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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.