Regulator issues notice against council for failing to meet required standards
Has safety been compromised by ambitious affordable housing targets? Council leader Peter Mason with Sadiq Khan and James Murray MP
An notice has been issued by the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) after in determined that Ealing Council was in breach of the Home Standard potentially putting the safety of 6,000 council tenants at risk.
This came after deficiencies were found in the way that social housing provision is managed in the borough. The council self-referred itself to the regulator in February after an internal audit identified failings across gas, electrical, asbestos and water safety, including that there was no evidence of monitoring of remedial works. The RSH intervenes when it believes failure to meet the required standards has caused, or could have caused, serious harm to tenants. The RSH issued a Regulatory Notice against Ealing Council on 11 May and councillors were made aware of this at a Cabinet meeting this Wednesday (18 May). The issuing of the notice means that the council has been found to be in breach of its statutory obligation and the notice will remain live for 12 months or until full compliance is in place.
Enforcement action will not be taken against the council immediately as the borough can enter into a Voluntary Undertaking in which it details how full compliance and the discharge of the Notice will be achieved.
As part of the an internal audit programme for the last financial year, two audits were completed to assess the adequacy of the council’s controls in place in relation to housing health and safety and fire safety compliance. The two audits were unable to provide any assurance for fire safety, and limited assurance across other areas of health and safety statutory compliance requiring the council to make the self-referral to the regulator.
The fire safety audit found that the council did not have effective controls in place and a significant number of council properties were recorded as not having an in-date Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) and there was no process to record and track FRA remedial actions. A report presented to the Cabinet says that the situation has improved and FRAs are in place where needed but it was not possible to confirm that all required remedial works have been completed and monitored.
The council has a statutory duty to regularly assess the risk of fire and to take precautions to prevent harm. Similarly, alongside specific statutory duties in relation to gas, electrical, asbestos and water safety, the council has a duty to not expose tenants, and others, to risks to their health and safety.
This March a special edition of Housing News was sent to all tenants and leaseholders telling them that the council had voluntarily referred to the RSH.
An independent investigation by the Altair housing consultancy is underway and the council says this will look closely at the circumstances leading to the current poor performance and make recommendations on the competence and capability at an individual level that may have contributed to this situation. It will also examine the extent to which escalation of performance weaknesses took place to the Senior Leadership Team and beyond that to elected Members.
The RSH will now seek assurance that the council can meet its voluntary undertakings and will be able to reach full compliance. If this does not happen an enforcement notice could be issued to the council compelling it to reach Home Standard, Failure to comply with an enforcement notice may ultimately lead to issuing a penalty notice against the council or take steps to have the council prosecuted .
A further report will be brought to Cabinet by November 2022 informing it of the outcome of the response to the Regulatory Notice.
Councillor Gary Malcolm, Leader of the Opposition, said, “Liberal Democrats are totally shocked that so many processes and checks have not been made, meaning that many thousands of tenants around Ealing might be at risk from issues from fire, asbestos, gas or electricity. Liberal Democrats urged Ealing Council to act quickly to fix these problems and to make sure that they cannot happen again.”
The council issued a statement saying, "The Regulator of Social Housing has now published its findings in response to our self-referral. It confirmed our assessment and concluded that we could not provide assurance that we had consistently complied with statutory health and safety requirements across a number of areas.
"This largely centres on two issues. Firstly, while the majority of our safety checks were complete, we fell behind in completing and verifying some of our safety checks. We are however now fully up to date on inspections and have completed the necessary gas and fire safety checks. 6,000 follow-up checks on various technical aspects of our buildings will be completed over the coming year.
"Secondly, we also need to improve our data systems, policies and processes to ensure that all required safety checks including gas, electricity and water are recorded and monitored.
Several factors have led us to this point, and the COVID-19 pandemic played a substantial part. For example, lockdowns and social distancing rules made it impossible for us to complete annual gas safety checks in the homes of some residents who were isolating. That created a backlog in completing checks, which immediately put us in breach of the necessary standards.
"We have already begun rapidly addressing the shortcomings. We have implemented an action plan to improve performance on all aspects of our safety work, with checks in place to ensure that is effective. Residents may already have noticed work being done in the communal areas of your buildings.
"We apologise for any concern that this news might cause our residents. We are taking this issue very seriously and have prioritised and completed all of the most important tasks. We are working to complete the remaining actions, to make sure our homes reach the highest safety standards."
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May 19, 2022