This matter is the responsibility of the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Cllr Francesca Smith.
Report Author: Ian Candlish, Assistant Director Housing Property
This report provides an updated position for the main landlord health and safety property compliance disciplines.
Ian Candlish, Assistant Director Housing Property presented the report:
· This is an update to landlord safety compliance up to 6 March 2023.
· It covers the key safety areas as outlined in section 1.2 on page 139.
· Comparative performance is set out for each workstream in the tables for each area in section 4 of the report, based on the previous report that came to the committee in December 2022.
· Overall, there is an improvement in compliance activities and particularly we have done a range of procurement activities set out in section 1.6 on page 140.
During the debate, discussion took place around:
· Whether the figure of 81% in section 4.2.8 on page 144 was due to accessing tenants properties.
· What was meant by compartmentalisation and tenancy management in section 4.3.8 on page 147. Officers confirmed that if you take a large building such as a block of flats, it is split into different compartments for fire safety. For example, long corridors would have fire door breaks and in the roof area there would be splits between the different parts of the building with fire break walls. When work is carried out one of the key issues is to ensure that it isn’t breached, for example if a hole is drilled to put a cable or pipe through then the appropriate sealing would have to be put in place. The actions come out of the fire risk assessments and remedial actions arise when the assessor has seen an area of concern, or they haven’t been into a particular area. SWT has to provide evidence that what in place is appropriate.
· That the tenancy management actions relate to fire safety in terms of talking to tenants about areas that are fire escape routes that might have items in them which could create fire or block an escape route in the event of a fire. The Housing Tenancy team check these on a regular basis and take appropriate action if any issues are found.
· The number of overdue actions for fire safety listed on pages 147 and 148. Officers confirmed that the actions for this area related to two things. Firstly, the communal fire door programme and entrance door fire programme, both of which relate to compartmentalisation. Where work is undertaken to take out the fire door, the whole frame would also have to be taken out and any issues that might be found when taking the frame out would also have to be dealt with. If there is no evidence that this check was completed when the previous door and frame was fitted there is an assumption that it needs to be checked. Secondly, inspections are taking place and a contract is running for any areas where evidence is needed following a fire risk assessment, which couldn’t be evidence at the time of the assessment.
· That the overdue actions relating to fire safety are all medium and low risk so all urgent and high-risk actions have been addressed and nearly 10,000 actions arising from fire risk assessments have been completed, and it is an ongoing programme of activity. To give further assurance a formal review of the overdue actions takes place and a quarterly report is presented to the Housing Senior Management Team, who monitoring this very closely.
· Whether SWT was in a high area for Radon and whether there are any results to show that Radon levels are higher than they should desirably be, and what remedial action can be taken if Radon levels are higher than they ought to be. Officers confirmed that there is a UK Radon map which indicates where likely instances of Radon are located. Radon fundamentally comes from the types of rock underneath you and that houses are built on. Monitoring equipment has gone into the properties that were identified from the map. The monitors sit in the property for 90 days plus measuring their Radon levels or potential Radon levels in the property. The monitor is then taken away and analysed by a laboratory. No results have been received yet, so this information is awaited. If results confirm there are instances of Radon in a property, ventilation either some form of natural ventilation of a fan would be the likely remedial works that would be done as part of the programme.
James Barrah, Director of Housing, gave the Committee an update on work undertaken by Savills:
· Savills have undertaken a package of work for SWT and Homes in Sedgemoor, which has included the creation of a Building and Resident Safety Strategy which goes before the SCC Executive this week. The Strategy primarily implements the new building safety legislation relating specifically to high rise properties. Across our combined housing stock there is only one high rise property located in the Homes in Sedgemoor area.
· Savills have also undertaken a range of other audit and assurance work focusing on the criteria of being safe, legal and functioning for the new organisation. This was an opportunity for SWT to measure overall progress with our property safety compliance improvement programme. From previous reports we have had a trajectory of programmes to achieve 100% compliance. Savills completed a desktop exercise based on housing data, including the reports that have been presented to this Committee. Savills confirmed that there are effective systems in place and there are no concerns regarding our compliance records. They recommended that maturity is improved in some activities including demonstrating more internal audit activity on a cyclical basis. This has been agreed with SWAP in terms of a future programme going forward. Savills also recommended that further third party assurance processes is needed for all of the disciplines. This is in place at the moment for gas safety and electrical safety but needs to be in place across all of the other disciplines. Officers are working to ensure that is in place.
· Savills highlighted two key areas of focus which relate to the programmes around air source heat pump servicing and electrical testing which haven’t achieved their programme as expected. Both programmes were due to get to 100% compliance by the end March 2023.
· The air source heat pump programme was delayed due to the procurement of a new contract and the Section 24 sign off process which is carried out by the new council. This meant that the mobilisation of the contract has taken longer than expected. The current incumbent contractor is continuing at the current time until the new contract comes into play in April 2023. It is then hoped that the programme will catch up as quickly as possible with the new contractor in place.
· The challenges in relation to the electrical inspections is one previously discussed several times at this committee, and includes a lack of capacity in the marketplace, contractor failure, the inability to recruit to the inhouse team due to the challenging marketplace and the shortage of electrical contractors.
· The other challenge relates to access. The electrical testing programme was the programme most affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Due to the public health implications, the work was paused during that pandemic as the nature of electrical testing means that an officer would potentially be in a property for 2 to 3 hours, possibly more with remedial works and would need access to all parts of the property. In comparison servicing a boiler is just going into one room and it’s normally 20-30 minutes. In that context, after the Coronavirus Pandemic there was catch up work to do and unfortunately the programme hasn’t delivered as hoped. A further challenge is the transition from a ten-year cycle to a five-year cycle which means more properties will come out of date and require electrical safety testing as we move forward.
· To go into the new council with a new start the decision has been made to write to the regulator this week to inform them of our current position. The letter will set out the context, i.e. the work Savills have completed as well as the SWT performance across all areas, giving a mostly a positive picture.
· The Savills work also reviewed and compared all the SWT address list to look for omissions by triangulating information from one data set to another. That has resulted in zero omissions confirming that our data quality is very good.
· The referral to the regulator is purely to confirm that our programmes have not delivered as we hoped for the reasons set out and that we have been reporting progress transparently to this Committee, our Tenants Strategic Group and our Strategic Management Team. Any response or follow up work from the regulator will flow into the new authority. The Chief Executive of the new council has been briefed and informed.
Councillors thank Ian Candlish and James Barrah for their comprehensive report and update.
The Committee RESOLVED to note the contents of the report and progress being made in relation to landlord property safety compliance.
(proposed by Cllr Dawn Johnson, seconded by Cllr Simon Coles)