A watchdog has been called in after hundreds of fire risk defects were found in Greenwich Council housing blocks, a report to senior councillors published today reveals.
Damaged fire doors, cluttered communal areas and broken signage are among the issues the council has failed to get a grip on.
Thousands of council homes also lack electrical certificates, according to an assessment of the council’s housing stock, while 300 sites need action taken to deal with asbestos.
The town hall has referred itself to the Regulator for Social Housing over the issues, which could lead to it being issued with an enforcement notice. A recent recipient of a notice was Croydon Council, which hit national headlines last year because of mouldy homes in a block in South Norwood.
Town hall officers discovered the issues after they changed the way they checked for issues with safety at the end of last year.
All 88 high-rise blocks had current fire risk assessments when checked in April, but only 85 of 147 “high risk” buildings and 611 of 960 medium and low-rise buildings had assessments that met its own standards.
The council says that all its blocks have had assessments carried out but it has had to prioritise renewing high-rise blocks, whose assessments are only legally valid for a year. It says it will renew the rest within the next year.
However, it is reporting itself to the regulator because 512 “fire risk actions” have not been rectified. Many of the issues relate to fire doors, others related to cluttered communal spaces and broken signage.
“We are aware that a number of Fire Risk Actions, leading from the FRAs, are still outstanding,” a letter to the regulator from Jamie Carswell, the council’s director of housing, says “Currently we have 512 high risk actions which are overdue and yet to be completed.”
A report to councillors admits: “There has not been a systematic approach to the ownership, responsibility and monitoring of actions across the various teams who are responsible for completing them.
The council has also failed on electrical inspections, with only half of council homes having an up to date electrical installation condition report (EICR).
“[Greenwich] has not had a regular and comprehensive programme of completion for these for the last 10 years,” councillors have been told.
“There have been programmes which did complete EICRs in our [housing] stock, however they were sporadic, did not cover the entirety of the stock and did not have the resources or project plans to complete a programme of this scale.”
Some 13,000 inspections will need to be carried out by 2025 to get back on track.
Furthermore, only 63 per cent of blocks have been recently surveyed for asbestos in communal areas. There were 303 “high risk asbestos actions” overdue.
The report to councillors says that workers on council estates have had trouble accessing details of where asbestos is because the details are kept on a different database.
It will take a year to catch up with inspections, councillors are told.
Staff in the housing department have been restructured and a director recruited in a permanent role to ensure the housing stock is up to scratch. Consultants have been brought in along with new IT systems.
The problems follow criticism of the council’s repairs service, where a report found last year that tenants trying to get problems with their homes fixed were struggling to get through by telephone – with two thirds of calls abandoned.
The report will be discussed by the council’s cabinet next Wednesday.
A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “We take residents’ safety extremely seriously and are currently rapidly addressing the backlog. We have already completed some of the outstanding actions needed, and residents may have seen work being carried out in their home or estate over the past few weeks. We have also implemented an action plan to improve our safety work in the long term, with checks in place to make sure we are effective.
“Council tenants will be receiving a formal letter with their rent statements from Monday 18 July, informing them of this work including who to contact if they are concerned about safety in their home.”
Residents with questions can email housing-safety-questions[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk or phone 020 8854 8888.
More details – including a Zoom meeting planned for July 25 – are available at royalgreenwich.gov.uk/housing-safety-compliance.
Updated at 5pm with the council’s response.
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