Keeping tenants safe under the new building safety regime – challenges for local authorities (and their ALMOs)
Local authorities, like all landlords, will be following the new building safety regime as it develops; but they cannot afford to fixate on the legislative details. They simply want to make their homes safe.
The fact that a building is not (yet) in-scope is unlikely to justify – certainly not as far as tenants are concerned – an inconsistent, almost literally two tier, approach. Many local authorities are rightly going (well) beyond the minimum.
And while they wait for the new regime they have to deal with a new form of regulation. Last year the Regulator formally reminded local housing authorities of their health and safety duties. A number of breach notices have been issued.
Local authorities have always had their own health and safety systems, irrespective of legal requirements; but the external 'environment' has changed and local authorities must demonstrate the effectiveness of their policies and procedures.
This is the legal context within which local authorities are making safety plans. It reinforces the obvious point that they cannot take chances. All of which is easy to say, but how is the work to be organised? There are choices to be made and priorities to be determined; and local authorities must justify these sensitive decisions. That requires project planning and auditable processes.
There is also the issue of cost. Significant capital costs are incurred in upgrading buildings and installing compliant systems. The new building safety regime also involves new roles and tasks which require revenue expenditure.
Government grant will be limited and competed-for. For at least some of the costs local authorities will look to their own resources and, in all likelihood, additional HRA borrowing. The removal of the borrowing cap is helpful only if there is surplus revenue to service the debt – and the Section 151 Officer is comfortable with the overall exposure. Revenue Contributions to Capital Outlay (RCCOs) are a helpful exception to the capital/revenue rules but again there must be revenue to 'contribute'.
As to leaseholder contributions, they depend on the wording of the leases and on difficult political decisions.
The challenge is a formidable one. It is best met by involving all local authority departments and by engaging with tenants and leaseholders.