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Opinion: Safe as houses?

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Opinion: Safe as houses?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Health, Regulation

Birmingham City Council teams up with HSE to prevent chimney collapses Birmingham City Council teams up with HSE to prevent chimney collapses

By Phil Morgan, consultant and former TSA executive director for tenant services

The £50,000 fine for Blackpool Coastal Housing following the collapse of a balcony in 2012 is a sharp reminder of why it is important to ensure tenants safety. Tenants should not have to jump to safety nor be rescued from their flats by fire engines.

What’s worse is that tenants reported concerns in 2005 and reports on the condition of the balconies were received as long ago as 2007. This was playing Russian roulette with tenants’ lives.

When the Cave Report on housing regulation was published, tenant protection was one of its three themes. When the Tenant Services Authority consulted tenants about their priorities for regulation, health and safety was their second highest priority. As a consequence, there is a specific requirement that landlords “meet all applicable statutory requirements that provide for the health and safety of the occupants in their homes”.

The Localism Act has created a serious detrimental hurdle for the Home and Communities Agency when considering action on consumer standards, including health and safety. In the last few months, there have been three cases where the regulator has issued three serious detriment notices – all relating to gas safety. Tellingly, all have been issued to housing associations with a consequent reduction in their governance rating.

This case is different as it involves local authority-owned housing. The regulator has yet to issue any serious detriment notice to a local authority and tellingly proposed no charge to local authorities in their paper on fee charging. There are no governance ratings to be downgraded for local authorities and the focus on economic regulation means the regulator focus is fixed firmly on housing associations.

Council tenants may rightly ask: where is the regulator? Does the collapse of a balcony following years of knowing neglect and the £50,000 fine constitute ‘serious detriment’? And if so, will the regulator act to protect tenants?

The alternative is that council tenants really are second-class citizens, not protected by the regulator and unable to see action taken to ensure their safety.

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