Coronavirus Information for Unipol Tenants - November 2020

On Saturday 31st October 2020 the Prime Minister announced new national restrictions on the whole of England which will take effect from 00.01am on Thursday 5th November 2020 and will stay in force until at least Wednesday 2 December 2020.

Current Situation until 5th November 2020

Leeds and Bradford were already under local restrictions, in the tier two (high alert) category. It was due to move into tier three (very high alert) category from Monday 2nd November but will now remain in tier two until the national restrictions take effect.

Nottingham was already under tier three (very high alert) category.

The BBC has a helpful interactive web page where a postcode can be inserted and the relevant restrictions and rules are displayed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54373904

From 5th November 2020

The full Government advice can be consulted at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

but, in summary (as they affect students), the Government is taking action to:

  • require people to stay at home, except for specific purposes.
  • prevent gathering with people you do not live with, except for specific purposes.
  • close certain businesses and venues.

The additional effect of these new restrictions on students living in Unipol’s accommodation is fairly limited because under both the tier two and tier three many of the restrictions were already in force:

  • you must not mix socially with people you don't live with in any indoor setting
  • you must not meet with people outside of your household in a private garden or in most outdoor public venues.

Students could already only mix within their existing households and could not socialise with other households.

The major changes from 5th November are that:

  • people will be told to stay at home except for specific reasons including education, work (if it can't be done from home), exercise and recreation, medical reasons, food and other essential shopping and to provide care
  • you can exercise or meet in a public, outdoor space with people you live with, your support bubble, or one other person
  • pubs, restaurants and bars will all close, except for takeaways
  • leisure and entertainment venues including gyms will all close.
  • all non-essential shops will close, but click-and-collect and delivery services can continue.
  • travel is only allowed for specific reasons including education, work, exercise and recreation, medical reasons, food and other essential shopping and to provide care.

Special arrangements and exemptions from restrictions affecting most of the population are available to those studying in universities (and schools). The Government “has prioritised the wellbeing and long-term futures of our young people and is not closing schools, colleges or universities”, so:

  • you can leave your home for the purposes of study
  • workers in essential services, including education settings, can continue to go into work.

A new piece of Government advice is “If you live at University, you must not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time. You should only return home at the end of term for Christmas.” The Government will publish further guidance on the end of term and when they do Unipol will let you know.

The universities that Unipol works with (and whose students we house) have made it clear that their services remain open and studying is continuing:

Nottingham Trent University says: “Our blended approach to learning and support continues as we enter the fifth week of term, all our campuses remain open and COVID-secure. We will still be providing a mix of on campus and online teaching and learning and you will still be able to access a range of other services on campus as well as online.” Further information can be obtained on https://www.ntu.ac.uk/life-at-ntu/your-ntu-your-experience/local-restrictions

The University of Leeds says: “Students and staff can and should continue to attend campus for face to face teaching activity, use the library and study spaces and to carry out work if you are required to be on site. Students can still socialise with people they live with either in private accommodation or a hall of residence and participate in the social activities provided on campus, so long as they remain in their household.” Further information can be obtained on https://coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk/

 LeedsBeckett University says “We are continuing to deliver outstanding teaching and research during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our students, colleagues and alumni are finding thoughtful, innovative and inspiring ways to respond to the new challenges.” Further information can be obtained on https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/covid-19/

Leeds Conservatoire says “You can expect to receive a mixture of on-campus and online learning, at least for Semester One. In Semester Two we intend to increase your time on campus receiving in-person tuition. We will be keeping an eye on government guidance, as well as constantly reviewing our timetables, and will let you know what you can expect in Semester Two before Christmas.”  Further information can be obtained on https://www.leedsconservatoire.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate-study/delivering-your-tuition/

The University of Bradford says “blended learning basically means that you will have a mix – a ‘blend’ – of on-campus, in person delivery and online teaching and learning activities to engage with and participate in.” Further information can be obtained on https://www.bradford.ac.uk/coronavirus/

Implications for Unipol Tenants

Since the beginning of October restrictions have been tightened so that socialising was already based, almost entirely, on your student household.

We have tried to ensure that your household environment is a good one and all of our houses and flats have good quality kitchens, good lounge areas, well-designed bedrooms and, in many cases, good outdoor spaces. Our houses and flats also allow you to reset your electrical and fire systems (so long as they are safe) and have dedicated washer/driers so you can undertake laundry within your dwelling. In many cases you have a smart TV which links into the internet. We are constantly working to ensure that your internet capacity is as good as can be delivered.

