Information to Tenants and Staff on the Effects of Coronavirus on Unipol’s Services

31/03/2020

This note was issued on 31st March 2020 updating those previously issued on 25th March, 23rd March, 20th March 2020 and 17th March 2020.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement imposing a “stay at home” policy some changes have been made. 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.

Hub Services

Unipol’s offices in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham are now closed to the public  Staff are working from home and will respond quickly to enquiries via webchat, which can be accessed through the unipol website www.unipol.org.uk  or email info@unipol.org.uk. Phone lines are open from 9am - 12 noon Monday to Friday.

Repairs should be reported on line to repairs@unipol.org.uk . For emergency repairs only which present an immediate danger to health or safety, call 07590950181

Unipol has suspended physical viewings but or properties can be viewed either on this website or on https://www.unipolhousing.org.uk/

Housing

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 - 12 Noon Monday - Friday. or contacting us using the repair line email repairs@unipol.org.uk 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.

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 focussing 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

Tenants who are Self Isolating

In these cases access to the room or flat/house will be limited to the absolutely necessary. This means:

No pro-active maintenance (such as painting or carpet replacement).

Only essential repairs will be undertaken where it would be dangerous to leave matters unattended.

Once the period of self-isolation has ended then we will do what we can to help.

Other Tenants Living in Unipol Properties

In larger buildings the communal areas are being maintained and serviced as normal.

In order to assist our contractors and staff, non-essential repairs are being curtailed but wherever possible every attempt will be made to undertake repairs where deficiencies affect the material comfort of a tenant. In some cases contractors may have problems obtaining supplies and that may slow down putting things right - if that happens we will let you know.

Washing Machines Repairs and Washing Clothes

At this time the contractor Unipol uses to repair washing machines is currently unable to provide a service and we are finding it difficult to find another contractor to attend to repairs. We suggest handwashing clothes if you do not have access to a washing machine.

If you live in a family property and your washing machine breaks please contact your Housing Management Officer who will explore alternative options for you.

Washing machines kill the virus at 60 degrees. If you have washed your clothes on a cooler setting, please rerun the wash without any clothes at 60 degrees before someone else uses the washing machine

Advice on how to wash clothes and kill germs can be found here https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/coronavirus-how-to-wash-clothes-and-kill-germs/

External Maintenance and Repairs

As these do not require access to a property or flats some work may continue.

Property Inspections

At this time of year Housing Management Officers normally carry out property inspections to ensure everything is clean, tidy and in good repair.  These inspections will stop until 27th April 2020 when we will review the position. We have not yet decided about end of tenancy inspections but we will let you know about those after 27th April 2020.

There are some specific matters that affect certain developments. These matters will be reviewed again following the Government review that they will undertake in three weeks’ time

Mill Street

The reception hours have been reduced to 5pm - 8pm Monday to Friday.

We will no longer be accepting parcels at reception; tenants should make arrangements to be present to receive deliveries themselves. .

Some of our Residents’ Assistants have returned home early for Easter (like many other tenants)  so we may need to restrict the reception opening hours at short notice as we run short of staff

The free tea/coffee/hot chocolate facilities have now been 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 being closed

The drop bag breakfast available on Monday morning has been ended.

We normally clean the shared bathrooms and the flat hallway corridors over the Easter break but we are no longer able to do this.

Royal Park Flats

The free tea/coffee/hot chocolate facilities have been suspended.

The printer facility will remain. The lounge should only be used by a limited number of students maintaining social distancing. If this proves not to be possible then we may consider closing the lounge at short notice.

At present:

Unipol has provided a 750ml bottle of Alcohol Hand Gel in each flat for tenants use. Keep this in the corridor area by the main entry door and use this when necessary (the advice is to use this when entering and leaving the flat). You only need a small amount of this gel to cover your hands, so use sparingly as this gel is in short supply. The bottle should last a couple of weeks. Let us know if it has run out and keep the old bottle because we need it for refilling.

The Student Hideout

Unipol have provided a 750ml bottle of Alcohol Hand Gel in each flat for tenants use. Keep this in the corridor area by the main entry door and use this when necessary (the advice is to use this when entering and leaving the flat). You only need a small amount of this gel to cover your hands, so use sparingly as this gel is in short supply. The bottle should last a couple of weeks. Let us know if it has run out and keep the old bottle because we need it for refilling.

We normally clean the shared bathrooms and the flat hallway corridors over the Easter break but we are no longer able to do this.

Grayson Heights

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.

Because there are many international students and families living in Grayson Heights, many of who will remain here over the Easter termly break, Unipol have provided a 750ml bottle of Alcohol Hand Gel in each flat for tenants use.

For shared students keep this in the corridor area by the main entry door and use this when necessary (the advice is to use this when entering and leaving the flat).

For those with children store this out of the reach of children (safety instructions are printed on the bottle). You only need a small amount of this gel to cover your (or your children’s) hands, so use sparingly as this gel is in short supply. The bottle should last a couple of weeks. Let us know if it has run out and keep the old bottle because we need it for refilling.

