Open letter appealing to Unipol to cut student rent costs

Victory

Open letter appealing to Unipol to cut student rent costs

This petition made change with 177 supporters!
Ruth Cooper-Haime started this petition to Martin Blakey (Unipol Student Homes)

I am writing following the recent government announcement regarding the national lockdown; and in light of the email sent by Unipol Chief Executive Martin Blakey on 6th January.

I would like to begin by expressing my extreme disappointment at Unipol's decision to continue with insisting on full rent payments at this time, with no relevant refunds or reductions. I appreciate that this is a difficult situation for everyone but it is distressing that students continue to be one of the most overlooked groups throughout this pandemic, receiving little to no additional financial support and continuing to pay for accommodation that cannot be accessed due to travel restrictions.

In your most recent email, you state that: "the Government advice means that any student can return at any time to their accommodation". This is quite frankly incorrect information. According to the Office for Students, a website that you cite yourself in said email, students should in fact not return to university.

You quote the Office for Students and suggest that information gleaned from their webpage suggests that students can return to their accommodation if they wish. In fact, all you have done is picked out one FAQ which refers to mental health circumstances whereby a student may feel they need to return to university in order to maintain a good mental state. This is clearly an exceptional circumstance, and the information at the head of the webpage, which is incredibly explicit, clearly states the following:

"Following the government’s announcement on 4 January of a third lockdown:

Students will not be able to return to university, with students studying from their current residence, where possible, until at least mid-February.
In-person teaching will only take place for a small number of critical courses, as previously announced. All other students should not return to campus."

The rules set by the government should supersede all other guidelines, and they state that students should stay where they are to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and maximize the effectiveness of the national lockdown, to prevent further deaths and strain on the NHS.

Unipol is using occupancy figures to suggest that students will continue to move regardless, completely disregarding that other than in exceptional, clearly-defined circumstances, it would be against the law to do so. Yes, universities have to keep some facilities open to cater for medical/healthcare and practical courses, but this does not change the fact that the vast majority of students are being told to 'stay at home'. In this sense, the position for the vast majority of students is the same as it was in March 2020. To travel at this point in time would be directly ignoring government instructions and the severity of the pandemic.

To suggest a rent free period in the summer of 2021 for a 'post-term social environment' highlights an extreme lack of understanding and again significant oversight on the position of students throughout this pandemic. The complaints raised by students are coming from a serious place of financial insecurity and difficulties relating to our studies, not simply because we have missed out on a social experience. Furthermore, if Unipol, as a not-for-profit organization, can afford this rent free period at the end of the year, then why not provide a rent reduction NOW? In addition, if Unipol truly is a housing charity not seeking to make a profit, then why aren't the most basic rent reductions such as utilities even being considered?

It is great that 80 students have been released from their contracts already, but there are just under 450 residents at Mill Street alone, not to mention two other purpose built halls and a huge number of smaller houses. As such, though this number initially appears positive, it represents a very small proportion of student residents in Unipol owned accommodations.

In your abovementioned email, you also write; “all of Unipol’s 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”. Yes, we were written to, but the reality is that most courses have been delivered purely online with no ‘blended’ element as promised, and we were most certainly not aware that in January 2021 we would be placed into another lockdown. Of course you could not be aware of this either, and in normal circumstances all parties should uphold their ends of a contract, but these are unprecedented times. The current lockdown affects the overwhelming majority of students in the same way as the lockdown of March 2020 and if you could offer a discount at that time, then why not now?

I understand that the government has not provided enough advice regarding higher education institutions, with the consequence being that you have chosen to delay further announcements until 22nd January. Despite this fact, and I cannot say it enough times, the law is telling us not to travel. I am appealing to you to seriously rethink your current position and provide an acceptable rent reduction to all students unable to return to term-time accommodations.

Victory

This petition made change with 177 supporters!

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