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Home Standard breaches — the need for periodic safety inspections in the social housing sector

It is important for social landlords to carry out periodic safety inspections to ensure the safety of their tenants.

The outcome of two recent investigations by the Regulator of Social Housing highlight the importance for social landlords to carry out periodic safety inspections to ensure the safety of their tenants.

As a result of concerns raised by a tenant of the London Borough of Harrow (“LBH”), a regulatory notice has been published against LBH following an investigation carried out by the Regulator of Social Housing. The Regulator found that LBH had breached its obligations under the Home Standard, potentially putting its tenants at serious risk.

It was found that 3,500 of the residential properties provided by LBH failed to have a current electrical condition report.

Evidence showed that LBH also failed to have valid water safety risk assessments in place for a number of its properties, posing a potential risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

A further regulatory notice published by the Regulator on 27 April 2023 concluded that Dudley Council had also breached its obligations under the Home Standard by failing to carry out not only electrical safety inspections but also fire, gas and asbestos inspections on thousands of its residential properties.

In addition, the council also indicated that it could not confirm if all of their residential properties met the Decent Homes Standard.

Dudley Council had referred itself to the Regulator after identifying “long-standing issues with data quality and performance reporting, dating back up to 10 years”.

The Regulator is now working with Dudley Council as it puts a remedial programme in place and will continue to monitor.

Social landlord safety obligations

The Regulator of Social Housing, under its Home Standard, expects providers of social housing to comply with all applicable statutory requirements to ensure the health and safety of tenants.

Current statutory requirements come in various forms, but particularly:

  • Sections 10 and 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1983 which provide for installations to be kept in repair
  • The Housing Health and Safety Rating System assessment system, introduced via Part 1, Chapter 1 of the Housing Act 2004, used to ensure that properties are free from hazards
  • Requirements under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which may render a property uninhabitable if a hazard makes it unsafe.

At present, only private sector landlords are under a mandatory obligation to carry out periodic electrical safety inspections every five years. In contrast, social housing providers currently have no equivalent legal obligation.

As a result of a commitment made in the Government’s Social Housing White Paper, a consultation is underway focusing on safety standards in the social housing sector, with proposals to introduce 5-yearly mandatory electrical safety inspections and Portable Appliance Testing.

Legal steps

Social landlords are expected to be able to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their mandatory and statutory safety obligations.

As it is in their best interests to do so, the majority of tenants will be willing to provide access for safety inspections to be carried out.

There will, however, always be the exception. In those cases, there are a number of further steps open to a landlord, depending on the individual circumstances of a case.

One option is for a landlord to apply to court for an access injunction to gain entry to its property in order to carry out the inspection and any associated identified works, the cost of which could be recovered from the tenant. To avoid continuing access issues, further options may also include a forced entry order, substituted service and/or an unlimited timeframe order.

The Weightmans property litigation team regularly deal with access issues related to safety inspections and have adapted a streamlined process for landlords experiencing difficulties in complying with their obligations, including the provision of bespoke reporting. For further information, please contact a member of the team.

If you'd like further guidance on carrying out safety inspections as a landlord, please contact our expert Property litigation solicitors.

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