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I’m a housing provider. How do I continue to manage disrepair during the coronavirus outbreak?

The practicalities and processes regarding disrepair claims will undoubtedly be affected. Housing providers will have to adopt a risk-based approach and consider government guidance to handle claims going forward. Key points to consider are:

  • Compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (particularly disclosure)
  • The practicalities of inspection
  • Non-urgent repairs

Related FAQs

Is the Land Registry functioning?

Yes. The Land Registry published a new service update on 14 May, here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-impact-on-hm-land-registrys-service

Importantly, the Land Registry will process registrations where documents have been executed using the Mercury signing approach:

For land registration purposes, a signature page will need to be signed in pen and witnessed in person (not by a video call). The signature will then need to be captured, with a scanner or a camera, to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy of the signed signature page. Each party sends a single email to their conveyancer to which is attached the final agreed copy of the document and the copy of the signed signature page.

To summarise some further points:

  • Most information enquiries are experiencing minimal delays
  • Registrations of new titles, such as on sales of part or new leases, and applications to update existing titles, are experiencing more significant delays but can be expedited via the expedite service
  • Cancellation dates for replying to requisitions are extended until further notice
  • Access to free documents on the land registry portal has been extended to 90 days from completion of the transaction
  • Identity requirements have been relaxed. The Land Registry will now raise a requisition for identity documents, and not cancel applications
  • Requests for extensions to a notice or objection period will be granted if lawfully possible
  • Land charges searches can be submitted electronically with PDF documents
How can RPs carry out Person Centred FRAs/PEEPs on tenants within directly managed supported living units where the RP is not providing support and any floating support provider doesn't see it as part of their responsibility?

There is no simple answer.

The NFCC guidance states:

“The person-centred fire risk assessment is intended only as a simple means for non-specialists who have suitable understanding of relevant fire risks to determine whether additional fire precautions might be needed. The person who carries out the person-centred fire risk assessment will depend on the circumstances of the housing and support provision. It can be carried out by those who regularly engage with the resident, with input from specialists where necessary. Assessments will normally be undertaken with residents themselves.

In sheltered housing with scheme managers, the scheme managers normally engage with residents on a routine basis, enabling residents who need a person-centred fire risk assessment to be identified. Many vulnerable residents will be in receipt of care, so enabling the care provider to identify residents in need of a person-centred fire risk assessment. Providers of regulated care are required to take into account risks to people from their wider environment, to take steps to help people ensure that they are dealt with by appropriate agencies, or to raise safeguarding alerts when this is appropriate. Where a ‘stay put’ strategy is adopted, there will be a need to identify residents who need assistance from the fire and rescue service to evacuate the building.

In supported housing, the number of residents in each property is usually quite small. This, and the nature of the care service normally provided, enables person-centred fire risk assessments to be carried out asa matter of course, when a resident first moves into the property.

Where additional fire precautions cannot be provided in the short term, the risk should be reduced as far as reasonably practicable and an adult at risk referral should be made to Adult Social Care.”

Ideally then the RP will need to engage with any care providers in order to conduct the PCRA and identify risk mitigation measures. If they are reluctant to do so, the RP should engage with the individual in any event in undertaking the assessment.

Which charities will benefit from this funding and when – Key Services?

The Government will allocate £360 million to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis.  £200 million of this amount will be paid to Hospices UK to be distributed to hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector.  The remaining amount is to be allocated to:

  • St Johns Ambulance to support the NHS
  • victims charities, including domestic abuse, to help with potential increase in demand for charities providing these services
  • charities supporting vulnerable children, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities;
  • disabled people
  • Citizens Advice Bureau to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time

The Government Departments will identify priority recipients, with the aim that these charities will receive money in the form of a cash grant over the next few weeks and by the end of April to assist in paying amongst other costs April’s wage bill.

What should businesses do now?

Many will have worked collaboratively with their suppliers and customers to deal with the immediate public health crisis. This will have meant offering flexibility as to contractual arrangements, whether in delivery dates, volumes of goods or services supplied, or even in the specification of what has been delivered.

If this is the case, it is important that businesses now do their legal housekeeping and make sure they have a proper record of what has been agreed. Unfortunately, our experience shows that many legal disputes arise out of amendments to contracts, typically where the parties to the contract each have a different view about what exactly they agreed to change.

We would therefore advise businesses to review any amendments that they might have agreed either verbally, by email, or otherwise, and consider whether they need to be captured in a more formal way which will make clear exactly what has been agreed to be varied, and (where appropriate) how long that variation will remain in force.

It’s also important to remember that some contracts contain provisions that set out specific requirements about how amendments are to be made. For example, they might require that amendments are made in writing (rather than verbally). These “No Oral Modification” clauses are commonly found in commercial contracts, and the courts have recently shown that they are willing to enforce them.

Failing to deal with amendments in accordance with contractual requirements could therefore have a serious impact on businesses as they recover from the disruption caused by the lockdown. If they end up in dispute with a customer or supplier, a business could find that the contract has not actually been amended in the way that they think – potentially leading to legal costs and liabilities at the worst possible time.

Is there anything I can do to try and settle my claim?

There are several options that can be used at this time to try and settle disputes. If it is not possible to settle a dispute via direct discussions between the parties then some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) might be appropriate. Mediation is the most popular form of ADR. Most people’s perception of mediation is that it needs to be in person but that does not have to be the case.

Mediation can take place online or on the telephone. Most, if not all, ADR providers remain open for business and are quickly changing their business model to ensure that mediations can still take place. Mediation can be arranged at reasonably short notice and certainly so far as the online model is concerned, it mirrors the process that is adopted when parties appear in person. Online mediation allows for joint sessions with the mediator to take place and also for the parties to break out into their respective rooms for private discussions. If a dispute settles at mediation – and the vast majority do – then the agreement reached between the parties is binding and can be enforced.

A group of senior former judges and legal academics have now called for an acceleration in the use of ADR in light of the current circumstances. They have stated that courts should promote “and where appropriate require” the use of ADR. Mediation has particularly seen an increase in growth at this time.

ADR normally results in a quicker outcome than if the matter proceeds in the courts. Due to its conciliatory nature it is a very useful process where parties continue to be in a trading relationship. Contracting parties should also consider building ADR into dispute resolution clauses in their contracts so that in the event there is a dispute the focus is on resolving the dispute as soon as possible before it escalates into litigation.”