Joe Beesley of CORGI explores how landlords can stay on the right side of gas safety regulations.
In 2020, a new problem significantly exacerbated the age-old problem of access to residents’ homes to perform gas safety checks and repairs and maintenance; namely, the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Central to all gas safety regimes is accessing residents’ homes – this is a perpetual problem for all social landlords. It is a time-consuming, costly annual process, yet essential for resident’s safety and a regulatory requirement as per the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) (Amendment) Regulations 2018.
The above regulations state that landlords are responsible for making sure that gas fittings and flues are maintained in good order, and gas appliances and flues are checked for safety once in a period of 12 months. Landlords must also keep a record of the safety checks until two further gas safety checks have been carried out, and for at least two years for appliance/s removed from the premises. Landlords must issue the latest certificate to existing tenants and any new tenants before they move in.
It is vital that landlords adhere to these rules. According to the HSE, about 14 people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is caused by gas appliances and flues which have not been properly installed or maintained. Many others also suffer significant long term ill health. When gas does not burn properly, as with other fuels such as coal, wood or oil, excess carbon monoxide is produced, which is poisonous and named the silent killer.
The regulation is clear, and yet access to do these safety checks is an ongoing problem for social landlords; this problem has been magnified beyond all expectations by the current global coronavirus pandemic. Quite simply, influenced by Government messaging, residents have been reluctant to let gas engineers into their homes, and understandably so.
In May 2020, independent research of nearly 100 hundred social landlords, representing approximately 1.9 million homes, stated that just under one third of respondents were accessing below 60 per cent of their properties. A further quarter of respondents reported that their access rates were 60-79 per cent. This left 45 per cent of respondents with access rates of 80-100 per cent – considerably below pre-pandemic times.
So, how did landlords navigate this unprecedented dilemma of adhering to the law and simultaneously try to protect staff and residents from Coronavirus, when faced with such low access rates?
As with most problems – communication and thinking differently have been key to attempting to solve the access issue. Landlords have looked at doing things differently:
- Developing new ways of working, e.g. triage repairs over the phone
- Changing the approach to access to one of explanation and reassurance
- Where access is not possible, engineers have taken CO alarms/smoke detectors to tenants and instructed where to locate them, while standing outside the home
- With an elderly tenant base, sending a sensitive letter asking tenants to phone in to make their appointment has delivered increased access
- Admin teams have phoned the day before access (used to be a text), increasing access
- Visible PPE and sensitive dialogue by the Engineer with the resident
The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in increased admin; keeping track of access, the reasons for the increased non-access, re-booking appointments etc. This has put a strain on both workforce and systems to record all this additional information and maintain a sufficient audit trail.
HSE requires that landlords take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure the annual safety check is carried out. This may involve giving written notice to a tenant requesting access, and explaining the reason. Keep a record of any action in case a tenant refuses access; landlords have to demonstrate what steps have been taken.
Undoubtedly, accurate data and fit for purpose technology have helped social landlords to cope in these unprecedented times, not to mention incredible teamwork.
It is estimated that within any 8-week period, there will be approximately 666,667 regulatory routine gas safety checks. These are all opportunities to spread the virus. Social housing landlords have questioned if that is a risk
worth taking when their housing stock is among the safest housing in the UK compared to the private sector.
Social housing stock:
- Is serviced regularly and safety checked annually
- Has regular replacement programmes and timely repairs
- Boilers are circa 6 years old and in good condition
- Many properties have carbon monoxide alarms
Many landlords questioned the HSE wisdom to continue to insist on meeting the demands of Regulations 36. Other landlords supported the HSE decision – believing that the benefits do outweigh the risk as well as avoiding backlogs.
The HSE and the Regulator of Social Housing assure landlords that if all reasonable steps have been taken to comply with the law and that records can be presented to demonstrate this, then no action will be taken.
What constitutes ‘all reasonable steps’?
As most of the UK entered 2021 in lockdown, there is no doubt that landlords are in a much better position than they were in Spring 20. Collectively, the sector has much more knowledge and shared experience of how to access properties safely and allay residents’ fears. It is believed that access will not drop as low as it did in the initial lockdown.
Still, landlords need to ensure they have the systems in place to record what servicing and parts replacement is required, at the manufacturers specified time intervals. If these are not conducted and/or not recorded correctly this can cause major issues. For instance, if a problem subsequently arises and the landlord is required to demonstrate ongoing maintenance to an external body, or there is a change of contractor part way through a servicing regime, there will be inadequate records to determine what stage of their service interval appliances are in.
Whatever challenges a landlord faces in terms of gas safety, there are three areas that are pivotal in meeting regulatory demands: accurate data, fit for purpose systems and processes, and of course, effective communication – both within the organisation, with residents and with contractors. Gas engineers must also be highly trained and supported to do their jobs safely.
Joe Beesley is technical safety manager at CORGI Technical Services.