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London borough hit with regulatory notice after breaching ‘Home Standard’

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham breached the 'Home Standard' and, as a consequence, there was the potential for serious detriment to its tenants, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has found following a self-referral by the council.

The RSH said the local authority did not have assurance that it had complied with statutory health and safety requirements in relation to fire, electrical, asbestos, gas, water and lift safety.

The regulatory notice reveals that:

  • More than 100 properties did not have a fire risk assessment (FRA) in place, and for more than 1,000 properties, the council did not have a clear record of whether an FRA was required. “LB Barking and Dagenham is in the process of validating its fire safety data, however, at the time of the referral, it was unable to provide assurance that all properties requiring an FRA had one in place.”
  • The council had reported that for more than 16,000 of its domestic properties and more than 2,000 communal areas, it either did not have a clear record of whether a current electrical installation condition report was required or could not evidence that such a check had previously been completed.
  • The evidence provided to the regulator showed that Barking and Dagenham did not have clear records for whether more than 1,000 properties with communal areas should be included on the asbestos survey programme.
  • For gas safety, the evidence provided by the council highlighted that almost 3,000 individual properties and 2,000 communal areas required data validation to establish whether they should be included on the gas safety programme.
  • The council had over 100 communal assets on the lift safety programme; around a quarter of these did not have an up-to-date inspection.
  • For water safety, the council told the RSH it had no assurance of whether more than 1,000 properties needed to be included in its water safety compliance programme.

The RSH said: “Complying with statutory health and safety requirements is a fundamental responsibility of all registered providers because of the potential for serious harm to tenants. LB Barking and Dagenham has demonstrated to the regulator that it understands the work it needs to undertake to ensure the required statutory checks and relevant safety actions are completed.

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“However, taking into account the seriousness of the issues, the durations for which tenants were exposed to risk, and the number of tenants potentially affected, the regulator has concluded that the council has breached the Home Standard and that there was a risk of serious detriment to tenants during this period.”

The Regulator added though that as the council had assured it that it fully understood the work that was needed to rectify these failures, the RSH would therefore not take enforcement action "at this stage". It said it would work with the council as it continued to address the issues which had led to the situation, including ongoing monitoring of how it delivers its programme.

In a statement Barking and Dagenham said the problems had emerged in the summer of 2021 when BD Group, a council-owned company which supports the local authority in carrying out repairs and routine maintenance, carried out an audit of all LBBD-owned properties to ensure it could provide assurance on statutory requirements around health and safety.

The council then undertook its own audit employing an independent consultant, during the Autumn of 2021. This inspection confirmed the findings of the initial audit, leading Barking & Dagenham to make a voluntary self-referral to the Regulator of Social Housing.

The London borough said that when the issues came to light, it “immediately put in place a robust programme that has already made substantial progress as required by the regulator”.

The council will also launch a new five-year electrical testing programme with the auditing of every electrical installation. This programme will be in phases, starting in March 2022 with properties that are seven storeys and above.

“There is no indication that substantial numbers of homes have not already been audited, but in order to verify and provide the necessary data and assurance, all homes will be audited again and checked by an external company,” it said.

The council insisted that residents should not be concerned about the safety of their homes as the Improvement Programme would complete overdue inspections, as a priority.

Cllr Dominic Twomey, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance & Core Services at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council, said: “The council, as part of its commitment to be a good landlord, requires frequent checks on the health and safety of our council homes. We do this work in partnership with our repairs and maintenance partner, the BD Group, a company owned by the council.

“BD Group carried out an audit of the manner in which these health and safety checks are carried out and discovered that whilst checks had been taking place, the council could not verify those checks through its internal paper trail. The council then voluntarily referred itself to the Regulator of Social Housing. The Regulator has agreed with our findings and is working with us to implement our improvement programme.”

Cllr Twomey added: “We have immediately started delivery of that programme and have already met the required standards in matters relating to gas, water, lifts, and asbestos. We can also confirm that we have instructed an independent company to carry out our new fire risk assessments from February 2022 and expect them to complete the programme by the summer of 2022. These assessments, alongside our electrical testing programme, shows the commitment we have to all tenants in council-owned properties to make them the safest in London.”

Andrew Pollard, Chief Executive of the BD Group, said: “Safe and well-maintained homes are something both our company and Barking and Dagenham Council have as our top priority. Having discovered some concerns about safety certification we are pleased the council has acted immediately and referred themselves to the Regulator for Social Housing.

“We are working closely with the council to continue delivery of their robust improvement programme as we seek to speedily provide the reassurance that both our tenants, the council and the Regulator require to confirm homes in Barking and Dagenham are safe.”

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