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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

I would like to make a Lasting Power of Attorney. How do I and my Attorney(s) get our signatures witnessed and who can be my Certificate Provider?

As with a Will, your solicitor can take instructions by telephone, Skype or a similar tool. Your solicitor can then post or email the documentation to you. As with Wills, your signature and those of your proposed Attorneys will need to be witnessed, but in this case only by one other person. However, there are specific requirements as to who can witness your signature. The witness must be aged 18 or older and cannot be your Attorney but they can be your Certificate Provider.

Your Certificate Provider must either be someone you have known personally for at least two years or an appropriate professional. However, they must not be your Attorney and they must not be a member of your family or the partner, boyfriend or girlfriend of a member of your family or a business partner or employee of yours.

Also, if you are living in a care home, the Certificate Provider cannot be the owner, manager, director or employee of the home you live in.

Given the current restrictions on movement, if you have regular medical checks you could ask your GP or another medical professional to witness your signature and act as your Certificate Provider when you go to see them or they come to you. Alternatively, if someone you have known for two years or more is dropping off essentials, they could act as a witness and Certificate Provider remembering to retain the necessary distance and protective measures.

Concerning your Attorney(s) you cannot act as their witness. Otherwise, anyone aged 18 or older can act as their witness, including the other Attorney. Ideally, a witness to your or your Attorney’s signatures should not be a family member for the sake of impartiality and to avoid disputes. If necessary they can be.

What are the limitations of furloughing staff for publicly funded organisations?

The guidance from the Government concerning private sector organisations is very different from the guidance for public sector and organisations that receive public funding. The guidance states:

“The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs. Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to Covid-19 are not expected to furlough staff.”

This guidance isn’t particularly clear but it appears that there is a recognition that there are different types of organisations which could be caught by this:

  1. Organisations who will be required to provide frontline services during the Covid-19 response. It is interpreted that NHS organisations such as NHS Trusts will fall firmly into this category. Employees of such organisations are expected not to be furloughed and to continue to work and be paid their normal salary in the usual way.
  2. Organisations who receive public funding to provide services to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. These organisations are not expected to furlough their staff. The type of organisation that would fit into this category are those that have been commissioned to developing breathing apparatus or testing kits to meet the needs of the healthcare sector during the peak of the pandemic.
  3. Organisations who receive public funds for staff costs to operate services. Employers are expected to continue to pay staff if the money to pay them is publicly funded. It is strongly inferred that this is irrespective of whether such staff have any work to perform. The type of organisation that is likely to fall into this category are GP practices, charities and private sector companies that have won contracts with the public sector.
What was the eligibility criteria for the Government’s self-employment income support scheme?

You will be eligible if you are a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and you:

  • have trading profits of up to £50,000
  • earn the majority of your income from self-employment
  • have submitted a Tax Return for 2019
  • have traded in the tax year 2019/20
  • are trading when you apply for a grant, or would be except for Covid-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020/2021
  • have lost trading/partnership profits due to Covid-19

 

How can workers get to work safely?

The Government’s guidance says walk, cycle or drive to work and avoid public transport if you can. Businesses will need to support workers in adopting alternative travel methods to reduce exposure to the virus. You could consider staggering start and finish times for shifts to reduce commuting during peak hours, or support cycling with secure storage facilities and a drying room.

What is the penalty for failing to comply with the individual consultation obligations?

Failure to comply with the individual consultation obligations could render the dismissal unfair and expose you to a financial penalty of the lower of up to 1 years gross pay or the maximum statutory limit (currently £88,519).