Property compliance during COVID-19

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COVID-19 has stopped the world in its tracks. It has forced us all to think about what is fundamentally important in our lives. Resoundingly we conclude that it is our health, safety and wellbeing. So, you must ensure the same for your residents by continuing to meet your compliance obligations where you are practically able to do so. This includes the ‘big six’ compliance areas; gas, electric, fire, asbestos, water and lifts.

What should you be doing?

Legal and regulatory requirements still have to be met. Official Government guidance still allows for repairs and maintenance to be carried out in people’s homes (provided the contractor has no symptoms of COVID-19). Risk assessments should be conducted prior to contractors entering homes and if someone in the household is isolating, work should only be completed if there is ‘direct risk to the safety of the household’ and the contractor is willing to do so.

You might have to think more creatively around how you deliver services. For example, in line with the advice from Gas Safe, providers should arrange gas safety checks as early as possible (up to two months in advance of the expiry date) to provide a contingency against tenants being in self-isolation, or gas engineers being unavailable due to illness.

We recommend:

  • Only completing emergency and high priority actions.
  • Undertaking a risk assessment before sending contractors to residents’ homes.
  • Training contact centre staff to find out if residents are self-isolating and why (for example, confirmed/suspected case or vulnerable category), and when making appointments reminding residents of social distancing and sanitising requirements.
  • Communicating with contractors to ensure the same and that they have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Evidencing that all reasonable steps have been taken to achieve compliance, recording all communications for an audit trail.

You are not in this alone

It is important to remember that providers are not in this alone. Around 140 chief executives nationwide have joined a WhatsApp group to discuss how their organisations are coping during the pandemic.

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) today issued further guidance for providers. The RSH warns that ‘the focus on operational risks should be on health and safety and emergency and urgent repairs’, adding that the sector’s ‘shared priority is to maintain tenant safety, including addressing emergency repairs and compliance with health and safety requirements…’

Helpfully the RSH acknowledges that there might be ‘some incidence of statutory non-compliance and repairs backlogs’ and it will take ‘a proportionate regulatory approach and will take full account of the current context’. This should provide some level of comfort to providers.

In respect of property compliance, the RSH is clear about when you should contact them:

  • As a result of access issues or a shortage of staff, you are unable to deliver a minimum service to tenants. For example, inability to complete emergency repairs or statutory health and safety requirements, and a material backlog of outstanding repairs and safety checks are building up.
  • Danger to tenants is identified and cannot be rectified within reasonable timescales.

Stay safe

During these extraordinary times there is no ‘right’ answer. You know your residents and are best placed to understand how to react to their needs. Fundamentally, the law still needs to be complied with. There is no certainty around how long this situation is likely to last and you will have to work differently, and creatively, to ensure residents remain safe in their homes.

We applaud all of you who are continuing operations and putting residents first throughout these unprecedented circumstances.

Remember:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home).
  • Stay two metres (6ft) away from other people.
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home.

You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

Resources

  • Latest government advice here
  • Keep up to date with RSH advice here
  • Gas Safe have published some useful information here
  • Keep up to date with the latest HSE advice here

Additional points not included:

  • We are aware of some additional challenges that have arisen, such as contractors low on supplies as manufacturers close down.
  • We have yet to hear any definitive advice for landlords from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and there have been calls for it to clarify requirements
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