Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase One Grenfell report offered a comprehensive review of the horrific incident with a number of criticisms and recommendations. The Government have also committed to bringing in various legislation to help to ensure that such an incident can never occur again.
Whilst Phase One focused on the causes of the fire, how it spread and how the emergency services reacted, there are a number of points that all of us in the housing sector need to take in and react to. Phase Two, which recently began in January 2020, will certainly highlight even more recommendations for our sector, but with the media and public focus very rightly continuing to be on housing, the time to act is now.
Impact of Hackitt and Moore-Bick’s reports
The lessons and changes needed after such a disaster as Grenfell are wide-ranging and significant. The Government has already vowed to implement the recommendations in Moore-Bick’s first report as well as providing funding, although to what extent remains as yet unclear.
However, the pressure on local authorities to carry out the recommendations in a timely manner is huge and for some local authorities already struggling to maintain properties, the extra pressure to undertake urgent fire assessments and any associated work could lead to a collapse of other front-line services and leave their tenants in a repairs and maintenance limbo. Indeed, Birmingham City Council, which has 10% of the country’s publicly owned high-rise blocks, has already warned that the £93m that it will have to spend on fire safety measures within its properties as a result of the recommendations of the reports will force them to cut back on basic repairs.
Another impact is to rightly keep housing and housing standards at the forefront of the media and political agenda. The horrific nature of the Grenfell fire means that any incident that looks anything like it will likely garner unprecedented press attention. The November fire at student accommodation in Bolton highlights this. What in all likelihood would have remained a local story pre-Grenfell was suddenly very much a national one, with the housing provider under heavy scrutiny.
What can local authorities and the housing sector do?
So, with the housing sector and local authorities already struggling with day-to-day maintenance of properties, adding the extra strain of implementing the recommendations from the reports is on the face of it, an impossible task. The increase in public, media and central government attention nevertheless means that housing providers should act now as they cannot afford to get it wrong.
In the days and months after the fire it became clear that tenants had warned of the risk of fire, but their warnings were allegedly “brushed away” by the council and tenant management organisation, a criticism that can be all too common in the housing sector. This apparent reluctance to engage with tenants is one of the many lessons all of those operating within the housing sector must ensure changes.
The level of ‘customer experience’ that tenants are receiving from across a range of services mean that their expectations are now higher than ever, and effective communication between tenant and housing association, council or other authority is a very basic but fundamental lesson that has to be learnt from the Grenfell disaster.
Acting before regulations are brought in
With so many regulations likely to be brought in over the next few years it will be crucial that housing providers act quickly and proactively. Implementing changes now, rather than waiting till regulations are brought in, will allow housing providers to better plan for the future.
The two main areas of focus the housing sector can act on following the Phase One recommendations are lifts, and the need for a working ‘take-control’ mechanism for the Fire Brigade, and fire doors, where Moore-Bick has recommended urgent inspections and three-monthly checks going forwards to ensure that they are always up to standard. The Government has already committed to implementing the recommendations in full and without delay – just with these two areas in the initial report, housing providers are under real pressure.
Technology playing a role
With so many changes beyond the day-to-day challenges housing providers are already experiencing, it is clear that they are going to need some form of additional support. This is where technology can play such an important role by managing and evidencing their compliance responsibilities, as well as ensuring that the day-to-day activity continues, scheduled as efficiently as possible, alongside these new requirements.
Without technology, many housing providers will struggle to keep up with the increasingly complex and stringent regulatory landscape, let alone being proactive. Technological support can also help housing providers better manage their day-to-day activities, helping to deliver more effective communication and better customer service – this in itself can alleviate many of the major concerns emanating from tenants and regulators alike.
What is ultimately clear though is that we all need to be proactive in our approach to the reports and investigations, to ensure the safety of tenants and the reputation of our industry.
Oneserve’s job scheduling software enables those operating within the housing sector to efficiently plan their repairs and maintenance work, recording job progress along the way to create a full audit trail for compliance purposes. To find out how our solution can support your organisation, please give our friendly team a call on 01392 354 336.