Published: 13:08, 11 September 2019
| Updated: 15:04, 11 September 2019
A damning report reveals council housing tenants across east Kent have been put at serious risk by four local authorities failing to ensure vital safety checks were carried out.
Each had self-referred to the government watchdog after it emerged in June that East Kent Housing (EKH) - which manages council properties for the four authorities - had more than 500 vital gas safety checks outstanding.
In the wake of scandal, Mark Anderson, director of property services for EKH, left his job, while the former leader of Canterbury City Council called for local authorities to ditch EKH, branding it "no longer fit for purpose".
It has now emerged gas safety oversights were just a small part of wider systemic failures regarding water, electricity and fire safety checks.
An RSH report published today says internal audits carried out by the four councils found that while there was "limited assurance" for gas safety, there was "no assurance" when it came to fire safety, electrical safety, lift safety and legionella - the bacterium that causes potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease, the risk of which should be monitored with regular water checks.
The regulator's report says that as of May 2019, there were about 540 outstanding Landlord Gas Safety Records across the four authorities, with the oldest being several months overdue.
But shockingly, it also reveals that action had yet to be taken against 2,300 fire risk issues that were identified during assessments at Canterbury City Council-owned homes, some of which had been outstanding for a "significant" period of time.
In Dover there were 1,500 outstanding fire safety actions, 500 in Folkestone and Hythe and 400 in Thanet.
Meanwhile, the report says no action was being taken by the councils to address "high risk actions" identified in electrical safety reports, or to repair a "significant number" of faulty emergency lights found in properties.
In terms of water safety, "little work" had been undertaken to address a high number of legionella risk assessment recommendations.
Meanwhile, faults in lifts were not rectified for up to 18 months, with the faulty elevators still in use during this time.
"Complying with statutory health and safety requirements is a fundamental responsibility of all registered providers because of the potential for serious harm to tenants" - Regulator of Social Housing
The RSH notes that, since the audit, the four councils have since been working to ensure statutory checks and follow-up actions are being carried out.
"However," it said, "taking into account the breadth and scale of this failure, and the long-standing nature of the issues, the regulator has determined that it is proportionate to find a breach of the Home standard in this case.
"Complying with statutory health and safety requirements is a fundamental responsibility of all registered providers because of the potential for serious harm to tenants.
"Taking into account the seriousness of the issues, and the duration for which tenants were potentially exposed to risk, and the number of tenants potentially affected, the regulator has concluded that it is proportionate to find [the four councils] breached the Home standard and that there was a risk of serious detriment to tenants during this period."
The RSH says it will work with the authorities to remedy the breach, and is now considering what further action should be taken.
It has now issued Canterbury, Thanet, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe councils with regulatory notices.
In response to this, the councils have jointly apologised to tenants and promised to focus on their safety and welfare, claiming that gas safety inspections are now up-to-date, while "progress has been made" on the other issues identified.
The four council chief executives said: “As each of these failings has emerged, our immediate priority has been the safety and welfare of those tenants affected and it continues to be so.
“We have taken direct action to work with EKH to put the problems right as quickly as possible and we are in the process of commissioning our own expert independent investigation into the issues.
“All four councils are exploring the future of EKH with a view to ensuring those living in our properties are kept safe and receive the best possible service.
“We appreciate the patience and understanding of our tenants and we are sorry for any extra worry the situation we have found ourselves in has caused.”
An appraisal of the options for the future of EKH is set to be presented to councillors at the four authorities in the coming months.