This note was issued on 18th June 2020, updating those previously issued on 7th June, 2nd June, 23rd May, 15th May, 21st April, 9th April, 4th April, 31st March, 25th March, 23rd March, 20th March and 17th March 2020.
Following the launch of the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy which encourages a return to work whilst emphasising the continuing importance of working from home where possible, Covid-Secure Guidance (11th May 2020) has been issued dealing with relevant health and safety requirements.
Unipol is committed to providing as much information as possible about how we are responding to the current situation to our tenants and service users.
In developing these operational procedures we have been mindful of the advice issued by Public Health England and the institutions of higher education who we work closely with. We have also had to strike a balance between providing services to tenants and the need to offer the best protection we can to our staff. Many of our property management routines are important in maintaining regulatory compliance with other important health and safety routines and we also need access to properties in order to undertake repairs and investigate problems that are reported to us.
Unipol’s tenants and staff have a wide range of risk levels, ranging from housing some elderly residents, some older students, those with pre-existing medical conditions, families with children and younger people sharing facilities in cluster flats and houses. We have tried to make our operational processes appropriate to all these groups.
Students in England can now return to their accommodation to collect their belongings. In England, on 21st May 2020 the Government gave the following advice available on the media blog or Government website
The media blog copy reads
“Can I collect my belongings from my student accommodation?
We know many of you are concerned about collecting your belongings from your term-time accommodation. That was not possible under the previous guidance but the government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy published on 11 May sets out a cautious roadmap to ease those measures in a safe and measured way.
While all of us should stay at home as much as possible to protect ourselves and other people, the strategy allows for certain necessary travel if people take precautions in line with the principles in Annex A of the strategy and other published guidance, such as on travel and social distancing.
This means that, if you are a student who left student accommodation in England and now wishes to travel back to that accommodation to recover your belongings, you can do so providing you continue to avoid public transport wherever possible and follow the latest travel and social distancing guidance of the nation where you are currently residing.
You should discuss a date and time to collect your belongings with your accommodation provider. Most higher education providers will contact tenants of university accommodation about arrangements, but if you rent privately-owned accommodation you should contact the provider directly. Please be patient if your collection time needs to be set for future weeks to allow for appropriate social distancing to be maintained.”
Please be aware that this guidance does not deal with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It has been estimated that 70% of student rooms that were vacant over the Easter period still had possessions in them. Sometimes belongings had been neatly packed ready for collection but sometimes the flat had simply just been left, although most tenants had cleared the fridge and removed any raw or waste food.
It is important that the process of returning is structured to comply with Covid-Secure procedures.
In the case of smaller properties, Unipol ask that tenants coordinate movements between themselves in order to avoid everyone trying to unload or load their belongings together in the household which would compromise social distancing between visitors to any flat or house. If anyone was self isolating then special arrangements will need to be made.
In complexes (Mill Street, Carlton Hill, Alexander Court, Garden House, the Student Hideout and New York Buildings) Unipol will have already emailed you about more detailed collection arrangements and in these cases it is necessary to book a slot for collection to stop too much movement within each building which would compromise social distancing. It is important that you use this system. If you just “turn up” and Unipol judges there is too much movement in a given building then access to that building (and the availability of car parking) will be curtailed immediately.
It is important that you tell us when you have fully moved out so that we can track when a property still has belongings in it and when it is likely to be fully vacated.
Please do not leave moving out until the couple of days because not everyone will be able to pick up belongings and maintain social distancing and these arrangements are for your (and others’) safety.
There are a few other matters that are worth considering when coming back:
Unipol does not have storage facilities, but if a tenant has left their accommodation and is unable to return (particularly if they are international students) then you should contact Unipol to see if a bespoke arrangement can be made. If your only option is a packing service, then get in touch and we can provide you with a list of companies.
We told you that Unipol were considering what arrangements we would make to start new tenancies for this coming July. Unipol’s trustees met on Friday 29th May 2020 and we have now put in place a number of measures that should help you to take up your tenancy from July.
We really look forward to you either remaining or coming back to Leeds and we think many students will want to spend some time living in Leeds with their friends over the summer period.
Because of the unique situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, like you, we have been waiting to see what is happening to the next academic year. It is our impression from talking to the educational institutions with who we work (many of who have representatives on our Board) that all are planning to operate their term dates roughly as planned and that it is reasonable to conclude that, subject to a backwards move in the progress of Covid-19 and a second lockdown, that students will return to study in September/October in the context of a “new normal” situation.
