Published: 00:00, 16 November 2019
Damning leaked documents show the shocking extent to which councils were deemed to be acting unlawfully during this summer’s East Kent Housing scandal.
The probe in July, which scrutinised a number of maintenance areas, uncovered thousands of outdated safety assessments not carried out by the firm, which looks after the housing stock of all four councils.
The report by auditor David Griffiths states “systemic failings in relation to the internal control of health and safety, and a number of the necessary systems of control surrounding fire safety, electrical safety, lifts and legionella are currently absent”.
He adds: “Urgent management intervention is required.”
In June, it was revealed how a total of 544 council properties across east Kent - 125 in Canterbury - had not been ruled legally safe to use, with hundreds without gas safety certificates.
The revelation sparked the resignation of East Kent Housing property director Mark Anderson.
The city council last month voted in favour of ditching the company and bringing services for its stock in-house, but a final decision is expected early next year.
Authority leader Cllr Rob Thomas previously labelled the scandal “horrifying”.
This week, Labour leader Cllr Alan Baldock has taken aim at the council for not getting tough with the under-performing housing operator.
“For many years we challenged the significant underspending of EKH but the the ruling party were rubbing their hands in glee with less money being spent,” he said.
“Regrettably, the council failed to hold EKH to account and the problems kept getting worse. What’s so tragic is the money has been there to sort the issues out but not been used.”
Cllr Baldock warns the “tragedy” is still far from over for council tenants.
“It’s going to be hell on earth for tenants as they go between management firms,” he said. “EKH will leave an awful legacy that you cannot quickly fix.
“There’s a huge backlog of work to do. I don’t know if the councils realise the entirety of what needs to doing.
“It’s been a complete and utter disaster.”
Meanwhile, Lib Dem councillor Nick Eden-Green said: “With the gas safety tests not being carried out, there’s a legal requirement punishable by heavy fine and/or imprisonment.
“Nobody has been fined or gone to prison, yet tenants could have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Clearly the contract was not adequately managed. A number of tenants gave chapter and verse instances of failings which do not appear to have been followed up.”
Council spokesman Leo Whitlock has apologised for the extent of the troubles.
“We are sorry for the failings identified by the auditors in their report,” he said.
“We continue to work incredibly hard with EKH to put those problems right and have made huge progress including the gas safety check backlog being cleared.
“We have also taken urgent steps to make sure we learn the lessons so they do not happen again. We have kept councillors up to date on progress at a number of meetings in recent months as well as the regulator of social housing, our auditors and the press.”