Four councils in east Kent, including Thanet, have had notice issued against them by a government regulator after it was revealed that hundreds of council property tenants across east Kent had been awaiting gas safety certificates due to overdue Landlord Gas Safety Register assessments.
It then emerged that there were also grave concerns over potential further issues with electrical certification, lifts, fire safety and legionella testing.
Today (September 11) Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Thanet District Council have each been issued with a Regulatory Notice by the Regulator of Social Housing.
The four councils referred themselves to the regulator after the backlog of gas safety certificates and a number of other health and safety problems emerged earlier this year when East Kent Housing (EKH), which manages council housing on their behalf, received notice from its gas safety contractor that it was terminating its contract.
EKH told Thanet council that at the end of March 2019 there were 19 isle properties with an overdue LGSR. These were understood to relate to access difficulties and EKH were instructed to resolve the cases as soon as possible.
In May EKH advised verbally that all 19 had been completed, although that turned out to be incorrect. EKH have alleged that P&R provided them with false information about the 19 cases.
By May 20 Thanet had 133 properties without the correct gas safety certification. This was eventually brought down to 10 at the start of July.
Gas safety inspections are now up to date across all four areas.
Auditors from the East Kent Audit Partnership have found progress has been made on fixing problems with faulty emergency lighting, the carrying out of electrical safety checks, fixing faults found in lift inspections and taking action following regular legionella risk assessments.
Progress has also been made on tackling the issues highlighted in fire risk assessments.
In a statement, the four council Chief Executives said: “When we discovered the extent of the health and safety compliance problems at EKH, we reported ourselves to the Regulator for Social Housing.
“We have cooperated fully with their investigation and kept them fully informed on the progress we have made. We will continue to do so.
“As each of these failings has emerged, our immediate priority has been the safety and welfare of those tenants affected and it continues to be so.
“We have taken direct action to work with EKH to put the problems right as quickly as possible and we are in the process of commissioning our own expert independent investigation into the issues.
“All four councils are exploring the future of EKH with a view to ensuring those living in our properties are kept safe and receive the best possible service.
“We appreciate the patience and understanding of our tenants and we are sorry for any extra worry the situation we have found ourselves in has caused.”
In July it emerged that Thanet and the other three councils had “sought joint legal advice and could pursue criminal action” if overcharging by the contractor “would constitute fraud.”
The overpayments centre on:
£530k – This sum has been acknowledged and accepted by P&R and is being set off against contract payments.
£353k – EKH have advised that this sum was being treated as a payment on account/payment in advance and that P&R would inspect all properties at the next service visit, evidence work carried out and provide the certification required under the contracts. However the early termination of the contract meant that this was insufficient time to complete this work and this amount is now viewed as an overpayment, although it is disputed by P&R.
£596k – EKH advised that this sum related to services, such as co-located administrators and resident liaison officers, where evidence of the service had not been provided. P&R strongly disputes this sum and have argued that these services were provided, from a different location.
Work is currently being undertaken by Swale Heating.
An appraisal of the options for the future of EKH will be presented to councillors at the four authorities in the coming months.