claimed that the timing of the announcement was made because it played “a key part of our planning process” and “the timing of the announcement was to take account of the university’s scheduled Examinations Period which ended on Friday 10 January 2020.” There was a 17-day period between the day the decision was made and the start of Examinations Period 1.

Buying off students?

The primary location chosen to relocate students to is the Hilton London Metropole in Paddington – a four-star hotel in Central London where lower-end rooms start at £130 a night. Students will each be provided the three weeks of their usual rent as compensation, as well as £15 per day in spending money for food until the end of their contracts. They will each be allocated either a double or twin en-suite room for their personal use and will have access to daily free breakfast, free laundry utilities, housekeeping, and free access to the hotel’s other facilities, including study areas, a gym, and a pool.

Most students are understandably satisfied with the choice of relocation, dampening the confusion at the sudden move-out from Champion Hill. However, some aren’t as pleased as others. Sigrid Leivsdottir, an International Relations student at King’s, says the thing she’s most annoyed at is ‘is the fact that we don’t have a kitchen. […] We’re forced to buy cheap food, either take-away or eat at restaurants.”

Roar has calculated that King’s will be spending an estimated minimum of £1,509,750 (from your fees) on the relocation efforts, leading us to suspect that they have chosen to buy students’ silence on the matter by providing luxury accommodation.

Insufficient support

Provisions for mitigating circumstances provoked by the issue are currently uncertain and will be “discussed where appropriate over the relocation period,” aside from referring students to KCLSU help. The King’s Press Office has since contacted Roar, saying that King’s was “supporting our students in our many ways” but failed to clarify how other than by again redirecting to KCLSU advice, which is available to every student already, and by asking dislocated students to refer to their personal tutors about their concerns over mitigating circumstances.

The KCLSU Student Officers Team have released a short statement indicating that they are “sorry to hear” about the issue and “are working with King’s to ensure not only that our residences are fit for purpose but that those affected are provided compensation alongside help and support in the planned relocation.” The statement fails to clarify how this will be done or how the student officers will remain accountable to this promise.

When asked by Roar whether the KCLSU was aware of the gap between the decision being made and the announcement to students, Student Officer Nafiza Mamun explained that the Student’s Union was “happy with” the priorities chosen by the university in the decision-making process, and implied that student officers had been made aware from the start. Overall, the KCLSU supported the university’s decision to wait.

Lawful but awful?

Roar News submitted a Freedom of Information request to King’s regarding fire reports to gather more information on the severity of the ‘potential fire hazard’ at Champion Hill. At press time, this has yet to receive a response, despite it being over the statuary limit to fulfill such a request. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) have confirmed that, in accordance with home fire safety laws, landlords must inform tenants of any fire hazard immediately after its discovery. That King’s did not do so suggests profound incompetence, a dereliction of duty – or both.

Collector of Tesco clubcard points.

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