Tenancy Support Notes

Unipol Student Homes

The UK Student Accommodation Forum, Thursday 1st October, 11 AM-12 PM

Theme: Tenancy Support

Guest Speakers: Martin Blakey (CEO, Unipol Student Homes), Jenny Shaw (Student Experience Director, UNITE Students), Jan Hardy (Tenancy Support Co-ordinator, Unipol Student Homes)


Hot Topics – Student Accommodation in the News

  • Student Accommodation is continually featuring in mainstream news, with clips of various student gatherings being shown
  • The impact of staggered arrivals and lone occupancy in some flats has impacted on the socialisation of students – 1st year undergraduates have sought to create their own versions of Fresher’s week within Halls
  • Student attitudes to restrictions and COVID-19 generally are varied, with many not being too bothered due to being part of a perceived low risk group.
  • There have been some issues of HEIs refusing to communicate with PBSAs as to whether there are COVID-19 positive cases within the building – all Providers are encouraged to double check their data sharing agreements
  • The figures depicted in the news that ’52’ Universities have experienced outbreaks is not accurate – there are cases of COVID across all university campuses
  • PBSA providers and HEIs do not have the power to lock down entire buildings and forcibly keep students inside
  • The main advice is to avoid locking down entire buildings unless local Public Health bodies can provide clear guidance as to why they believe it would be necessary – it is likely we won’t see this happen again
  • There is a lot of worry in the media and within the sector around students returning home at Christmas – in reality students go back and forth between their out of term address all the time, and Xmas break begins at different points depending on each University. The plan to end teaching early to allow students time to self-isolate before heading home may work well.
  • On the issue of rent refunds, Providers shouldn’t be too concerned – most rent refunds that have happened recently are from HEIs who are using them as a sweetener and distraction from the fees fiasco
  • The grounds for rent refunds aren’t the same as those considered during the March-June lockdown period
  • It was noted that there may be a big impact on the Scottish market due to the new 28 day notice rule


Jenny Shaw – Student Experience Director, UNITE Students

  • The main take-away from recent meetings between Providers, local authorities and HEIs is a clear message – we’re all in this together
  • There has been a large portion of students following the rules, but there are a portion that believe they’re ‘too cool for COVID’, and can become confrontational when challenged on their behaviour
  • The effects of stricter new local lockdowns, and the national 10 PM pub curfew is pushing a lot of social activity in halls of residence
  • A new type of bullying and harassment has arisen that differs from other years:
    • Instances of one flat member testing positive (resulting in the other residents having to also self-isolate) and being bullied and ostracised because of this
    • Students who choose not to party or mix in large social groups are being harassed by other students for being ‘boring’
  • There has been a near normal level of students disclosing mental health issues, welfare calls from parents etc, but this year the dynamic is different
  • UNITE have their own app which allows students to report if they have symptoms/have tested positive/are self-isolating – this has worked well and students are engaging in using it
  • More security has been employed in the more vibrant cities, including an increase in the number of staff engaging in welfare checks/patrols
  • Enhanced communications to those who are self-isolating, constantly updating if situations change
  • Good working partnerships with Universities has been essential – strong backing from Universities has resulted in better responses to student cases and disciplinary issues
  • UNITE currently preparing the pressure that is building under the surface – there is usually a peak in the number of students experiencing mental health difficulties towards end of October/start of November
  • Normal touch points that usually occur and allow intervention for mental health concerns aren’t there – e.g. less security presence in terms of patrols on an evening and less students presenting directly to reception
  • Research undertaken by UNITE showed that ¼ of students don’t utilise support from their institution due to fear, shame and stigma associated with mental health
  • It also showed that ¼ have experienced increasing loneliness – it’s important to tackle this as a protective factor
  • Key messaging across October/November will be that it’s okay to ask for help, and encouraging students to engage with their University wellbeing service


Jan Hardy - Tenancy Support Co-ordinator, Unipol Student Homes

  • Dealing with lots of mental health cases – increase in cases of anxiety related to COVID. Levels of mental health cases/disclosures is not massively higher than previous years, but the types of cases are quite different.
  • Increasing issue identified of students not self-isolating when required to – particularly in instances of one positive case presenting which then requires who whole household to isolate
  • Echoed the problems with bullying & harassment mentioned above – instances of students restricting access to household facilities for COVID positive flatmates, and increase in inter-tenant tensions
  • Reporting and record keeping system for COVID is done through housing management dashboard – when information is received from students (e.g. self-isolating due to symptoms/test and trace or tested positive) a Zoom meeting is set up with entire household to perform welfare checks and inform them of all information regarding self-isolation period and current government guidance
  • Growing issue of students having to self-isolate alone and becoming socially isolated – also the opposite issue of students in shared housing wanting to move to single occupancy accommodation
  • Some feedback from students indicate that the amount of communications they’re receiving is overwhelming, and therefore some key information may be getting lost – managing the level of communications is key to engaging students in following guidance
  • Agreed with JS point on some students being ‘Too cool for COVID’ – some students seem to have a sense of entitlement that the rules don’t apply to them
  • Unipol approach is to encourage and reiterate personal responsibility in following the rules
  • Enhanced security measures at Mill Street had desired effect in deterring parties and household mixing – large cost associated with this measure so it cannot be relied upon to be a regular deterrent
  • There is no set right answer to the problems we’re experiencing – the sector has to be reactive

Closing remarks – Martin Blakey CEO Unipol Student Homes

  • There are 3 clear areas the sector should be proud of:
    • Self-support – students have been given the right amount of information to be remarkably self-supportive during self-isolation period
    • Quarantining – international students have experienced a good transition into 14 day quarantine and have felt supported
    • Arrivals – staggered arrivals and check in processes have proved successful across the sector
  • Promotion of the new NHS App and the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ campaign is crucial – it will become key in the return to ‘normal’ life and resuming socialisation
  • Providers are encouraged to be flexible in their approach – students moving flats is doable if managed correctly, and may be necessary.
  • Flexibility is also encouraged for those students who want to leave their contracts – some may end up leaving University due to the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health, and will genuinely be unable to cope. Consider any requests individually and take a fair approach.