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'Grenfell has made almos rethink the way we manage fire safety'

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In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation came in for fierce criticism.

LGC reported on the day of the fire how a blog run by the Grenfell Action Group said warnings over safety failings at the tower and other properties managed by the tenant management organisation had “fallen on deaf ears”.

At the public inquiry into circumstances surrounding the fire Jim Ageros, a barrister representing KCTMO, last week read out a statement saying that the organisation was “deeply sorry for the terrible events” but it did not admit responsibility for the tragedy.

KCTMO was a registered arm’s-length management organisation (almo), which are not-for-profit companies that deliver housing services on behalf of councils. However, on 1 March KCTMO transferred its functions back to the council.

In an interview with LGC published this week, Kensington & Chelsea RBC chief executive Barry Quirk said councils with outsourced housing functions had “not been connected with their community much”.

A third of the 33 almos managing almost 450,000 properties across 36 local authorities responded to LGC’s request asking what, if anything, had changed in the way they communicate with their residents. LGC also asked if each almo had made any alterations to the way their organisations are structured and operate as a result of the fire.

Most almos which responded to LGC’s requests for information undertook a number of activities in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell including greater communication with residents regarding fire safety in their homes, fire risk assessments (FRAs) of properties and, in some cases, installing sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

One of those is Nottingham City Homes which manages almost 27,500 properties – the second biggest almo in the country – on behalf of Nottingham City Council. A spokesman said: “Grenfell has instilled a much wider understanding of the importance of [health and safety] in general, the need for compliance, and the need to keep investing in existing homes to keep them safe for the future.”

St Leger Homes, which manages more than 20,000 properties on behalf of Doncaster MBC, is another to have invested in sprinkler systems. The almo has also established a separate high-rise tenants forum so the organisation can “listen exclusively to tenants living in these buildings”, a spokesman said.

Jen Barfoot, chief executive of Homes in Sedgemoor, said her almo had spent £300,000 on fire safety improvements to the only high-rise building in its stock of just over 4,100 homes.

“The devastating fire at Grenfell Tower has made us all rethink the way we manage fire safety in our high-rise buildings,” said Ms Barfoot.

The almo has also worked with Sedgemoor DC to check all the previous work undertaken was safe, while the outcomes of all fire risk assessments are published on the organisation’s website. Ms Barfoot said this is “updated weekly to give residents confidence that we are dealing with fire safety in a robust and transparent manner”.

A spokeswoman for Solihull Community Housing, which manages more than 11,200 homes on behalf of Solihull MBC, said “fire safety has really made it to the top of our governance structure”.

Northwards Housing, which manages more than 13,600 homes on behalf of Manchester City Council, has spent most of the last year reassuring residents its properties are safe and installing sprinklers. A spokeswoman said: “That means raising the bar in terms of fire safety. Before the Grenfell fire, it was standard practice for landlords to carry out Type 1 FRAs. Since Grenfell, we and many other landlords have carried out Type 4 FRAs which are focused on ensuring the integrity of the compartmentation of the building.”

Almos are completely owned by their council and run by a board of directors, except Your Homes Newcastle. After consultation, the almo moved away from the traditional governance model and reduced the board from 19 members to 12, with four representatives from Newcastle City Council, and eight independents. Selection to the board is undertaken using a skills-based approach. Tenants can apply for places (one is already a board member) but a committee consisting entirely of tenants has been established underneath the board. This committee carries out monitoring, scrutiny and oversight of the day-to-day management of properties leaving the board to focus on more strategic priorities.

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