By Carl Davis
Your landlord is responsible for most repairs in and the safety of your council or housing association home and also for undertaking the annual gas safety inspection. Your tenancy agreement should spell out all your landlords responsibilities around maintenance and repairs and ensuring the safety of your home. It should cover the circumstances under which your landlord can get access to your home to carry out maintenance, and also explain your responsibility to provide access.
Sometimes social landlords and their contractors genuinely experience problems securing access to undertake essential repairs or inspections and landlords have to resort to legal threats or court action. These are known as ‘no access procedures’.
Increasingly however tenants are experiencing problems with social landlords, particularly larger housing associations, cutting corners and initiating and misusing and abusing their No Access procedures and attendant legal powers for their own ends.
One problem area is around annual gas safety inspections where many of the larger housing associations and their contractors ride roughshod over their tenant’s rights, falsely claiming access is being denied. This behaviour is disrespectful, demeaning, and stigmatising and also totally incompatible with consumer standards.
No Access Abused
We’ve detailed elsewhere how one large landlord, L&Q, skipped notifying tenants of gas safety check appointment times and used ‘cold calling’ to ‘nudge’ tenants into conforming to its own schedules. Anyone who failed to provide access for any reason, even if they were out when the contractors cold called, received legal threats. Even when the contractors failed to attend where an appointment was arranged, it was still recorded as No Access by the tenant, resulting in the legal procedure being initiated.
Reputable real-world businesses do not treat their customers in this way. It is totally incompatible with a customer orientated approach and highlights how little respect and value housing association landlords have for their tenants and residents. We know from tenants of other housing associations that No Access procedures are being misused and abused like this in a widespread way.
L&Q’s stigmatising nudge policies didn’t stop at gas safety checks. It also sent out a mass mailing of letters headed ‘ First No Access Letter’ over planned repair works. The letters falsely claimed that contractors had attempted to contact tenants to arrange appointments, and urged tenants to contact them.
We contacted two of the large regional contractors from whom these first No Access letters were supposedly sent, but they denied any knowledge. In fact, they claimed they didn’t even have access to tenants personal details for data protection reasons. The letters were wholly the responsibility of L&Q who were simply using this process to intimidate tenants.
Landlords increasing feel free to abuse legal processes because they believe that they will not be held to account. This attitude extends to its contractors, including the likes of SureserveGroup Ltd which has contracts with multiple social housing providers.
Sometimes, there are good reasons for refusing access to engineers. The spread of Covid-19 over the last two years made it especially important that those who had health problems were not in contact with people who were entering multiple properties, and therefore potentially carrying the infection. In other cases, restrictions on access can result from a disabled tenant’s reasonable adjustment request under the Equality Act.
These are legitimate cases and should be respected by landlords, but SHAC has received multiple complaints from tenants of L&Q, One Housing, and Clarion in particular of tenants being subjected to extreme harassment and victimisations just for asking for special arrangements.
Treating tenants and residents in this shabby and disrespectful way perpetuates the stigma around social housing. The Regulator of Social Housing and Housing Ombudsman have a responsibility to combat this stigmatising behaviour, but when L&Q’s fraudulent mass mailed ‘First No Access’ letters were reported to the Regulator, it feigned ignorance as to their purpose.
The stigma around living in social housing is never going to be dealt with if social landlords themselves disrespect and stigmatise their own tenants and residents and encourage their contractors to do so as the norm as well.
SHAC is a network of tenants, residents, workers and activists in housing associations and cooperatives. Together we campaign to improve the lives of those who live in housing association properties and to reduce the commercialisation of the sector. You can keep up to date with our activities and meetings by registering with SHAC.
12 October 2021
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.