Should I continue to carry out housing inspections during the coronavirus outbreak?
As the pandemic progresses, more and more people will be forced to self-isolate and, inevitably, both tenants and staff will be affected. Put plans in place to mitigate the impact that this may have, particularly regarding staff shortages. The most important focus here should be communication.
The Covid-19 outbreak will affect the pace of everyday life and delays will be expected. Rather than allowing the pandemic to take over completely, it is important to maintain open communication with tenants as much as possible and inform them of any front-facing challenges that you may face.
The Protocol does envisage that delays may occur and allows for some degree of flexibility. Whilst all efforts should be made to conduct inspections where practical and possible, it should be expected by all parties that timescales will be extended during this crisis. It is fundamental, however, that all changes made to standard practice are communicated and explained to tenants to manage expectations.
Similar flexibility should be afforded to tenants. As households are required to isolate it will not always be possible to gain access to properties as would usually be expected and required. Likewise, vulnerable people will wish to protect themselves and their families and may refuse access on this basis. During this period, a degree of understanding must be exercised and concessions made.
Inspections may be delayed if anyone in the household has symptoms. A questionnaire should be prepared for those visiting properties to assess so far as possible the risk; Personal Protective Equipment should be issued to those visiting, and government guidelines followed.
The fundamentals of risk assessment remain the same as for any other foreseeable risk.
Focus on risk controls which reflect Government guidance; social distancing (2 metres) and avoiding contact with occupiers if possible, high-quality PPE – disposable overalls, gloves and fluid repellent surgical face masks, ready access to antibacterial wipes for surfaces, tools and equipment and plentiful hand sanitizer.
There should be some data collected as to the type and number of interactions MHFA are having, to ensure no one individual or individuals are overloaded. MHFAs should be encouraged to maintain regular self-care practice, to lean in to all support provisions available in their organisation, to engage in peer support, and to take a break from their role as a MHFA to prioritise their own wellbeing as needed. It is also important that those who volunteer to be MHFAs have the support of their managers. So they have the time to do both their core role and their MHFA duties without feeling pressurised to cram work into spare time to make up for time spent on MHFA duties.
Under usual rules, workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days holiday including bank holidays, each year. Except in limited circumstances, it cannot be carried between leave years meaning that workers lose their holiday if they do not take it.
The government passed emergency legislation relaxing the carry-over of the 20 days leave entitlement provided under EU law. Where it is not reasonably practicable for an employee to take leave in the relevant leave year as a result of the effects of the coronavirus then they could be entitled to carry over the untaken leave into the next year.
The financial implications of having to repay all deposits and advance payments could be very serious for some businesses. As an alternative to a refund, many are offering customers the opportunity to re-book at a later date, or a voucher that can be redeemed against a subsequent booking.
The CMA’s view on this practice is that consumers can in many situations be offered alternatives of this type, but they should not be “misled or pressured” into accepting this. Their view is that a refund should be an option that is just as clearly and easily available. The CMA also points out that any restrictions that apply to credits, vouchers, re-booking or re-scheduling, such as the period in which credits must be used or services re-booked, must also be fair and made clear to consumers.
The full CMA guidance re “The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds” can be found here.
We recommend that ongoing support is provided to all MHFA’s beyond completion of the MHFA training. It is necessary to do refresher training (approx. every 3 years) and ideally ongoing ‘continued professional development’ should be provided as well as regular opportunities for debriefing / seeking support. One way of supporting your MHFAs in the workplace is by creating a buddy system amongst the MHFAs. That way the individuals carrying out the role of MHFAs have a support structure in place amongst themselves. All trained MHFAs can also reach out to management to discuss any concerns they have or to seek any further support they need.