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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 I still have my domestic gas appliances tested during the coronavirus outbreak?

Yes. The Health and Safety Executive has stated (as quoted from the Gas safe register site):

“Landlords have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition, to ensure an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue, and to keep a record of each safety check.

“If you anticipate difficulties in gaining access as the Covid-19 situation progresses, you have the flexibility to carry out annual gas safety checks two months before the deadline date. Landlords can have the annual gas safety checks at their properties carried out any time from 10 to 12 calendar months after the previous check and still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check.

“You are encouraged to arrange your annual gas safety checks as early as possible, as a contingency against tenants being in self-isolation for 14 days (in line with current guidelines), or gas engineers being unavailable due to illness. The two-month period to carry out annual gas safety checks should provide adequate resilience in most situations.

“In the event you are unable to gain access to the property, e.g. persistent refusal of access due to vulnerable tenants self-isolating, you will be expected to be able to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to comply with the law, and that you are seeking to arrange the safety check as soon as all parties are able. This will need to include records of communication with the tenant, and details of your engineers attempts to gain access.”

Many Registered Providers have been suspending all gas and electrical testing where internal access is required, continuing checks in communal areas and are carrying out emergency repairs only, whilst void works are suspended and staff are working from home. This does not comply with the legislation, or the guidance.

Alternatives to redundancy toolkit

We have developed a Toolkit to help with these issues. The Toolkit contains:

  • LO1 How to Guide: Lay off and short time working
  • LO2 Letter directing employee to take annual leave
  • LO3 Letter confirming lay off (contractual right)
  • LO4 Letter confirming short time working (contractual right)
  • LO5 Letter proposing lay off (no contractual right)
  • LO6 Letter proposing short time working (no contractual right)
  • LO7 Counter notice disputing entitlement to claim redundancy payment
  • LO8 Script for announcing lay off or short time working (contractual right)
  • LO9 Script for announcing lay off or short time working (no contractual right)
  • LO10 Letter proposing reduction in working hours and pay

The cost of this Toolkit is £500 plus vat. If you would like to find out more about the Toolkit, please speak to your usual Ward Hadaway employment contact, or get in touch one of the contacts at the bottom of this page.

Can I progress an application for EIA development?

Where a development is considered to be “EIA development” (being development where an Environmental Impact Assessment or Environmental Statement is required to be submitted) there are additional statutory publicity and notice requirements over and above the requirements for a standard planning application. Regulations usually require that the environmental statement is to be made available for inspection by the public at all reasonable hours at an address in the locality for a period of at least 30 days. Copies of the environmental statement are also to be made available for people to take away from that address. This clearly requires physical copies to be available at a specified location for a prolonged period of time, which may prove problematic during the current health crisis.

New regulations came into effect on 14 May 2020 which will temporarily suspend the above requirements and will instead require the Environmental Statement to be available for inspection online. The applicant must however provide a certificate to the Local Planning Authority stating what steps have been undertaken to bring the application (and the Environmental Statement) to the attention of people who are likely to have an interest and why it considers that such steps were reasonable.

I have essential workers who do home visits. How do I assess the risks?

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.

Do I have to quarantine for 14 days when arriving in the UK?

From 8 June 2020, people entering the UK from overseas (excluding those entering from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man) must comply with a mandatory 14 day quarantine period. However, for those travelling to England, a number of country specific exemptions have been introduced.

A full list of the countries excluded from the quarantine provisions can be found on the gov.uk website which change on a regular basis, often on short notice.

Where a quarantine period does apply, a person will not be able to leave the place they are staying in for 14 days, except in some very limited circumstances.

These rules will apply to both British and foreign nationals, however there are some further exemptions to this rule where a person is coming to the UK to undertake a certain role (such as a healthcare professional coming to the UK to provide essential healthcare). A full list of the narrow exemptions can be found on the gov.uk website.

Before travelling, individuals will be asked to provide their contact details and information about their journey and the accommodation that they will be self-isolating in. To do this, individuals will need to fill in an online form on the gov.uk website. Individuals who refuse to fill in this form may be fined £100 and/or denied entry at the UK border should they not be a British citizen or UK resident.

The information provided in the form will ensure that the Government can check that an individual is self-isolating at the address given. Where an individual refuses to self-isolate they can be fined £1,000 if they are staying in England or Wales.

Once visa application centres re-open overseas and UK visa applications are processed, this 14 day period will need to be taken into consideration and may require employment start dates in the UK to be delayed.