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District rapped by regulator for breaching fire safety standards

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Arun DC could face enforcement action after it was found to have breached statutory health and safety requirements in relation to fire and water safety by the Regulator of Social Housing.

The council, which owns about 3,500 properties, has today been issued with a regulatory notice.

Out of 245 cases the regulator currently has open, Arun is the only council to have been pulled up for breaches. This also comes a week after the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government outlined plans to give the social housing regulator “sharper teeth” by giving it greater powers to fine councils and intervene in their management arrangements.

In its notice the Regulator of Social Housing detailed concerns about the fact Arun did not have, until 2016, a programme in place to carry out fire and water risk assessments across its stock. It only carried them out as and when issues were reported.

“This means that Arun DC cannot provide assurance that all of the relevant properties had a risk assessment in place until very recently,” the regulator said.

While a programme of fire risk assessments has now been completed the regulator said the council “has not yet completed the actions arising out of those fire risk assessments”.

A programme of water risk assessments is underway but “until that work is completed, it cannot fully implement measures to control any risks to tenants”. “Mitigating actions have been put in place while the programme is being delivered,” the regulator said.

The case has been considered in relation to part 1.2 of the Home Standard which requires registered providers to meet all applicable statutory health and safety requirements for occupants in their homes.

“With regard to both fire safety and water safety, the regulator concluded that Arun DC had not met the statutory duties to assess the risks of fire and Legionella and so had breached the Home Standard,” the regulator said.

The notice later added: “Both fire safety and water safety are self-evidently important because of the potential for serious harm to tenants. In this case the regulator has concluded that the risk of serious harm is demonstrated because of the large number of tenants potentially exposed to an unknown risk of danger over a long period of time.”

It was noted, however, that the council last year reviewed the way it manages health and safety compliance issues. A new team to lead this work has since been established.

The notice added: “As part of its response to the regulator’s assessment Arun DC commissioned an external review which reported in May 2018 and found that there were significant weaknesses in the system currently in place for managing health and safety. An improvement plan is in place and progress is being made to implement the recommendations from the review, some of which were already in train.”

Section 198A of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 states that regulatory and enforcement powers may be used if a registered provider has failed to meet a consumer standard.

The regulator said it “will work with Arun DC as it seeks to address the issues which have led to this situation, and will consider what, if any, further action to take in relation to the breach of the Home Standard.”

A spokesman for Arun DC said: “The safety of residents living in our homes is of the utmost importance to the council and we are fully committed to ensuring that our homes meet statutory requirements in all aspects of health and safety.

“As soon as the council became aware of the historic issues in relation to fire risk and legionella we have been working to address these as a matter of urgency. We are now in possession of a full and detailed suite of fire risk assessments and a programme of works formulated to ensure that the actions identified in respect of both fire risk and legionella are undertaken as our priority. We have purchased a new IT system to help us manage the ongoing work and an improvement plan is in place and progress is being made.

“Arun District Council recognises the seriousness of the situation and can assure residents that we are continuing to work with the regulator to provide documentary evidence that the breach is being rectified and that our ongoing commitment to the safety of residents is paramount.”

* This story was updated at 10.27am on 24 August to include comments from Arun DC.

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