“Unjust” College Lock-Out Fee Risks Students’ Safety

CW: Discussions of homelessness and sexual assault and harassment

In 2023 the ANU significantly increased residential college and accommodation student costs, with a massive rent hike resulting in Bruce Hall, Burgmann College and John XXII College all costing over $500 dollars a week. This weekly rent hike was accompanied by other fee increases, including the lockout-fee, which increased 667% from $15 to $100 per lockout. These moves have worried many students, many of whom already live below the poverty line, and have limited accommodation options.

A lock-out fee is applied when a resident must call a Duty Senior Resident (SR) outside of business hours to regain access to their rooms or accommodation. In 2022, this fine was $15. According to the latest schedule of fees, and an announcement made by the ANU, in 2023 this fee will be $100 dollars for all ANU and UniLodge residences on campus (excluding Burgmann and John XXIII).

Woroni’s investigation into the lockout fee hike revealed issues surrounding fairness, consultation and justification for the change, as well as challenges to accessibility, disclosures, pastoral care, and student safety.

The initial announcement of this change by Woroni in the student facebook group “Shmidtposting” resulted in several comments outlining student concerns over the fee change.

These comments included concerns over possible disproportionate impacts for students living out of home for the first time, or students with disabilities.

This sentiment was echoed by the Disability Co-Officers Maddi McCarthy (she/her) and Mira Robson (she/her):

“Increasing the lockout fees will disproportionately affect disabled students. Symptoms such as brain fog are common among multiple disabilities, and with the increasing prevalence of long COVID-19, this symptom is significantly more frequent. This can easily lead to students forgetting room keys. Furthermore, asking students to justify why they were locked out in order to waive the fee [fee waiving was noted by the university for some circumstances] puts a huge burden on these students, who already have to fight for accommodations in so many other aspects of university life”.

Students also raised safety concerns with sentiments such as: “No one at ANU should be in the position to either go without food for the week or to sleep … where it may not be safe for them”.

Others claimed that the fee change, “might encourage them [students] to… not lock their doors in fear of getting locked out and having to fork out $100 dollars” highlighting issues of safety, privacy and wellbeing.

These concerns were also shared by the Women’s Officer Phoebe Denham (they/them) who said:

 “The increased lockout fee shows a disregard for the sexual violence and student safety issues that we have on our campus. I am concerned about students who have experienced trauma being put at greater risk of further trauma or being forced to disclose their experiences to have the fee waived”.

Woroni contacted both the Australian National University Student Association (ANUSA) and the Interhall Council (IHC) to ask whether the ANU consulted these student representative bodies on the fee change, and the position of the two bodies on the issue.

ANUSA and the IHC stated: “The newly increased lockout fee is unjust and has taken place without any student consultation.” Both also called the fine “…problematic for residents in multiple facets, including its financial burden – particularly to low-SES [socio-economic status] students, its detriment to student safety on campus and its potential to inhibit effective pastoral care relationships.”

ANUSA and the IHC explained the negative effects on pastoral care stating:

“The new lockout system will potentially impede the efficacy and genuineness of

pastoral care relationships. The SR-resident dynamic is essentially founded on trust, a foundation that is eroded by SRs effectively administering a $100 fee to residents.”

ANUSA and the IHC explained that the administration of the $100 dollar fee may construct power dynamics between SRs and residents.Senior Residents would wield far more power over residents if they could cause them to be fined $100, jeopardising the trust, comfort and equality required for pastoral care. Both organisations also stated that neither past nor current SR’s were consulted in the decision making of the fee increase.

Woroni contacted the ANU about student consultation. A spokesperson for the ANU did not address the issue of student consultation prior to the lockout fee increase but did state: “The university has welcomed feedback about the current fee from our student residents and is currently looking at how any fees will be applied in 2023”.

A major conclusion of the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) (2021) for continued action against sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) on campus was “promoting safety and respect within residential student accommodation settings”. The NSSS also found that 25.3% of sexual assaults and 10.6% of sexual harassment that occurs at university occurs in university residences and accommodation. In 2017 ANU was found to be ranked as one of the worst universities in Australia for SASH, an issue that continues to impact students, and is a central part of discussion and protest on campus.

The ANU claims to be taking action against SASH on campus and to be demonstrating this through the new Rights, Relationships and Respect Program implemented at colleges. However, when asked if the ANU had reviewed the fee changes against the recommendations made by the NSSS, an ANU spokesperson did not comment on the topic, nor on the consultation of this fee change with wellbeing professionals.

Not only does this fee change raise significant issues of student consultation, accessibility, disclosure, and safety, Woroni’s research also found that the cost of this fee is higher than the same fees levied across the country.

Woroni  asked the ANU to explain why the cost increased, to justify the 65% increase, and to comment on the apparent  inconsistency of the fee in comparison to the amounts levied at other major residential colleges across the country.

An ANU spokesperson did not respond directly to this question, but did state that:,

Students living in residences are expected to carry their room key with them at all times. The current fee only applies for lock outs that occur out of business hours. Residents will not be charged for the first time they are locked out — only after multiple instances.”

“Business hours” are restricted to Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. However, many college events are held outside these hours, and this does not include weekends.

The college “room key” is a linked ANU student ID card that costs $30 dollars to replace. If this fee is levied on students who have lost their key and are locked out, they would be liable to pay $130. If the lockout occurs on a Friday night, a student under financial stress may choose not to access their room for up to 2 days, in order to forego the $100 lockout fee. The new fee could have the unintended effect of forcing students to wait until business hours to replace their card.

An ANU spokesperson did not provide any data on the average number of lockout fees previously levied, or the expected profit from this change.

University staff have also argued that this change will help to reduce the workload of Duty SRs.

However, both ANUSA and the IHC oppose this claim:

“There have been some attempts to defend the increase to the lockout fee as necessary to mitigate SR workload… we don’t believe the lockout fee increase genuinely targets this concern. There is no evidence lockouts are elastic to the cost of the fee – we don’t believe residents chose to get locked out because it was ‘only’ $15 to get let back in.”

SR’s do not see a change in compensation as a result of the fee increase,  nor were they consulted in the fee change decision making.

The university does not pay duty SR’s who attend the callout for lockouts. SR’s are on scholarship i.e. reduced rent in return for performing duties. It raises the question as to what the money gained from this fee increase is being used for? And how much profit ANU will make from this change?

Students, student leaders, and representative bodies are very concerned with this fee change, and it raises the questions of whether the ANU will reverse this decision. An ANU Spokesperson has stated students can expect an update regarding this fee in the coming weeks.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.