Questions raised over prior knowledge of East Kent Housing safety failings at council properties

Council homes

Questions over how long four east Kent councils – including Thanet – have been aware of health and safety failings in authority owned properties and whether Health & Safety Executive prosecutions could be brought were raised at a Thanet Cabinet meeting last night (December 16).

Failings within East Kent Housing’s management of properties owned by Thanet, Dover, Canterbury and Folkestone & Hythe councils came to light earlier this year when 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 grave concerns over issues with electrical certification, lifts, fire safety, asbestos management and legionella testing.

A damning report by Pennington Choices, published by the four councils last week, resulted in the dismissal of the EKH board and replacement by the four council chief executives.

The report says the authorities could be open to prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive for breaching safety legislation due to 543 communal blocks and 7,966 individual homes still being without valid Electrical Inspection Condition Reports.

Breach

The report states: “The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requires the electrical installation in a rented property is safe when the tenancy begins and maintained in a safe condition throughout the tenancy. In order to demonstrate compliance with this (and other legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and Housing Act 2004, etc.), the four councils must adopt periodic electrical inspection and testing programmes for all of their properties.

“Since there are currently 543 communal blocks and 7966 domestic properties which do not have a valid Electrical Inspection Condition Report, they are in breach of the legislation, and are subsequently at risk of a range of sanctions including prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive.”

In Thanet there are 2119 residential properties that are non-compliant and 409 that are not on an electrical programme. For communal blocks 111 are non-compliant and  62 are not on a programme.

Asbestos

The Pennington report also reveals there is a danger of prosecution by the HSE due to a lack of asbestos management plans for 715 communal blocks and 327 older surveys of poor quality which do not adequately identify the asbestos risks.

In Thanet 144 communal blocks do not have an AMS, 54 are not on an asbestos programme and 64 have plans drawn up before 2017. For residential properties in Thanet there are 2246 that do not have an AMS and two that are not on an asbestos programme.

Although EKH is responsible for managing the properties ultimate responsibility lies with the councils which own the properties.

Prior knowledge?

During last night’s meeting Cllr Stuart Piper urged council leader Rick Everitt to meet with former Thanet councillor Suzanne Brimm, who first raised electrical safety issues at council-owned homes back in 2017.

Cllr Piper questioned whether it was “wise” for the chief executives to sit on the EKH board in light of apparent prior knowledge of the issues via Ms Brimm, an electrical engineer by trade. He said: “I have in front of me a letter addressed to the monitoring officer from two years ago raising exactly those (electrical certificate) issues.”

He added that if not appropriate for the officers to be on the EKH board, it should be rectified as: “We must be seen to be completely above reproach.”

During the meeting Ms Brimm interrupted proceedings to say Thanet’s management team had been aware of the certificate failings since 2017 and an investigation into that prior knowledge should be carried out.

She added: “They have known about this for two years and they did not put tenant safety as a priority, instead they came after the whistleblower.”

Investigation

In February The Isle of Thanet News print edition revealed Ms Brimm had been investigating for two years why a £3.5million contract to install kitchens and bathrooms in social housing across Thanet was axed and important electrical safety certificates destroyed.

Ms Brimm requested information on what had been actioned to ensure the electrical safety for tenants in properties across Ramsgate, Birchington, Westgate, Minster, Garlinge and Margate, what financial probity was carried out and what serious safety issues were that resulted in a contract with Lakehouse PLC being terminated.

Paperwork passed to Ms Brimm showed £2.12 million was spent on installations at just over 300 properties but she said there was only evidence of 196 safety certificates being issued.

According to an email from Thanet council, seen by The Isle of Thanet News, safety certificates were available to be viewed by Ms Brimm from March 20 but were destroyed on March 31. Ms Brimm did not view the certificates during this time.

Thanet council disputed the housing figure given by Ms Brimm and said: “In a small number of cases where the company had failed to issue a safety certificate we subsequently reinspected these dwellings and issued certificates.”

Suzanne Brimm and her lawyer after she was taken to court Photo Alan Green

Ms Brimm says her whistleblowing was the reason for her dismissal from the then-UKIP Cabinet, formal reprimands, court cases brought against her – which resulted in acquittal – the removal of her government email account and visits to her home by police officers.

