Council breaches regulatory safety standards

Council breaches regulatory safety standards

GATESHEAD COUNCIL was found to have breached the Home Standard on fire, asbestos and electrical safety, according to the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH).

Inside Housing reported on the regulatory notice from the RSH, which stated that the council – which has over 19,000 homes – had breached the Home Standard ‘through serious fire, asbestos and electrical safety failings’. The council uses an arm’s length management organisation – The Gateshead Housing Company (TGHC) – to manage the homes, and was said to have left thousands of tenants ‘potentially exposed to an unknown risk of danger over a long period of time’.

Until the middle of 2018, the RSH stated, the council had ‘no programme in place’ to carry out fire risk assessments (FRAs) in its buildings, and ‘until very recently’ was only carrying out FRAs in high rises and not other blocks, despite the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requiring providers of social housing to ‘regularly assess’ fire risk in buildings where they have ‘responsibility for maintenance’.

Both the council and TGHC had also failed to undertake asbestos surveys of communal areas, nor complete electrical safety certificates in ‘several hundreds of properties’, RSH concluding that the failings meant it ‘did not have an effective system in place to allow it, through TGHC, to meet its statutory health and safety responsibilities across a range of areas’, therefore breaching part 1.2 of the Home Standard.

TGHC commissioned a review last year in which it identified the issues, and has worked since with the council to complete required checks and actions, though the RSH stated that because of the ‘breadth and scale of this failure’ and ‘potentially longstanding nature’ of the issues, the council was found in breach of the Home Standard and had left tenants at ‘risk of serious harm’. The RSH said it would work with the council as it ‘seeks to address the issues which have led to this situation’.

It also noted that the council would consider ‘what, if any, further action to take’, with RSH able to use regulatory or enforcement powers where there are ‘reasonable grounds to suspect that the failure has resulted in a serious detriment to the provider’s tenants’, or if there is a significant risk that no action undertaken by RSH would result in further ‘serious detriment’.

Sheena Ramsey, chief executive of Gateshead Council, said: ‘The notice from the regulator reinforces a number of issues we had previously identified in our own independent review carried out in June 2018. Every year we carry out thousands of inspections across our 19,500 properties. These inspections lead to further actions needing to take place.

‘The independent health and safety review highlighted a range of areas requiring improvement including our record keeping, compatibility of systems and modernising our processes. The council and The Gateshead Housing Company acted quickly on the findings of the review and significant steps have been made to ensure the required statutory checks are complete. A clear up-to-date work plan is now in place.

‘Clearly our data systems and processes were less than perfect and we apologise to our tenants for any concerns they may have. Improvements have been made so residents can be confident that the council is meeting the required health and safety standards our tenants should expect and deserve. We have taken the findings from the regulator very seriously and will continue to work with the regulator to ensure we do not find ourselves in this position again.’