We have written to our managed owners asking them to take their decisions by Monday 8th June 2020 after which we will write to those tenants and prove them with information. The information that follows is for Unipol owned and leased properties.
Unipol has around 1,400 tenancies that run over 52 weeks where tenants normally changeover on July 1st. Our trustees have considered two important health and safety areas which will affect the start of our tenancies:
Just to reassure you, there is no social distancing required between tenants within a property or a flat and this will be no different from how your household works now.
Unipol normally uses a complex logistics system to turn tenancies round within a three day period at the end of June and the opening days of July. Unipol’s contractual obligations to you are that all properties will be fully in-depth cleaned within the first three days of the tenancy. This normally works well.
This does, however, mean that there is a lot of human activity within these properties around 30th June/1st July: tenants leaving on the last day, tenants arriving on the first day, contractors and cleaners getting the properties ready for occupation. It has been concluded that this level of activity is incompatible with the current advice on social distancing and therefore our normal arrangements will need to change.
There is the added challenge posed by the risk of the Covid-19 virus. A property could be fully cleaned but still infected. Unipol carries out a thorough clean of all of its properties each year and this means the infection risk is significantly reduced but there are issues with the virus surviving on soft furnishings, carpets and fabrics that are not all cleaned together with the risk of re-infection from servicing staff. These risks apply equally to student tenants, visiting parents, contractors and Unipol staff.
“The infection risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) following contamination of the environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk. However, studies of other viruses in the same family suggest that, in most circumstances, the risk is likely to be reduced significantly after 72 hours.”
On that basis Unipol is implementing a minimum 3 day “fallow period” of non-occupation for all new tenants.
This will mean that you will need to move out of your current accommodation and take your belongings home and then return to Unipol accommodation after the “fallow period”. It will not be possible for you to simply move your belongings from one property straight into another.
This will also be Unipol’s general advice to owners in Leeds.
There are two exceptions to this:
In the case of a single-day move Unipol will use a special decontamination process that “fogs” the whole house or flat removing any infection or contamination. This requires the flat to be entirely empty and sealed for 4 hours (the chemicals used are dangerous to humans). This process is both expensive and complex and it is estimated that we can only offer this service to around 20 properties - so it is not an option for everyone.
So, just to be clear, in order that we can properly clean your property and ensure it is safe to move into we need to have the property empty for several days. Although your tenancy begins on 1st July we do not want you to move into your property until after 2.00pm on Wednesday 8th July 2020. In the case of some managed properties this one week period is likely to be extended to two weeks: those affected will be written to and rent will be refunded for that.
When you do move in, it will also be important that you arrange your arrival times with your housemates so that not everyone tries to move in at the same time. If you are living in a house (subject to agreement from your housemates) we will provide you with contact details of your housemates and you can arrange this yourself. It is important you do this: if, say, five students all turn up at once to move in with assisted by two parents or friends that would mean 15 people moving around in a small space and it would be impossible to maintain anything like the social distance that is required to non-householders.
If you are living in a flat in Alexander Court or New York Buildings then Unipol will set up a booking system that you can use that will give you a time slot when you can arrive.
As a charity and not for profit housing provider, in setting and charging rents, Unipol only seeks to cover its costs and provide a good service to students. There is no profit or allowance that we can dip into to fund fallow periods.
Our trustees have unanimously decided (and they include representatives from the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University and both of their students’ unions) that the current circumstances are wholly exceptional and Unipol will need to borrow money to fund what we have decided.
In considering this matter our trustees took into account that:
Unipol has decided that in respect of its owned and leased properties it will therefore give a rent reduction of 50% from 1st July 2020 to 31st August 2020. The 50% rental refund applies only to those tenancies that are let at the full rental value during this period (some tenancies already have rent reduced or rent free periods and they are unaffected). This rent reduction will apply to:
This 50% reduction will be made across the board for simplicities sake, so if you are staying in the same house or room where you do not need to move this reduction will still apply. If you are paying us by direct debit Unipol can adjust this ourselves. If you are paying by other methods you should make sure that your payment is correct. Students who have already paid rent for this period will be given a 50% refund. Please be patient whilst refunds are being processed.
This offer is costing Unipol £335,000 and is designed to ease the rental burden of your tenancy over this summer period. We hope this is useful.
There are some terms to this offer to reduce your rent that you will need to agree:
Unless there is a return to lockdown trustees have already decided that Unipol will not be considering any further rent reductions within your tenancy period.
