Safety check and risk assessment failings for hundreds of Welwyn Hatfield council houses

Cllr Fiona Thomson, WHBC executive member for housing and climate change,

Cllr Fiona Thomson, WHBC executive member for housing and climate change, has apologised to council tenants and leaseholders for not meeting all their responsibilities under the Home Standard. - Credit: WHBC

Major failings in legally required safety checks have been identified in relation to hundreds of homes owned by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

The council has failed to meet statutory health and safety requirements in relation to fire, water, electrical and asbestos safety.

The government Regulator of Social Housing told WHBC the breach of the Home Standard - which requires landlords to ensure the health and safety of people living in their houses - meant there was the potential for serious detriment to their tenants.

Failings included:

  • Fire safety - Around 90 per cent of buildings had an overdue fire risk assessment, and there were thousands of remedial actions identified in 2018 which had not been completed, around half of which had been given the highest risk rating and needed to be done immediately.
  • Electrical safety - Hundreds of properties have never been inspected, while others have not been inspected for more than a decade.
  • Asbestos safety - More than a hundred re-inspections and reviews of communal areas overdue.
  • Water safety - Hundreds of properties did not have a compliant Legionella Risk Assessment.

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WHBC's new chief executive Ka Ng has now written to affected tenants to apologise for their failings in not making sure the checks and inspections were carried out, and explained how individual homes were affected.

Ka Ng chief executive of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

Chief executive of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, Ka Ng. - Credit: WHBC

She said: "Once the issues came to light, we referred the matter to the Regulator of Social Housing and we have been working hard to bring our compliance up to date. The majority of issues identified have now been addressed."

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But the situation has been slated by opposition councillors as "criminal negligence", accusing WHBC of an "utter and abject failure" in undertaking the legally required safety checks a landlord must carry out.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Paul Zukowskyj.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Paul Zukowskyj. - Credit: Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Paul Zukowskyj said: “Almost two years ago I challenged the council about electrical safety certificates and was assured all was in hand. I was misled. This council has failed the public, failed its tenants and failed to obey the law.

“This is literally criminal. I am unbelievably angry that this has been allowed to happen and yet the secrecy continues with details of how this could happen ‘still being investigated’.

“Our tenants deserve so much better than this. Our council should be leading by example, the only example here is one of criminal negligence.”

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe - Credit: Cllr Thorpe

Labour group leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe said: "For over a decade Labour councillors have raised serious concerns around the maintenance of our housing stock. Each time we were told by the Conservatives that everything was OK, these concerns - rightly raised by residents - were scaremongering and any issues that did exist were being dealt with.

"Now we know that was simply not the case, and that the many years of Conservative neglect has led to the mismanagement of Welwyn Hatfield's most valuable assets - not to mention the people who live in them.

"The most serious questions this raises are currently without answers. How could this happen, why did it happen and how can residents trust the people in charge of a council they elected, after this has happened?

"The Conservatives have let tenants, leaseholders and ultimately all council taxpayers down. They all deserve full and transparent answers to these questions as soon as possible."

Cllr Fiona Thomson, WHBC executive member for housing and climate change, said: “I want to apologise to our tenants and leaseholders for not meeting all our responsibilities under the Home Standard. This sets a requirement for social landlords to meet statutory compliance standards and it is clear we fell short of what is expected of us.

“We are committed to dealing with the issues quickly and referred them to the Regulator for Social Housing so we can address the situation swiftly.

“A programme is well underway to bring us up to date, including new systems, processes and staff in place to oversee compliance.

“There is no evidence of criminal negligence, the review taking place will identify exactly what has happened.  We are working closely with the regulator to understand this and to make sure we do everything possible to stop it from happening again.

“Our tenants and leaseholders will remain our top priority as we continue this important work."

Because WHBC has put a programme in place to rectify these failures and is making progress, the regulator will not be taking any statutory action, as it has been assured the breach of the standard is being remedied.

The regulator will be working with WHBC as it continues to address the issues which have led to this situation, including ongoing monitoring of how it delivers its programme.

WHBC tenants wanting more information are directed towards a comprehensive Q&A on these issues at www.welhat.gov.uk/housingcompliance and helpline on 0800 135 7125.

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