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London Borough of Lewisham fails to meet consumer standards on fire safety

01 April 2024

IN ITS latest Regulatory Notice, and in the wake of a self-referral, the Regulator of Social Housing has asserted that the London Borough of Lewisham (ie Lewisham Council) is not meeting the required outcomes of the consumer standards. A range of issues with homes and services have been identified, including in relation to fire safety.

Although Lewisham Council has conducted fire risk assessments for all relevant blocks, over 5,000 fire safety actions have been identified as overdue. Of that cohort, circa 200 are in relation to high-rise tower blocks.

Lewisham Council has reported that upwards of 2,000 homes don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard. It doesn’t possess complete data sets for its tenants’ homes and is now carrying out a stock survey such that it can better understand their condition.

Following on from the Regulator of Social Housing’s investigation, Lewisham Council has put an Action Plan in place to address those issues identified.

Kate Dodsworth, chief of regulatory engagement at the Regulator of Social Housing, said: “All social landlords need to provide good quality homes and services for their tenants, underpinned by robust data. Lewisham Council has failed to do this. Lewisham Council referred itself to us when it found problems and is engaging with us constructively to put things right for tenants. We will continue to scrutinise proceedings as it carries out this work.”

Background to the Regulatory Notice

In December 2023, Lewisham Council took the decision to refer itself to the Government’s Regulator of Social Housing for a potential breach of consumer standards. Specifically, Lewisham Council asked the Regulator to examine whether it’s providing decent homes, running an efficient repairs service and completing fire safety actions within acceptable timescales.

In a statement on its website, Lewisham Council has noted: “We accept the Regulator of Social Housing’s findings and acknowledge our underperformance and ongoing challenges in some areas of the service. We’ve already made progress in some areas, which is recognised in the Regulatory Notice. We will continue working with the Regulator of Social Housing until such time that we have satisfied its concerns and achieved full compliance for our residents.”

At this stage, the Regulator of Social Housing is not taking statutory action.

Examining the timeline

It was back in October last year that Lewisham Council assumed responsibility for managing and maintaining upwards of 13,500 social (rented) homes across the London Borough, following the transfer of staff and services from Lewisham Homes.

Lewisham Council is now instigating closer monitoring of progress against all fire risk assessment-centred remedial actions.

Many of the homes under review were built over 50 years ago and need substantial investment at a time when local councils – and other housing providers – are facing serious financial challenges. Lewisham Council’s capital programme commits to £321 million of investment in the stock over five years.

Lewisham Council has up-to-date fire risk assessments for all of its buildings, which are regularly updated. High-rise buildings also have named building safety managers who check for fire safety concerns at least once per month. Since its submission to the Regulator of Social Housing in December, Lewisham Council has already reduced the number of overdue high-risk actions from over 200 to 66. Progress continues to be made.

Fire risk assessments

Fire risk assessments, of course, evaluate both the likelihood of a fire outbreak and the potential severity if such an event were to occur. Part of Lewisham Council’s decision to self-refer to the Regulator of Social Housing was down o the fact that it has fallen behind with addressing actions picked up in fire risk assessments. Lewisham Council is clear, though, about the fact that none of its buildings present an immediate risk to residents.

Assessors report on a wide range of issues, from significant risks through to minor issues, and then make recommendations for potential improvements, all of which become ‘actions’ and are given an appropriate priority rating.

The process is designed to continually improve the fire safety of buildings, as well as to identify new risks as they emerge. In terms of fire safety, Lewisham Council’s concern is around how quickly its responding to some action requests from fire risk assessors and also how some of the data is held.

Contractor management

In order to address these issues, Lewisham Council has changed the way in which it manages contractors and the processes in place for members of staff.

At the moment, 17% of Lewisham Council’s social housing stock doesn’t meet the required standard. That figure is likely to rise once the results of the stock condition survey are finalised. Lewisham Council is keeping its capital programme under review to ensure that it brings all possible homes up to the Decent Homes Standard in a planned manner.