In the shared student flats we normally clean the shared bathrooms over the Easter break but we are no longer able to do this.

Dyers Court

Dyers Court has nine elderly residents who will be 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.

Because there is a high risk group living in Dyers Court, Unipol has provided a 750ml bottle of Alcohol Hand Gel in each flat for tenants use.

For those with children store this out of the reach of children (safety instructions are printed on the bottle).

You only need a small amount of this gel to cover your (or your children’s) hands, so use sparingly as this gel is in short supply. The bottle should last a couple of weeks. Let us know if it has run out and keep the old bottle because we need it for refilling.

Woodsley Terrace

Is undergoing a rolling refurbishment with bathrooms being refitted over a 12 month period. This work is taking place in empty flats and will continue, subject to contractors being willing to undertake the work, otherwise there may be a pause in the sequencing of work.

Socials and Family Social Programme

Because of the need to maintain social distancing the programme is current suspended. We will review this further after 27th April 20202.

Contracts and Rent Payments

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 and Easter when many single 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.

Some students in purpose-built allocated accommodation have asked about rent refunds because they are leaving Leeds to live at home. Unipol is considering its policy in this area and will be guided by the views of the educational institutions and whether they can support Unipol in establishing a fair and transparent policy in this area.

There have been some recent developments that those tenants affected will already have been informed about:

Leeds Beckett University students who rented their room in either Mill Street or Carlton Hill through their allocations agreement with Unipol have had their third term rent payment waived if they have returned home or reduced by 50% if they are remaining in Leeds. The University’s financial assistance to Unipol has enabled this outcome.

Leeds Arts University students who rented their room in Carlton Hill through their allocations agreement will need to make their full rent payment to Unipol because the University rejected any role in helping Unipol with a reduction in rent.

Leeds College of Music students who rented their room in Mill Street through their allocations agreement will need to make their full rent payment to Unipol because the University were unable to help Unipol with any reduction in rent.

For tenants living in Unipol’s leased or owned shared houses and flats in other parts of Unipol’s accommodation portfolio rents are to be considered by Unipol’s Board on 3rd April 2020 and the outcome will be posted here and relevant tenants will be written to on that day.

In the case of tenants living in Unipol’s managed property portfolio, any rent reductions will depend on the burden being met by those owners and a decisions from them will take longer but should be taken prior to the next rent instalment due on 27th April 2020.

Unipol is not considering any requests for changes being made for agreements for the next academic year starting (in letting terms) for many houses and flats on 1st July 2020. The situation is simply too fast-moving to jump that far ahead. Unipol hopes to have further information on the next academic year by the end of April and unless that information is posted here, will be unable to respond to requests for further information at this time.

Unipol Staff Cover

The Government are encouraging employers to work at home. Unipol is well-equipped for home working and, following a successful trial, home working has being extended to the majority of our staff and only a skeleton staff is being maintained.

In some cases tenants will often be asked to phone a different phone number but the main Unipol numbers, emails and Webchat will continue to work. The main Unipol number will be available from 9am - 12 noon Monday to Friday. In some cases a phone line may be engaged and you should try later. All of our computer and housing management systems can be accessed by staff working from home.

Recruitment

Unipol are recruiting staff to cover both full time staff posts, summer temporary posts and part time post for Resident’s Assistants next year. We will continue to interview for these posts and interviews can be undertaken by Skype.

Homestay

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. We are grateful to Homestay hosts who have taken in students over the last few weeks. Most students are now stopping travelling and currently there are now only 14 students in the system. Individual advice is given to Homestay hosts and this advice has been given since the onset of the virus.

Unipol Training  and Conferences

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.

National Codes and Leeds and Nottingham Codes

Advice will soon appear on the National Code website to offer further updated advice. The verifications programme will be affected and individual suppliers will be asked if they are willing to be verified at this stage or wish to postpone. The verifications team are also affected and some fall within a high risk group and so verifications will be disrupted. For the next three weeks no verification visits will take place.

In respect of the Leeds and Nottingham Codes we are mirroring NCC and LCC’s position on licensing inspections and that means we will only undertake inspections in response to complaints or where we think there may be a serious risk - regular verification inspections have stopped. This will be the position until 27th April 2020 and we will review the position on 17th April for after that date. No visits will take place for the next three weeks.

Governance

Unipol’s governance processes will continue using telephone conferencing and Zoom (a conferencing facility). The planned Audit Panel Meeting and forthcoming Board meeting will take place through this media.

Conclusion

This information is the best we can currently give you. Please do not contact staff to simply raise matters that are covered here because all they can tell you is what is made available to you now. If you have other enquires then, of course, we would love to hear from you. This is a difficult period for us all and is likely to last some time so co-operation and mutual help is essential. Thank you for reading this and digesting this information.

Remember, you can contact us by Web Chat and email which are probably the most efficient ways of communicating at this time.