This is a difficult time for us all, staff, students, contractors and those who clean and keep our living spaces safe. We will continue to operate as many of our services as we possibly can and where there are problems caused by the new restrictions, we will let you know.

We are ramping up our on-line social programmes and have recently tried to make Halloween a bit special even in these difficult circumstances with a few events and goodies and we will do the same as Christmas approaches.

There are some areas of special attention and these relate to our larger buildings:

At Mill Street and Sandhills -

  • the foyers will remain open and can be used by households socially distancing but cannot be used to meet others. There are plenty of places you can sit down and work if you fancy a change from your flat
  • tea, coffee and hot chocolate facilities will remain but you will have to bring your own cup. Please wipe down the buttons after use
  • the outside area at Mill Street can still be used (but again not to meet people). We have had to postpone some outdoor pre-Christmas events until Spring.

Sandhills Courtyard - Good news, the courtyard is now finished and has some external seating (some loose furniture will arrive soon) and is now open between 8.00am and 10.00pm. We also have plans to create an external seating area at the front of the building which will be ready just before Christmas. These external areas should be of increasing use if, as restrictions lift, you are able to meet others outside.

Royal Park Flats Communal Room - will remain open and can be used by households socially distancing but cannot be used to meet others. There are plenty of places you can sit down and work if you fancy a change from your flat.  Tea, coffee, hot chocolate and printer facilities will remain but you will have to bring your own cup/paper. Please wipe down the buttons after use.

House Hunting for 2021-2022 - The Unipol Peace of Mind Promise

House hunting for the following year begins later this month (Saturday 7th November in Nottingham and Saturday 21st November in Leeds). Although we expect a slower start to this process this year, between November and February we are still expecting most house hunting for returning students to occur for next year. Unipol has a significant portfolio in both Leeds and Nottingham and there are also some specific rooms available for returners in both Mill Street and Sandhills as well as our general portfolio, which includes a complete cross-section of types of student housing.

In order to give you peace of mind, all students renting a room in a complex for next year will be able to give notice on any agreement they sign with Unipol up to 1st March 2021 and this would end their 2021-2022 obligations. If you are renting a shared student house where occupancy is 6 or under then you can also give notice but this must include all the occupants of the house. For houses 7 and above Unipol will accept individual notices. We will give you this Peace of Mind Promise when you sign up and you will be able to withdraw on-line from your contract any time before 12.00 midnight on the 1st March 2021.

This way, you can secure a room or house of your choice, but allow yourselves more time to take stock of the situation in early spring.

We hope that is fair and helpful at this difficult time.

To ensure students have the best advice and support over house hunting the universities and students' unions have joined forces with Unipol to run a number of house hunting tips webinars.  These webinars will take students through all the essentials you need to know to make a good decision about where to live the next academic year.

To attend a webinar please visit: https://www.unipol.org.uk/advice/students/house-hunting-top-tips-webinar

Rent Payments

Rent for 2020-2021 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 and Easter when many 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. We always try to be fair to our tenants but we cannot reduce rents for students who simply prefer to go home (which often happens, even in a normal year).

Government advice is that you should stay in your place of study during this restrictive period, but if you choose to go home, your room remains contracted to you. Unlike last year when the universities closed their doors, all universities are saying they remain open and the Government has endorsed that in their advice. Students are specifically being told they should not go home: “If you live at University, you must not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time. You should only return home at the end of term for Christmas.”

If you do choose to return home, the chances are that you will want to return at a later date and your tenancy needs to keep running. There are no savings to be made by having a partially occupied building and, in reality, since the summer, our costs have increase substantially operating Covid-secure environments and increasing cleaning and security to make sure residents are safe.

All tenants were written to over the summer period and given the option of making out a case for ending their contractual obligations. All students knew of the blended learning package and most of the social distancing restrictions before they confirmed their University place.

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.

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

Unipol did reduce rents by 50% for those in smaller houses who paid rent over July and August earlier this year. As we explained at the time, this was because in June 2020 it was not clear what the Government position was on re-opening universities and, had they not opened, then the concessionary rent level reflected an unintended risk taken by those tenants who signed up well before the initial Coronavirus pandemic existed. This is not the case this time.

Further enquiries relating to rent refunds from both parents and students will be referred back to the position outline here and the sources of help referenced.

In the event that universities do not reopen in January then Unipol’s trustees will consider any future action at that time, but not before.

Conclusion

These are difficult times for everyone but we are determined to make your residential experience the best that we can. We hope that you, your family and your household are well and that, as January exams loom, that your studies are enjoyable and going well.