Regulator flags health and safety compliance as major sector risk

The regulator wrote to all providers in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire reminding them of their responsibilities to comply with all relevant legislation.

And in the Sector Risk Profile, which sets out the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) views of the biggest risks facing the sector, health and safety of tenants was prominently flagged as a major issue.

“The recent tragic fire at Grenfell Tower re-emphasises the importance of all registered providers, both housing associations and local authorities, having comprehensive and effective systems in place to identify and manage all health and safety requirements which apply to their homes,” the document said.

Providers are currently scrambling to remove cladding from buildings and carry out fire safety improvements to high-rise buildings where necessary.

An Inside Housing investigation, published this morning, showed fire risk assessments on 436 tower blocks revealed a vast array of issues, with more than 60% registering problems with fire doors.

Yesterday, the regulator wrote to all housing associations saying it expects them to be able to meet the cost of upgrade works, but if it “presents a clear risk to viability” it must be bought to the attention of the regulator.

Before the Grenfell fire, housing associations found themselves under the spotlight this year due to repairs issues and problems in new build properties.

The profile added: “Even where a breach of the consumer standards does not lead to harm to tenants, the reputational damage from getting services to tenants seriously wrong or mishandling complaints can be serious and long lasting.

“It can take significant time, effort and resource to recover, to the detriment of achieving a registered provider’s other objectives.”

Jonathan Walters, deputy director of performance and strategy at the HCA, said the profile did not mark a wholesale change in the regulator’s approach to health and safety, which will continue to be viewed as part of the governance standard.

He added: “I think whenever we do an in-depth assessment, we will talk to providers about what the risks they are facing are. Health and safety is always on the risk register, and post-Grenfell it will likely be even higher up the list of things we discuss.”

The risk profile also emphasised economic risks, the increased impact of rent cut given higher inflation and risks relating to supported housing and development.

Its latest edition of Regulating the Standards, also released this morning, emphasised that providers will face governance downgrades should they fail to carry out proper stress testing.