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26 June 2020

Safety first for housing

Safety first for housing
Community Housing Cymru has published a Safety Transparency Offer to support housing associations to achieve and maintain a transparent approach to health and safety matters with their residents. Gareth Davis, Health and Safety Manager at Wales & West Housing, talks about what the offer will mean for them, and how they got involved with its development.

“Wales & West Housing (WWH) owns more than 12,000 high quality, affordable homes in 15 local authority areas across Wales. These include more than 3,000 dedicated properties for older people as well as innovative supported housing solutions for people with a range of particular needs. Our vision is to achieve strong, sustainable growth to make a difference in people’s lives, homes, and communities.

A key element of that vision is providing and maintaining a safe and healthy environment for our residents. I was therefore delighted to be invited along with a few other housing associations and Welsh Government’s Head of Building Safety Programme, Clare Severn, to represent WWH in a CHC working group to create a Safety Transparency Offer (STO) for the sector.

It was clear from the beginning of this project that the aims and objectives across the sector are similar - providing safe and healthy environments in which their residents can thrive. There is of course some variance in the approaches we each take to achieve this, and rightly so. We wanted this voluntary offer to not be overly restrictive, but rather to create a framework for all landlords to achieve and maintain minimum standards for health and safety. We wanted the offer to not be so prescriptive as to dictate how that must happen. We think the offer enables each RSL to tailor their specific approach to meet their own and their resident’s needs.

Resident engagement was a key point of discussion throughout the process. The learnings from the horrific tragedy at Grenfell Tower shows how important it is that residents’ concerns can be heard and that landlords are well equipped and committed to remedying issues quickly. We feel the offer enables us to be responsive in dealing with safety related concerns from residents but at the same time empowers residents to make sure their voices are heard too.

Defining what the STO should cover was a key part of our discussions and deliberations. The field of health & safety has many ‘grey’ edges and can include wellbeing, anti-social behaviour, and security matters as well as the traditionally recognised landlord safety risk areas such as fire, gas, asbestos, electrical safety etc. We believe we have defined the purpose sufficiently to focus on the key landlord health & safety matters without being unnecessarily prescriptive and at the same time making it clear that matters such as security are not included within the scope.

We believe the framework allows RSLs to determine how best to implement the offer as appropriate for our own stock and residents. At WWH we have compared the STO against the arrangements currently in place and feel that only relatively minor changes to our current operations are required - these being mainly around the type and timeliness of communications with residents. I think this demonstrates that already responsible landlords will see the offer as a good framework to continue to maintain safe homes whilst also steering further improvement in a consistent way across the sector.

Having rented properties myself in the past, I can say with conviction that not all private landlords have the same approach to landlord health & safety as most RSLs do. I would hope therefore that, as part of the response to the Hackitt Report and the current focus on safety issues in the sector, the work we have put into this offer can be used in the future to help frame expectations on the entire rented sector.”

View the Safety Transparency Offer here.