It’s time for housing associations to open their books on health and safety, both for their tenants and their workers.
In one day (19th October) two worrying articles appeared in the press. Firstly, there was the evacuation of 1,059 homes in a Brentford tower block owned by Notting Hill Genesis due to safety concerns. The landlord became aware of some of the issues after carrying out inspections at least two years ago, following the tragic Grenfell fire. Despite this, students and families were allowed to take up tenancies.
Notting Hill Genesis: Putting Lives at Risk
Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) is one of the largest housing associations in South East England, with around 55,000 properties in London and a further 9,000 outside the capital. In total, it houses around 170,000 tenants and residents, and has a duty of care to keep them all safe, regardless of whether they are in a tower block, street dwelling, or student accommodation.
The association is also rich enough to do better than its recent track record. With operating surpluses standing at over £136 million, and operating margins at around 24% according to the association’s latest accounts, the landlord has sufficient resources to carry out sweeping checks and ensure that all tenants, residents and workers operate in a safe environment.
The board and executive appear to have dragged their feet on safety however and as a consequence, peoples’ lives have been put at risk.
The Guardian: Residents asked to leave London blocks immediately over safety concerns
One Housing Group Cancels Safety Inspections
Next, came revelations that One Housing Group (OHG), which had finally agreed to comply with a request by Unite (Union) for health and safety inspections after months of prevaracation, had reneged on the agreement and cancelled the inspections.
Their irresponsible actions suggest that the board and executive are in no hurry to find out what dangers their buildings pose to those who live or work in them.
Unite Housing Workers: One Housing Group Management Stop Safety Inspections
Like Notting Hill Genesis, OHG has plenty of money. Its operating surpluses top £46 million, and its margins would put many stock market companies to shame at around 21% according to their financial statement.
OHG has recently been one target of a high profile residents campaign to get cladding assessed and if necessary removed from tower blocks across the country. Calls it has steadfastly ignored.
Inside Housing: End Our Cladding Scandal
Yet with breathtaking hypocrisy, its website claims:
“We [OHG] own and manage over 17,000 homes in London and the South East and are the landlord to over 35,000 residents. It is our responsibility to ensure that our residents are safe and secure in their homes.”
Four Hundred Angry Residents: OHG tenants and residents told to avoid using fairy lights in concerns over flammable cladding.
SHAC Calls for Open Books on Safety
The lessons of Grenfell cannot be shouted loudly enough. When residents and trade union safety representatives are raising concerns, landlords should act on the concerns, not ignore them and attempt to intimidate tenants and staff into silence. But this is precisely what is being reported, over and over again.
It’s time for registered housing associations to end their culture of secrecy, embrace transparency, and stop taking needless risks with health and safety.
These mega-landlords, which remain private organisations whilst receiving millions from the public purse with little accountability, need to start working with the representatives of tenants, residents and staff.
Working collaboratively, they must reveal what they already know about the risks their buildings pose, and develop plans to fill any knowledge gaps, commissioning properly conducted health and safety inspections.
Finally, they must grasp the nettle, self-funding the necessary remedial works, without waiting for government to change legislation so that costs can be passed on to leaseholders.
19 October 2020