The small number of properties Unipol manages is not covered by this and, as has been mentioned previously, after 8th June Unipol will be able to write to those specific tenants with their particular arrangements.
Sandhills is a brand new building for 330 students coming on line this summer. As can be guessed, the Covid-19 lockdown caused the developers and builders many issues and have slowed the completion of the building but the building is now going to be ready in late August.
Tenancies begin on two dates:
a) we have 30 direct let tenants whose tenancies begin on 1st September 2020
b) we have 300 NTU student nominated tenancies beginning on 25th September 2020.
Unipol have written to the 30 direct let tenancies asking them to occupy the building from 18th September 2020 and offering a rent refund plus £100 for the lost days’ occupancy. Students who have nowhere else to live during that period are asked to contact Unipol and temporary accommodation will be provided.
A booking system will be in operation to ensure that the building does not get too busy when people are moving in.
The thirty tenants whose tenancies originally started on 1st September 2020 can start moving in from 11.00am on Friday 18th September 2020 and they have an exclusive move-in period from then until the end of Saturday 19th September 2020 - after that time they can book any other slot available.
NTU nominated tenants, although their tenancy begins on Friday 25th September 2020, can start moving in from 9.00am on Sunday 20th September 2020. These extra days will be a rent free period.
Youi can get detailed information about Sandhills on our website and we will keep updating this so that more detail appears as that is available. We have received a number of enquiries about the colour scheme within each flat and more detailed information about that is about to be put on the website.
Unipol is aware that there may be some students whose own (or family) circumstances have changed dramatically over the last few weeks and they may be planning not to return to University or College next year or they can no longer afford the rent they are contracted to pay. Unipol is offering all of its direct-let tenants and some managed property tenants whether they wish to be considered, on exceptional grounds, to be released from their contract.
If you do want to make out a case then you need to make those representations to us by a number of deadlines:
a) Unipol direct let tenants (including those where a 50% rent reduction applies over July and August) should write to us not later than midday on 10th June 2020. Decisions will be taken on 12th June 2020 and tenants will be informed of our decision not later than 15th June 2020. All tenants who applied to be relased from their contract on execptional groups have now been written to with a decision.
b) Unipol managed tenants (where owners have agreed this) will have a different date and Unipol will write to you about this after 8th June 2020.
c) Sandhill tenants need to make any representations to us not later than 5.00pm on 18th June 2020. Decisions will be taken on 22nd June 2020 and tenants will be informed of our decision not later than 24th June 2020.
Unipol has established a special panel who will consider those requests After that time Covid-19 related requests will not be considered further. Unipol’s Tenancy Release Group exists to consider other exceptional requests to leave and end tenancies and that will continue to function throughout the year and details can be found at https://www.unipol.org.uk/footer/governance/advisory-groups-and-forums/the-tenancy-release-group
Just to emphasise the main points again (with more detail being given above):
As a not for profit charity Unipol is borrowing a very significant sum of money (in excess of £700,000) that has provided rent reductions for our tenants across April to the end of August. We have really tried, in your interest and the interest of future students, to get the balance right within what we can borrow.
We know the moving-in arrangements will cause some inconvenience and will help where there are particular problems but these arrangements are designed to minimise the public risk to health (to yourself, parents and friends, contractors and Unipol staff) and it is important that these are followed properly.
After all that, we are really looking forward to welcoming you to your house or flat and we hope meeting your friends again and living in Leeds will be, even in these difficult times, a really great experience.
The Deputy Chief Executive is co-ordinating Unipol’s health and safety response to ensure that office and service arrangements meet with the relevant guidelines. Some changes have already been implemented, increasing office services (see below under Hub Services).
Unipol has furloughed a relatively small number of staff and the majority of staff continue to work from home and can be contacted in the normal way. At this phase of the COVID-19 recovery strategy it is not envisaged that all staff will return to work in the office and many of the home working arrangements will continue but is obviously the case that many of those involved in managing our portfolio will need to be work in Leeds and visiting properties after that time.
Unipol’s office in Leeds will open to the public from Friday 19th June. Strict social distancing measure are in place, with a maximum of 2 visitors in the office at any one time. A queing system has been marked outside the building.
Unipol’s Nottingham office will open to the public from Monday 22nd June. Strict social distancing measure are in place, with a maximum of 1 visitor in the office at any one time
The opening hours are Monday to Friday 9am - 4.45pm.
