Social Distancing and Policing

Unipol Student Homes

The UK Student Accommodation Forum, Thursday 20th August, 11 AM-12 PM

Theme: Social Distancing and Policing

Guest Speakers: Martin Blakey (CEO, Unipol Student Homes), Paul Burns (Accommodation Manager, University of Manchester), Sue Green (Deputy Director Residential Services, University of Leeds)



  • On Monday 14th September, the Government produced detailed guidance on ‘rule of 6’. Information on how this may affect accommodation providers is available on the National Code website
  • Overview: No social distancing within own household necessary, households with over 6 occupants are allowed, no visitors allowed if the occupancy of a household is already 6 or more.
  • The Halls of Residence exemption for ‘rule of 6’ for gatherings/events outside of flats has disappeared without explanation
  • Unipol has already experienced instances of students ignoring COVID-19 rules and regulations
  • These problems may be an interim due to a slower and more staggered move in process than usual, meaning there has been more lone occupancy in flats than usual for this time of year
  • An instance occurred where 2 students who tested COVID-19 positive then flouted self-isolation guidance – their HEI has been informed who may choose to take action
  • Guidance round GDPR is currently being looked into regarding being able to inform other students which flats in their building are meant to be self-isolating.
  • If students in a development test positive, the main advice for providers from the National Codes is:
    • Ensure all practices within developments are COVID-19 safe
    • Ensure staff are protected, particularly vulnerable/older staff
    • Inform the relevant HEIs of positive cases
    • Involve the Police for repeat offenders who break/ignore guidance
  • There has been a pro-active response to instances of anti-social behaviour from Local Authorities, with fines already been handed out in Leeds and Nottingham


Paul Burns - Accommodation Manager, University of Manchester

  • Allowing early arrival for those who need to self-isolate for 2 weeks – the 2 weeks are rent free if they arrive 2 weeks before their contract start date
  • Accommodation Team has had 550 international student arrivals so far
  • Similarly to Unipol, UoM has also seen reports of students not following COVID-19 rules and guidance – instances of security team being called out to disperse large gatherings of students who are supposed to be self-isolating
  • Upon arrival, students receive a free food parcel. They then have the option to pay for ongoing food boxes
  • They are also looking to continue the ‘Buddy Scheme’ which worked well during the first lockdown period between March – June – this pairs students up who can assist with shopping etc if the other is unwell/self-isolating
  • New arrivals and move in period is being staggered and extended beyond usual time period – it was also noted that a large amount of International students won’t be arriving until October onwards due to travel constraints and visa issues
  • Students arriving later or with delayed course start dates can have their contract start dates amended to October


  • There has been a voluntary severance programme within the University, meaning a loss of a number of support staff, resulting in a bigger workload for the remaining staff having to compensate without additional resource
  • In traditional halls, there’ll be 15 students within a singe household, with shared facilities allocated to these groups


  • With regards to managing expectations, the number of enquiries from parents & students regarding anxieties over social distancing and COVID-19 has been lower than expected initially – the provision of extra information on website and enhanced safety for the move in period may have mitigated concerns
  • It has been pre-empted that COVID-19 may fuel the fire of complaints on other issues such as disrepair etc.


  • Accommodation Service are awaiting sign-off on a potential 4-step disciplinary procedure for those who flout guidance:
    • 1st step – a central university warning notice that they have been identified for breaching regulations and reminding students to University and Government guidance
    • 2nd step – a phonecall/email to reiterate that they’re breaching the regulations and remind of obligations, alongside an official warning letter and possibly the academic school being informed
    • 3rd step - an introduction to the first stage of the University’s central formal processes which might have serious implications for the student
    • 4th step – referral to the student discipline panel with serious sanctions involved
  • A potential issue with the system may be that the sheer number of breaches may overwhelm resource to enforce


Sue Green - Deputy Director Residential Services, University of Leeds

  • Terms & Conditions of contracts have been amended to reflect the situation with COVID-19
  • Flexible contracts are being offered to those who may arrive late, or for Postgraduate Taught students whose course start has been moved to January 2021.
  • Similarly to Manchester, the early arrival self-isolation period for Internationals is free
  • Accommodation services didn’t shut during lockdown, but operated with a very reduced number of staff – this has meant new precautions and adaptations have been planned in advance
  • 1000 food parcels have already been distributed to those self-isolating
  • Posters with QR code have been placed within flats & developments so students can easily report if they’re COVID-19 positive or self-isolating
  • Arrivals process has been successful so far, with mandatory booking slots for arrival and contactless/outdoor check in stations receiving positive feedback
  • Only 1 person is allowed to assist the student with the move-in process, with parents/guardians being very understanding and receptive to enhanced guidance
  • A no visitors within flats policy has been adopted – students can only meet with those external to their household in communal/outdoor spaces
  • A clause has been added to the disciplinary process, allowing sanctions for ‘behaving in a way that may put others health and safety at risk’


West Yorkshire Police

  • Students seem receptive to police guidance and advice – police encouraging students to think about their behaviour when initially caught breaking the rules, rather than using enforcement immediately
  • Early intervention action will need to be taken to tackle student behaviour – there’s likely to be a growth in house/garden parties with the usual pubs and clubs not a viable option
  • Students aren’t hardened criminals, they’re young people trying to have a social life – it’s better to tackle rule breaking early and encourage them to do the right thing rather than go straight to punishment
  • WY Police have done more anti-social behaviour action in July/August than during the whole of Freshers in 2019.
  • An issue was highlighted regarding large households of students in off-street housing socializing outdoors – some may be unfairly targeted, others may use it as a way to flout rules


  • It won’t be possible to police things forever, but there is a chance to influence behaviour now
  • The behaviour from students breaking rules in Mill Street has been a big surprise given the positive observation of lockdown between March-June


Open Discussion/Questions

  • Rule of 6 and Student Mental Health – PB: During lockdown, those who were known to be vulnerable received regular phone calls from staff throughout. The effort to build communication and spot students with mental health concerns will begin shortly after arrival through establishing a students preferred method of contact. There will also be socially distanced visits to flats from the res-life team. It was noted that an increased difficulty in accessing treatments and therapies may result in an increase of students experiencing mental health difficulties.
  • Experience with Public Health England (PHE) – Aparto: PHE contacted Aparto through NHS Test & Trace when a student tested positive at Cambridge development. PHE and the local council then requested copies of COVID-19 risk assessments
  •  Experience with Public Health England (PHE) – Homes for Students: notified by local council that a student in one of their developments had tested positive for COVID-19, but the student hadn’t disclosed this to HFS. Initially further details regarding students identity were withheld, but eventually given under pressure from HFS who needed this information to ensure they could contact the student to see if they were okay.