Covid-19: repairs and maintenance - Q&A briefing

(Article last updated on 31 March 2020) Q. What should landlords do about repairs and maintenance during the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions?

Q. What should landlords do about repairs and maintenance during the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions?

A. MHCLG has published advice confirming that landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards. There is no reason to allow dangerous conditions to persist. Where reasonable and safe, and in line with other Government guidance, landlords should make every effort to review and address issues notified by their tenants, and keep records of their efforts. Landlords can find further guidance on visiting properties to make repairs in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance. Such work can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms. However, it is important to ensure that Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a 2 metre distance from any household occupants, are followed to ensure everyone’s safety.

Landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions. Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit blocks of flats and multi-occupied properties for essential or urgent work such as inspecting and testing fire alarm and emergency lighting systems.

The MHCLG advice clarifies what could be viewed as urgent health and safety issues, explaining that they are those which will affect a tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):

  • If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
  • If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water − If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
  • If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely
  • If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
  • If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair.

No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.

No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

To avoid unnecessary contact between people, it would seem appropriate to postpone all non-essential repairs and maintenance work during the Covid-19 restrictions. One nursing home has already implemented such a policy.

Since Government guidance and restrictions are being updated daily, landlords should keep their repairs and maintenance policies and procedures under review and risk assess them.

 

Q. What about landlords’ legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections? Will they be prosecuted if they cannot get access?

Landlords should make every effort to abide by the gas safety regulations. There are provisions in the regulations to account for situations in which a landlord cannot do this. They must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law, such as keeping copies of all communications they have had with their tenants. The Government is encouraging local authorities and other enforcement agencies to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to enforcement in these unprecedented times. HSE has published guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors in relation to the current Covid-19 restrictions. Landlords may also want to document other evidence they have that the installation, appliance or flue is in a good condition while they attempt to arrange works.

 

Q. How should emergency and response repairs be handled?

A.  Any emergency or response repairs requests should be risk assessed to determine the appropriate response in terms of the resident’s and operatives’ health and safety. For those repairs essential to ensure resident’s health and safety, such as a boiler not working or water leaks, there is a responsibility on the landlord to ensure they are carried out unless there is an unacceptable health and safety risk.

Landlords should develop a policy, based on risk assessments, for how they will deal with each emergency and response repair. This should include the criteria against which repairs can be assessed and also the risks to both residents and operatives. This policy should be kept under review as Government guidance and regulations change.

One gas servicing contractor has advised its clients that, in response to Covid-19, its service desk will ask if there is anyone in the property who is self-isolating before attending. Where anyone in the property is self-isolating, the appointment might be rescheduled. Its engineers have been provided with a means of washing their hands between each visit and they are monitoring their health daily.

 

Q. What approach should be taken in dealing with emergency and response repairs for residents in self-isolation?

A. A risk assessment should be carried out taking account of the landlord’s policy and the criteria for assessing repairs (see above). This should also include an assessment of what work is required and whether it can be carried out without contact with residents. For example, can the residents be moved from the room in which the repair is required and should the surfaces be cleaned before the operatives enter?

 

Q. How should contractors and operatives approach repairs?

A. A risk assessment should be carried out to determine what PPE operatives should use and hygiene procedures, such as hand-washing, they should follow. This should be based on Government guidance, taking account of whether any of the residents has the virus. Identify any operatives who are in high-risk groups 2 and 3 because they should not come into contact with residents. In addition, any operatives who have travelled abroad or use public transport or with children, could pose a risk of transferring infection to residents.

 

Q. What procedures should response repairs contractors and teams have in place?

A. Contractors or in-house operatives should have written procedures as to how to follow Government guidelines about passing on or avoiding infection. They should have training so that they understand these procedures and should be provided with the required PPE.

 

Q. What should landlords with extra care and care homes do?

A. In addition to the approaches explained above, landlords, contractors and operatives need to carry out risk assessments for the specific situation of any emergency or response repair. For example, where a resident is self-isolated in the room where the repair needs to be carried out, then the resident could be moved to another room and their room deep-cleaned by the care home staff before the operatives enter. Where residents do not have the virus, operatives need to follow the procedures to avoid passing any infection on to these residents, most of whom will be in Groups 2 or 3.

 

Q. What have the Regulators advised about repairs and maintenance?

A. The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has paused its programme of In-Depth Assessments of registered providers. RSH expects all registered providers to prepare for the potential impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on residents, staff, contractors and suppliers. In doing so, ensure that you are following the latest advice and guidance from the Government and Public Health England available at gov.uk/coronavirus.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced that it will be stopping routine inspections from Monday 16 March.

With regard to compliance and gas safety, landlords should document their policy is in relation to gas safety checks in response to Covid-19, particularly if the annual safety checks are due before the Autumn. They should keep full records of their attempts to gain access to demonstrate an audit trail to the regulator.

 

Q. How can I keep up to date?

A. UK government has published advice on dealing with Coronavirus (COVID-19) for employers, health care professionals and other organisations, as well as advice on how to reduce the risk of infection. In view of the fast-changing situation, the government is making daily announcements and landlords should check the government’s current advice regularly. To ensure you get the latest briefings you should sign up for Government Coronavirus alerts.

 

Q. Where to find more information and industry responses?

A. Knights plc has published advice for Registered Providers on Repairs, maintenance and gas servicing on some of the issue they need to consider. For further information contact: Head of Housing Management, Melanie Dirom (e: mailto:Melanie.dirom@knightsplc.com T: 07929 756583)

Anthony Collins solicitors has produced a client briefing that includes advice on delivering essential repairs, where very little can be done to avoid face to face contact with the tenant and/or members of the household. In such situations an employer needs to consider the health and safety of its employees and/or contractors. They have also published some Ebriefings on their Newsroom Page.

Housing Technology has set up an open-to-all blogging service so that anyone involved in technology in the sector can share their tips, best practices, ideas and recommendations for using technology to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak on staff and tenants. This blog is specific to housing IT and is not a forum for publishing ‘generic’ information or advice relating to the coronavirus nor for promoting/selling IT products or services.

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