As many staff are still working fom home, and with strict social distancing measures in place when accessing the hubs, we encourage you to continue to contact Unipol via:
Due to the current situation we are operating key collection on an appointment basis. It is important that we are able to stagger the number of visitors to our office so that we can adhere to social distancing. This is for your safety and the safety of all other tenants and our staff.
Unipol will email you a link to a booking system so you book a time slot to collect keys for your new property.
Nominate a friend to collect keys on your behalf if you cannot visit us during our opening times. If this is not possible, occasionally key packs can be collected from the out of hours centre, but this needs to be pre-arranged 24 hrs in advance during office opening hours
The Bradford office remains closed and calls to that office are directed to the Leeds office.
Unipol has suspended physical viewings but our properties can be viewed either on this website or on www.unipolhousing.org.uk. Viewings will re-commence in mid-June and those affected will be informed before then.
It is important, for health and safety reasons that we continue to need access to certain buildings, flats and rooms. In many cases Unipol uses external contractors to fulfil certain health and safety routines, cleaning, security and undertake reactive repairs - in these cases we have to rely on our contractors and their own health and safety routines.
Cleaning routines in our developments is continuing, however they are focusing on cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces in communal areas to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Public health advice on COVID-19 and how to stop it spreading has been displayed in all communal areas and has been emailed out to tenants and shared on social media channels.
Unipol staff visiting properties and developments have been provided with alcohol based hand sanitiser and are following Public Health England guidance on good respiratory and hand hygiene. Contractors visiting properties and developments have been contacted and asked to follow Public Health guidance on good respiratory and hand hygiene.
If you report a repair you will be asked to confirm that you are not self-isolating
If tenants are self-isolating, either because of their own symptoms or because of the symptoms of friends or others in the flat it is important that they inform Unipol of the period of their self-isolation straight away by calling us on 0113 243 0169 Option 2 9am - 5pm Monday - Friday or by contacting us using the repair line email firstname.lastname@example.org outside of these hours. If you have already told us you do not need to tell us again but if you think you might not have told us then tell us now.
In these cases access to the room or flat/house will be limited to the absolutely necessary. This means:
Once the period of self-isolation has ended then we will do what we can to help.
In larger buildings the communal areas are being maintained and serviced as normal.
In order to assist our contractors and staff, some non-essential repairs are being restricted and there are supply delays of certain materials that might make resolution of a problem take longer. Every attempt will be made to undertake repairs where deficiencies affect the material comfort of a tenant.
The contractor Unipol uses to repair washing machines is currently using restricted numbers of staff to provide a service and so response times have extended. When a repair operative attends social distance must be maintained at all times. We suggest handwashing clothes if you do not have access to a washing machine for a period of time.
Advice on how to wash clothes and kill germs can be found here
As these do not require access to a property or flats work is continuing.
We will now inspect all properties and they will be cleaned and serviced before new tenants occupy the property. Where properties have been emptied Unipol will undertake some early cleaning.
The following arrangements remain in place:
The reception hours have been reduced to 5pm - 8pm Monday to Friday. Perspex screens have been installed at the reception to improve safety for staff. Social distancing should take place at the reception counter, in the lift areas and in the external heated social space.
We can no longer can accept parcels at reception. Tenants must make arrangements to be present to receive deliveries themselves.
The free tea/coffee/hot chocolate facilities remain suspended.
The music practice rooms will remain in use. Each room has a pack of anti-bacterial wipes in them and users should wipe down the keyboards in those rooms before and after use and wipe the door handles on leaving.
The gym is closed
The drop bag breakfast available on Monday morning has been ended.
There have been issues with tenants not maintaining social distancing in the area used by some for smoking outside the main entrance - please maintain social distancing at all times.
Royal Park Flats
The free tea/coffee/hot chocolate facilities have been suspended.
The printer facility will remain. The lounge and garden seating should only be used by a limited number of students maintaining social distancing.
Contains shared students and families with children. We are not aware of any high risk groups living in Grayson Heights but those with children should minimise contact of their children with postgraduate tenants - this is not being unfriendly, just sensible as children are a low risk group but can act to spread the virus.
Perspex screens have been installed at the reception to improve safety for staff. Social distancing should take place at the reception counter.
Dyers Court has seven elderly residents who are at serious risk if they contract the virus. Those with children must stop the contact of their children with elderly residents - this is not being unfriendly, just sensible as children are a low risk group but can act to spread the virus.
