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What processes can I adapt regarding Housing Disrepair?

As we all adjust and adapt in line with the Government’s guidance throughout this uncertain time, we must consider how we can revise current processes and implement new ones to maintain effective and compliant ways of working. We have identified several key issues that all housing providers should consider.

Protocol Compliance

Housing providers will continue to receive new disrepair claims. Throughout the disruption caused by coronavirus, landlords will still be expected to respond to these claims and comply with the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims whilst doing so. We address the issue of disclosure in particular below.

Letters of claim will continue to be sent by post to your Registered Office, and the deadlines will run from the date of deemed service. Ensure you have systems to enable you to scan correspondence and forward it to the responsible officer who will handle the claim so deadlines are met.

Under the Protocol, the deadline for disclosure is 20 working days from deemed service of a letter of claim (2 working days after it is sent). So, for example, a letter dated 2 March 2020 would be deemed served on 4 March 2020 and disclosure would therefore be due by 1 April 2020. All housing providers must continue to comply with the Protocol and so landlords should begin preparing now.

Failure to meet deadlines often result in the issuing of further applications to court by tenant’s solicitors which in turn will lead to unnecessary costs orders against landlords.

Therefore, all records, particularly relating to customer contact and repair logs, should be held electronically. If required, this will allow for such documentation to be redacted for GDPR purposes remotely and disclosed to the tenant’s solicitor simply and efficiently.

Remember it is possible to request an extension to all Protocol deadlines and it is inevitable in these unusual times, this will need to be utilised, and should not be refused. Request extensions to deadlines at the earliest opportunity to enable an achievable timescale. It would be a difficult lawyer that would not agree to such a request.

Related FAQs

Can an employee on family related leave be furloughed?

Yes, but your claim will be limited to any enhanced contractual payments you make to employees who qualify for the relevant family related pay.

All maternity and parental rights remain in force for anyone in this category who is furloughed. However you may need to calculate average weekly pay differently if the employee was furloughed and then started family related leave on or after 25 April 2020.

Furlough pay cannot be claimed for the period that an employee is receiving Maternity Allowance. An employee can agree to accept furlough pay but they must contact Jobcentre Plus to stop their Maternity Allowance payments for this period.

What are the existing legal obligations to conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk for a workforce, and where particular characteristics require it, for individuals?

It is the individual assessment by an organisation of its Covid-19 risk in its workplace that will be central. There may be common features across sites or areas of a site but every workplace will have a different risk profile depending on the service it offers and the workers who deliver those services.  No one size fits all.

The context of managing Covid-19 risk is the need to tie in with UK government guidance and HSE advice – which despite being a lot more comprehensive than it was, is not a panacea and will continue to evolve.  The difficulty we have with this in the context of the known increased risk to BAME employees from Covid-19 is that our understanding of the risk is, we would suggest, at a pretty early stage which makes it more difficult to address. However we know the increased risk exists and we owe our BAME workers a duty to manage that risk and keep them safe.

We also have a duty to consult employees.  This is critical in managing this risk – ensuring BAME workers have a loud voice in the assessment process will be very important.

Where an individual has a particular characteristic, for instance they’re pregnant, they have physical or mental disabilities etc, the law requires us to look at that individual or, where it is a group, that group of individuals and assess the risk to them and take any reasonably practicable steps to control the risk to them.

Risk control hierarchy is key. In “normal” businesses we reduce our Covid-19 risk by keeping people away from the workplace – “avoid, eliminate and substitute” then changing work practices (e.g. social distancing measures) before we arrive at PPE. In a healthcare context, we arrive at PPE a lot more quickly.

We need to ensure our people are given sufficient information, instruction and training so they can do their jobs safely and we must consult workers and involve them in workplace safety – this is going to be critical in the context of Covid-19.

I don’t live in the same home as my child’s other parent. Can my child move between each house?

If you are separated from your child’s other parent, government guidance about self-isolation and social distancing may have an impact on the contact arrangements that are in place and give rise to disagreements about spending time with the other parent, travelling arrangements and whether the child should continue to go to school, where one of the parents is a key worker and a school place is available.

The government has issued guidance which makes it clear that where parents do not live in the same household, children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

Cafcass has also issued guidance which states that, “unless there are justified medical/self-isolation issues – or some future nationally issued guidance or expectation associated with leaving the house in your area – children should maintain their usual routine of spending time with each of their parents. If there is a Child Arrangements Order in place this should be complied with unless to do so would put your child, or others, at risk”.  The guidance from Cafcass be accessed here.

Forcing annual leave

Employers have a statutory right to require employees to take annual leave at their direction, subject to providing staff with notice equal to at least double the length of the leave that you are directing them to take (e.g. 10 days’ notice for five days leave). However, this measure is not likely to achieve any urgent cost savings or alleviate immediate cash-flow pressure as holidays would need to be paid.

Clearly, annual leave can be taken on furlough so you could have staff on furlough and annual leave.

What about office holders?

Office holders who provide services under an intermediary (such as a service company consultancy agreement) and whose services relate to the office held, would fall under the IR35 regime and must be assessed accordingly.