The issue was even highlighted in 2016 when the team at Shepway Vox shared information that had been sent to them via email highlighting properties that had not had the proper safety certification checks carried out. The team later published evidence about the East Kent Housing failings.

This year the catalogue of failings at EKH came to light and all four councils are now proposing to take management of authority properties back in-house.

Cllr Everitt, who said he would speak with Ms Brimm, said the appointment of the chief executives to the board was “an emergency measure (which) reflects the extent of concern that the councils and council officers have about the way East Kent Housing has been operating over a number of years,”

He added: “It is quite clear from the Pennington report that East Kent Housing is not fit for purpose.”

In a statement released last week, the Chief Executives of the four councils said: “While significant progress has been made on tackling health and safety issues and gas safety checks are now up to date, the new board will be better placed to direct resources to tackle the issues raised.”

A resident consultation over plans to axe arrangements with East Kent Housing is now underway. In October Cabinet members approved moves to get views on plans to bring council properties back in-house.

The consultation closes on December 20 and the outcome will be reported to Cabinet early in the new year.

Find the consultation on East Kent Housing and future options here

17 Comments

  1. I’ve queried the fire safety standards for over 5 years, legionella EKH said they didn’t need to do maybe 4 years ago. But seeing as they should have had fire risk assessments in place from when they took over from the councils they’ve known since 2011. But the convenient get out of delaying works until “major works” took place in buildings has been their excuse and another reason why other works were put back.

  2. But the chief executives met EKH and the company is registered at companies House…. EKH…. IS ACTIVE COMPANY and those councilors involved were in the know seen the documents

  3. Throwers and hamlins
    Offshore leaks
    7side Ltd offshore

    Your 4 councils have been money laundering

    They are offshore companies.

  4. It looks like yet another attempt to semi-privatise a vital local service, and to continue to starve it of funds , has come unstuck. How many more dodgy deals are going to come to light? Trying to run public services on the cheap never works. Though it can SEEM to work long enough for the Party responsible to get re-elected into government.

  5. I think Stuart Piper is the only one who’s asking the right questions. Although wasn’t he housing minister. Good for Susanne Brimm she was close to the knuckle. But I doubt the chief exec would have done this report if they knew how bad it is so maybe they relied on what other officers told them. It’s the tenants I feel sorry for

  6. TDC set up East Kent Housing with the other councils. Set big savings targets. Starved them of funds. Had their councillors on the board. Had their senior managers acting as “intelligent clients” (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) and are now trying to push all the blame on EKH. I’m glad proper focus and scrutiny is going on TDCs role in all this. They have known about these issues for years but ignored them. They are equally culpable and this needs to be properly investigated.

  7. It is complete incompetence of TDC not to take matters in hand if they new back in 2017 about EKH and the electrical certificates non existence. What with the gas and fire safety certificates not being done/checks being made. I wonder if it is lawful for serving councilors to be on a board of a company used by the council for servicing/maintenance of all of its property’s looking at it it seems to me someone or more than one person are covering up there’s or someone else’s mistakes or they are making money out of this. I know that there are a few good people on council and some hard workers who are trying to sort out the waste. Find wherever the money trail is going and you will have sorted it. Council should be open with everything not closed door/back door dealing with back handers.

  8. Brimm was not the instigator back in 2017, that was The Shepwayvox Team. As a Thanet tenant, I contacted them as Brimm had kicked back on my and others orignial approach to her. It was the Shepwayvox Team who got Brimm to act. There is documentary evidence, please stop spinning untruths.

    • Hi, the report does not contain untruths, it says what Suzanne Brimm did. I have spoken to Shepway Vox and will add that the action was taken at their request when they have sent me the relevant info (the team are just sorting this). (I have seen paperwork and evidence of Ms Brimm’s actions during the course of 2017-19)

  9. I’ve just completed the consultation regarding the councils plans for EKH and even on this TDC is playing games, where respondents are asked what three items form a list are most important, there is no box for compliance with legislation, no doubt they will say its covered by repairs and maintenance , but given the need for the consultation has arisen due to specific failures on legislation having no option for this is pure manipulation of the consultation process.

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