Unipol has contacted each elderly resident to offer further support in getting food and provisions. Those living in Dyers Court may also care to offer help to your elderly neighbour whilst taking precautions to maintain social distance.
Is undergoing a rolling refurbishment with bathrooms being refitted over a 12 month period. Shortage of materials meant that there was a pause in the sequencing of the works but works have now commenced again. Builders will maintain social distancing and the works should only affect a single flat. Those living nearby will be informed before works start.
Socials and Family Social Programme
Because of the need to maintain social distancing the programme remains suspended.
Stay Well, Stay Home
Unipol’s online social programme, Stay Well, Stay Home, which ran from from April to mid-June 2020 has come to and end. If you missed any of the activities
Or would like t try them again the videos can still be viewed on the Unipol YouTube channel.
Blogs and useful information can be seen on blog.unipol.org.uk dealing with:
Rent is due as normal within contracted periods. People pay rent across the contracted period whether they are present or not, which is why rent is charged across Christmas, Easter and in some cases summer when some students are not present. In reality, as Unipol is a student housing charity it only uses its properties for students and so your rent is effectively set to cover the annual cost of your house/flat.
If you are having problems paying your rent because you, or you family, have seen your income fall or because work-related income has stopped, then you can talk to our finance staff about how to pay the rent and we can arrange payment by instalments or by special arrangement.
A number of rent refunds have been made to tenants. The amounts vary depending on the type of accommodation occupied. In all cases your Unipol tenancy continues to run until its termination date.
Refunds were offered to Leeds Beckett University and University of Leeds tenants at Mill Street, Carlton Hill, Royal Park Flats and Grayson Heights. The cost of this was met by both of those institutions and Unipol was grateful for that.
Leeds College of Music and Leeds Arts University students living at Mill Street and Carlton Hill had access to a Rental Support Fund and that assistance scheme has now ended.
Tenants Living in Unipol’s Leased or Owned Shared Houses and Flats received a rent refund of 50% off the following rents:
This 50% reduction was made whether tenants were staying or going.
Most tenants have now paid any outstanding rent owed and Unipol would like to thank them for that.
The terms of the Unipol rent refunds are that tenants needed to pay any outstanding rent not later than 30th June 2020 (instalment plans can be individually discussed for those in difficulties). If tenants have not paid (or made an arrangement to pay) their outstanding rent due then they would become liable for the full amount.
Tenants Living in Properties Managed for Private Owners were subject to the wishes of the owners of these properties.
65% of our managed tenants received an offer from a managed landlord reducing their rent by the requested 50% (in line with the paragraph above on Tenants Living in Unipol’s Leased or Owned Shared Houses and Flats). We thank these managed owners (most of whom have only one or two houses) for their help and consideration in reaching these decisions which will have meant a significant personal reduction in their income. Other help and rent reductions were offered by all except a small minority of managed landlords.
Where no offer was made to students, a number of owners have considered the circumstances of tenants on an individual basis if they got in touch. Unipol also asked that any exceptional circumstances be conveyed to them to see whether, under our Management Agreement, we could release exceptional cases from their tenancy. The deadline for those representations has now passed.
We thank RedOak, the owner, for their help in the offer made to tenants living in the Student Hideout in Nottingham, and we also thank Garden House Developments Ltd, the owner, for their help in the offer made to tenants living in Garden House in Leeds.
Unipol are recruiting staff to cover part time posts for Resident’s Assistants next year. We will continue to interview for these posts and interviews can be undertaken by Zoom or Skype.
Unipol works in partnership with the University of Leeds to run the Homestay service designed to place students in local households to improve language development in an immersive environment. The Homestay service is now suspended.
All conferences have been moved to the next academic year and the rescheduled dates will be made available soon. Delegates can either carry over their bookings or get a refund.
Advice and an updated summary of developments can be found on the National Codes website. The National Code verification programme is now back up and running, albeit in a modified form.
Leeds Nottingham Code inspections have been suspended unless there is a very urgent matter to attend to, mirroring NCC and LCC’s position on licensing inspections but it is planned that inspections will recommence in mid-June.
Unipol’s governance processes have continued using Zoom.
We know many of our tenants continue to live in their homes in Leeds and we wish all of our tenants the best of health and hope you are all staying positive and focussed on your education. If we can be of any help just get in contact. We think many returning students will choose to live in Leeds and Nottingham over the summer period and we look forward to seeing them.
Remember, you can contact us by Web Chat and email which are probably the most efficient ways of communicating.