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Camden Council breaches consumer standards in relation to fire safety

31 July 2023

IN A Regulatory Notice issued on 21 July, the Regulator of Social Housing concludes that the London Borough of Camden Council has breached its consumer standards. An investigation revealed that over 9,000 fire safety-related actions are overdue in social homes owned by the organisation.

Further, the investigation process found that upwards of 9,000 homes do not have a smoke alarm installed, while circa 4,000 dwellings don’t have a carbon monoxide detector fitted on the premises.

The Regulator of Social Housing commented: “The evidence demonstrates a failure by Camden Council to complete all fire safety actions in a timely manner and to mitigate the risks posed to tenants in the meantime. The regulator expects the council to take urgent action to address these failings. The council is now engaging with the regulator as it works to return to compliance.”

Kate Dodsworth, chief of regulatory engagement at the Regulator of Social Housing, stated: “Through our investigation, we found that Camden Council has failed to address thousands of fire safety actions in its tenants’ homes. This is unacceptable and has put tenants at potential risk of harm.”

Dodsworth continued: “Camden Council needs to act urgently to put things right and we will scrutinise the organisation closely as it does this.”

The Regulator of Social Housing’s study findings send a clear message to all social landlords that meeting their Health and Safety-centred requirements is of paramount importance. “Tenants deserve to live in safe and decent homes and we will take action when landlords breach our standards.”

Response from Camden Council

Camden Council has responded to the issuing of the Regulatory Notice by the Regulator of Social Housing and detailed its extensive programme of fire safety works that’s ongoing, which will “address the regulator’s findings” and “deliver the highest standard of safety” for residents.

Councillor Georgia Gould, the leader of Camden Council, said: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our residents and we are taking this Regulatory Notice very seriously. Six years ago, I said fire safety was our first priority and that we would invest in a new era of resident safety. We have done exactly that. We are investing more than £200 million in a wide range of safety improvements. We’ve published [the results of] all fire risk assessments and carried out more than 40,000 individual safety improvements and repairs.”

Gould went on to state: “We know that there is still more work to be done to complete all remaining higher risk actions, along with all other lower risk actions. A programme of work is in place for delivery this year and next. 

I will not be content until every action is complete and that’s what our teams are working on delivering right now.”

Further, Gould affirmed: “We recognise that many of the remaining actions outlined by the regulator, such as the removal of security grilles, are difficult for residents. We will be working alongside residents to complete these tasks.”

According to Gould, Camden Council’s focus has been on meeting the standards required by fire risk assessors, but there’s a desire to achieve “an even higher standard” across the board. “A standard of excellent housing that our residents deserve.”

On that note, Gould said: “To do this, we need Government to back us after years of underinvestment nationally in council housing. This includes direct cuts to rental income. We want every resident to live in a safe, damp-free and high-quality home. We will not wait for Government to act. Rather, we will continue to push our stretched resources to focus on even faster action designed to keep residents safe.”

Measures being taken

Camden Council has made a “clear and public commitment” to achieving the highest standard of resident safety and, since 2017, has “invested significantly” in improving the safety of its housing stock.

The comprehensive programme of fire safety works includes key practical measures such as: 

*ensuring that homes have appropriate fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms and fire stopping 

*ongoing gas safety checks in more than 13,000 homes 

*regular electrical testing in 23,000 homes 

*regular fire risk assessments in over 3,200 buildings, with high-risk blocks assessed on an annual basis (Camden Council has completed over 40,000 fire safety actions since 2020)

*fire alarm testing and communal area checks four times each year in street properties, with regular Health and Safety inspections conducted by caretakers on estates 

*working with residents to remove combustible items

In July 2021, Camden Council introduced its Fire and Building Safety Charter which guides this work. The organisation appointed a dedicated fire and building safety team which is led by the head of resident and building safety, who is also chair of the London Councils’ Fire Safety Group.

The Council’s Fire Safety and Compliance Advisory Panel is co-chaired by a resident representative and the Cabinet Member for Better Homes. Meetings are attended by the London Fire Brigade, resident representatives and senior officers and are open to elected members of all parties.

Boosting current action

Camden Council is an active participant on the ‘Early Adopter’ groups set up by Government and the Health and Safety Executive to develop Best Practice and shape regulations in relation to fire and building safety.

Following the Regulator of Social Housing’s report, the Regulatory Notice and the advice contained within it, Camden Council is further boosting its current action by: 

*introducing monthly reporting to members of the Housing Scrutiny Committee and Fire Safety and Compliance Advisory Panel

*providing detailed updates each quarter to the members of the Fire Safety and Compliance Advisory Panel 

*strengthening existing processes such that all high-risk actions can be addressed within the recommended timescales 

*working to engage with residents and find new ways in which to improve access to homes given that, at present, Camden Council is finding it “difficult” to access up to 40% of homes in order to carry out its smoke detector installation programme