Are you managing to comply with gas safety regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As the Regulator publishes the results of its second monthly survey since lockdown restrictions were imposed, it is quite clear that the sector is generally continuing to maintain service delivery. However, a higher number of providers are reporting that access for gas safety checks is becoming more of an issue and that backlogs of safety checks are likely to continue to rise.
In the current pandemic, social landlords remain required to meet their statutory inspection obligations.
To assist you in meeting the requirements, we have drawn together some of the key issues and best practices that should be adopted to help you keep-up-to date with recent developments.
This e-bulletin sets out the position as at 9 June 2020 and highlights with some of the frequently asked questions following our “Ask the Expert” Webinar hosted by Gas Tag, in partnership with ourselves and Morgan Lambert.
It is quite clear that the biggest issue currently being faced is that of tenants refusing to provide access as a result of self-isolating or shielding. Other concerns include:
- for those landlords reporting resource shortages - how best to prioritise the inspections, and should they be trying to obtain the services of external engineers where they are unable to utilise their internal contractors
- what information should be kept on file in relation to risk assessments and breached certificates, and
- what should landlords be doing by way of enforcement.
The Regulator has maintained its position throughout the pandemic that Gas Safety Inspections should be undertaken and certification should remain compliant.
Best practice tips
Access to properties
Landlords unable to gain access due to self-isolation or shielding should undertake a risk assessment of the property to include:
- age and type of appliance
- details of previous maintenance work carried out to the appliance
- breakdown history
- presence of CO2 alarms, and
- whether the tenant is considered vulnerable for reasons other than risk from COVID-19, and if that risk is now exacerbated.
The tenant should be written to and it should be explained that appropriate precautions will be applied, such as full PPE. You should advise that once access is provided, the tenant should isolate in a room or garden where possible, to comply with social distancing measures, and explain that refusing access is both a breach of their tenancy agreement and a statutory requirement. If access is not provided, court action may follow. After all, even if someone is self-isolating, there is nothing to stop them arranging access at a future date.
The advice from government states that work can still be carried out where tenants are clinically vulnerable. This includes essential maintenance, repair works and landlord safety checks. It goes on to say that workers should be particularly vigilant in respect of social distancing and good hygiene when working in the homes of the clinically vulnerable. In conclusion, shielding and self-isolating are irrelevant in the terms of being able to carry out work - it’s just the way it should be carried out that’s different.
The use of external engineers
The HSE guidance advises that, if necessary, landlords should take all reasonable steps to secure the services of external engineers to undertake inspections. It advises landlords that evidence should be kept on file on what efforts have been made to secure engineer services, and how inspections have been prioritised.
To protect the social landlords’ position insofar as possible from a regulatory perspective, in the event that a breach occurs, all of the above information should be kept on the ‘house’ file and made available to the Regulator as necessary.
There are tools available for landlords to ensure compliance, and these should be used as and when appropriate. With all statutory Notices for Possession now extended to three months and the stay on all possession proceedings being extended by PD51Z to 23 August 2020, it is quite clear that these Notices are an ineffective tool to deal with gas compliance.
Access injunctions are still being issued and dealt with by the courts. Once the application has issued, the landlord can satisfy the Regulator - provided the application is been made before the certificate expires - that all reasonable measures have been undertaken to remain compliant.
The Regulator has been clear that it expects social landlords to remain compliant throughout the pandemic period and encourages landlords to be transparent and self-report instances of failed compliance with the statutory requirements.
On that basis, risk assessment documentation is therefore likely to be an important and crucial part of any process that will influence the Regulator’s decisions in respect of failed compliance.
How can we help?
Our national Housing Management team continues to track COVID-19 developments closely and provide support to our clients as they navigate a rapidly-evolving operating environment.
Our Gas Safety Toolkit can also assist in easing the administration, surrounding gas injunction applications.
If you would like advice or to discuss any of these issues with us, please feel free to contact a member of our team.
For further support and advice relating to the impact of COVID-19, please view our COVID-19 Advisory Service page.