The members of the public in attendance were asked to leave the chamber while this item was discussed.
JN then presented the report. A review carried out had revealed 250 HRA properties where repairs to existing smoke detection devices had not been carried out within a reasonable period of time, or where records showed partial or no soke detection with insufficient response to remediate this. A further 130 properties were non-compliant in terms of electrical safety, and the council’s asbestos register was incomplete. DBC had sought legal advice and had referred itself to the Regulator of Social Housing. The referral was made on 29th April and a subsequent meeting was scheduled with the regulatory body.
The report outlined some of the initial actions undertaken. Smoke detection had been prioritised in the 250 aforementioned properties, and the majority now had hardwired smoke detection. In those not having received this, work was underway with legal specialists to ascertain how to gain access to properties to install such devices.
Electrical tests had been completed, and again legal specialists were being consulted regarding how to gain access to those properties that could not be accessed currently.
There had been a team restructure with a focus on compliance, along with the inclusion of compliance at the core of the housing improvement programmes mentioned above, and further work to improve processes.
Performance data across several aspects of health and safety regarding properties had been compiled into a single repository, among other measures outlined in the report.
The report was noted, and the floor was opened to questions.
Cllr Pringle then asked what needed to happen before the public could be made aware of this currently confidential matter. In response, it was explained that the Regulator of Social Housing would decide this in due course.
Cllr Pringle then asked whether her colleagues could reveal the area in which the incident leading to the report had occurred. In response, the incidence had occurred in Berkhamsted, however there had been no issues in terms of compliance in respect of the property involved in the incident.
Cllr Wyatt-Lowe enquired as to the process in terms of investigating the cause of death of the resident involved in the aforementioned house fire incident. In response, it was reported that the police and fire services had conducted an initial investigation and were satisfied that this was an accidental death and not due to the property itself, and the coroner’s report appeared to support this.
Cllr Pringle added that the finding that this was an accidental death did not mean to say that nothing more might have been done to avoid the incident. In response, it was highlighted that further investigations would be conducted by various authorities to explore any opportunities for further improvements. Cllr Wyatt-Lowe pointed out the need to make it clear to the public that the initial investigations made by the fire and police services were a separate process to the council’s self-referral to the regulator, and it was important to avoid these two separate processes being conflated in the eye of the public. It was also highlighted that the self-referral to the regulator was not specifically about the house fire incident but was conducted in response to several findings about compliance data held by the council.
After further discussion, it was requested that a chronological overview be verbally provided of the events leading to DBC’s self-referral to the Regulator of Social Housing. It was explained that an independent consultant had been engaged, who had conducted a detailed review of the Housing Service in Spring 2021, with a report produced in October 2021. Following the report’s findings, a working group had been set up to examine contract management, particularly in respect of Osborne. Through the work of this working group and with input from the senior leadership team, a first audit was commissioned by Ernst & Young. Following this, a deeper investigation was about to be commissioned when the aforementioned house fire incident occurred. Then as part of the immediate council review, as standard all aspects of DBC’s interactions with the individual tenant had been reviewed. As part of this work, a cause for concern was identified around compliance for 250 properties, and some of the compliance data collection had been expedited in the aftermath of the house fire incident.
In addition, it was pointed out that as part of the Housing Transformation & Improvement Programme, a workstream was being mobilised to make sure that any communications released to the public and to various stakeholders were sensitive and factually accurate.
Cllr Adeleke attempted to summarise the above discussion, in that council investigations into housing safety compliance had already been underway when the house fire incident occurred. Cllr Adeleke was satisfied that the correct actions had been taken by DBC in relation to these investigations, both prior to and after the house fire incident in relation to these investigations. He then asked whether an indication was available as to when the investigations would come to a close. Secondly, he asked what support if any had been offered by DBC to the loved ones of the tenant who had lost her life in the house fire. Thirdly, Cllr Adeleke pointed out that the report set out that the last communication to residents was recorded as August 2022, which appeared to be a date in the future.
In response, J Nason said that it was hoped that confirmation of timelines would be given over the coming week, after which a further update would be provided to the Committee. Secondly, the Community Safety Partnership, Welfare Support and the Tenancy Management Team were all involved in providing the relevant support. Lastly, it was explained that the above date was a typo and that the last communication was in fact in August 2021, though a further communication was now being prepared.
Cllr Imarni then asked for an explanation of why the 250 houses had not been identified sooner given that investigations had been conducted since 2015. In response, though she was not in a position to comment on work done in 2015, J Nason pointed out that several procedural and administrative failings had been highlighted. Work was now underway to produce an integrated and automated dashboard with a view to preventing properties being missed again.
Following a further query from Cllr Imarni, it was clarified that properties would be visited every 5 years for health and safety inspection purposes.
Cllr Imarni also asked for a brief overview of the Housing Transformation & Improvement Programme for any members not familiar. In response, J Nason referred the Committee to the details of the programme in the report she had just summarised and explained that the programme had a broad scope encompassing all areas that impacted Housing.
Cllr Adeleke then asked specifically whether the 250 houses mentioned above had been identified as a result of the new regime and thorough investigations by DBC. In response, it was explained that since Autumn 2020, work had been underway to bring the management and oversight of Housing into the corporate work sphere, to apply the same rigour and to seek the same assurances in Housing as in all other areas within the council. Through this process, a comprehensive transformation programme had been developed, sponsored by the CEO and with senior leadership support. Work was now underway to ensure that the right actions were begin taken to improve and modernise the service. It was therefore hoped that the above reports demonstrated that the appropriate action was being taken.