Councils are now on the radar of the regulator

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has written to councils that own homes to tell you to keep tenants safe. Why is this? Of course the Grenfell fire is at the root of it.

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But the RSH has served notices on Gateshead and Arun ordering them to improve safety.

So councils are on the radar of the RSH.

You will have seen that the RSH is now policing the rents that councils pass on. We’ve done a separate paper on that. Here we will look just at safety.

Even if you have an ALMO, the buck stops with the council.

It’s the RSH’s job to make sure that all landlords stick to their Home Standard. The main aims of that is to keep tenants safe. The risky areas are not that hard to work out. Here’s the list.

You’ve got to be on top of gas safety, asbestos, legionella, electrics, lifts and fire safety. How do you do that?

  1. “Listen, hear and act” – Tenant leader

What is striking is that in every case, that’s right every single time, the landlord should have known there was a problem and did not sort it out.

A lot of the time tenants were telling them about it day in and day out. The call centre and other front-line staff can be the first to know if safety is in doubt. Why don’t you listen to them?

Councillors should be feeding back from surgeries. And don’t ignore social media. Some of the RSH enquiries use the complaints tenants have put out there for all to see.

You’ve got to try very hard to miss safety problems these days. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s time to open your ears.

  1. Ask better questions to avoid fake assurance

Far too many people just look at the green traffic lights on a report and move on. Big mistake. How many boilers were looked at? Do we know where all the asbestos is? Who did the fire safety checks? Are we using real experts or just big names? You’ve got to get under the skin of these reports.

Councillors have got a 101 things to do. We get that. We have every sympathy. But these reports do matter.

Do please go through them with a fine toothcomb.

  1. Make sure you’ve got the right data

The RSH expects to see:

  • an up to date stock condition survey that covers most of your homes
  • independent checks by outside experts to validate the reliability of the survey
  • safety critical data extracted from the survey and acted on in a timely fashion
  • money allocated to pay for these works

OK – this can be costly to pull together. And we know councils are strapped for cash. But if you don’t know the basic facts you can’t do the job. So you’ve got to sort this out.

The RSH isn’t the only threat on the horizon. We are hearing that PPI lawyers are now targeting councils with repair claims. That’s another reason to really get to know your homes. You need to keep a step ahead of these guys.

It’s astonishing that Cadent did not keep details of gas pipes in 775 high rise buildings. What’s more worrying is that no one asked for these details until after the Grenfell fire! That’s just poor. It’s time to switch on here.

  1. Communicating with the RSH

Now this is difficult. You’ve got to remember they were set up in the days of austerity. Bluntly, they don’t have enough people. And a lot is expected of them. Two bits of jargon were invented to paper over the cracks. You’ve got to get to grips with these. It’s not easy. It’s not meant to be easy.

“Co-regulation”: The RSH does not have the people to go out and look for trouble. So you need to co-operate by telling them if you are breaching their standards. You’ve got to go to them at the right time. That’s the law.

“Serious detriment”: The RSH only intervenes if the threat to tenants passes this high threshold. No one knows what it means exactly. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to work it out. If you suspect you have any safety risks take advice from the lawyers or consultants you trust quickly. Don’t waste time.

Basically the RSH prefers to hear from you directly if there is a breach or potential breach that places people at risk. The action they take is proportionate to how well you deal with the RSH. They are looking for:

  • precision on the level of risk
  • assurance that you are fixing it with a plausible action plan
  • your plans to collect more accurate data and respond to it so the breach will not happen again

Please note you must give the RSH early warning. If you go to them after you have fixed a problem they will still take action against you.

That’s because you have broken the principle of co-operation or co-regulation. And they have plenty of ordnance to throw at you if they want to including ordering an inspection. In fairness, we have always found that the RSH acts reasonably if you are reasonable.

They play the hand they were dealt as well as it can be played. No one will forgive them if there is another Grenfell. So it’s better to work with them.

  1. Don’t stand still

Most landlords thought they were fine on safety till Grenfell. After that jolt they started asking better questions. Don’t let this happen again. Keep alert. Keep looking for risks and snuff out the danger.

Soon we will be spending £15bn a year to take carbon out of all the homes in the UK.

Are you sure the new heating systems will be safe?

I’d be looking into that right now.

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