The coronavirus outbreak is presenting a number of challenges around carrying out statutory safety checks.
With many households self-isolating, and the government's guidance on social distancing, residents are understandably refusing access to their properties. Housing associations are also facing depleted numbers of staff and contractors, and must prioritise the health and safety of both their staff and residents.
Read on for information from the Regulator of Social Housing, guidance on gas safety checks and maintenance, and an update on lift inspections and maintenance.
The Regulator of Social Housing has written to all social housing providers to clarify its approach in response to the coronavirus outbreak, recognising the significant operational pressures organisations are facing. It confirms that tenant safety remains a shared priority for the sector, and that housing associations should promptly report any concerns about non-compliance with health and safety standards.
The regulator published a survey on 7 April to understand how social housing providers are coping with the impact of coronavirus on specific operational risks. This will look at emergency repairs, a number of safety checks and care and support staffing levels, and will enable the regulator to identify emerging risks, potential mitigation measures, and where regulatory support may be needed. We would encourage our members to complete the survey.
We recognise that there are unique circumstances that housing associations have to consider in order to keep residents and staff safe. We've been engaging with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to clarify guidance on meeting regulatory requirements on safety during the coronavirus outbreak, including an update on gas safety checks below. We're continuing to seek further guidance and clarification on this and other issues.
We received updated guidance from the HSE, via the Gas Safety Register website, on 8 April, to support landlords to carry out gas safety checks if they cannot gain access to a property, or if they cannot contract a gas safety engineer due to coronavirus. This should provide some additional clarity to previous HSE advice published on 27 March.
The HSE's advice suggests that housing associations should 'show that they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their duty under the regulations', supported by government guidance that states that landlords who do this will not be in breach of their duty. To support landlords in the particular circumstances they might encounter, the new guidance sets out a number of scenarios.
While we welcome further clarity from the HSE, we recognise that members will still experience challenges given the large numbers of inspections being understandably refused, and depleting staff numbers, at a time when resources are limited. We are therefore continuing to collect feedback and experiences from our members to feed into our conversations with MHCLG, the regulator, and the HSE on this issue.
As mentioned above, the regulator is conducting a survey of social housing providers to understand what the impact of coronavirus is on specific operational risks, including safety checks. We would encourage members to respond to the survey.
We know some members are experiencing challenges in engaging lift engineers to conduct checks of lifts or to carry out maintenance.
Some residents rely on the lifts in their homes, especially within communal supported housing or care home facilities, so this is becoming a concern.
We have been engaging with the HSE to secure consistent on how our members should approach this. The HSE has since published new guidance on carrying out lift inspections and tests during the coronavirus outbreak. We have summarised the guidance for our members.
The government published new guidance on 7 April on social distancing in the workplace, which includes further information for staff carrying out safety checks in people’s homes.
We will continue to keep our members updated when we receive more information on these issues.
Please do continue to share your concerns with us in the meantime.