When this is all over, we’ll all give thought to what our own actions and reactions were to the crisis, and the actions of other agencies. Firmly rooted to the bottom of my imaginary league table will be the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
HSE’s whole approach to the carrying out of gas safety checks has, from the outset, been stubborn, inflexible, unrealistic and hopelessly lacking in empathy for the tough dilemmas landlords are facing.
Anyone hoping that HSE’s latest pronouncement this week might involve even a modest nod towards a common sense approach has had their hopes dashed. By way of example, in one part of their bulletin they say that ‘if you are unable to secure the services of your usual engineers, you must make reasonable attempts to obtain alternative services’, as if there are contractors lining up to come to the rescue of housing associations in this position.
And from the same bulletin:
What you must do: If your tenant denies the engineer access to the property, you must arrange for the gas safety check to take place as soon as possible.
There seems to be little or no real recognition of the understandable fears many tenants have about letting someone into their home at the current time. Nor any acknowledgement that a tenant who has those worries today is hardly likely to feel differently in a couple of weeks’ time.
Our member associations are working really hard to maintain close contact with tenants and to keep them on their side through the crisis. Yes, gas checks are a matter of law, but it isn’t helpful to be receiving constant badgering from an agency that’s giving every impression of being on a different planet to the rest of us.
HSE will doubtless argue that its guidance does take account of the difficulties COVID-19 throws up. But it’s all in the tone and language, and what we keep getting from HSE remains full of stark warnings and veiled threats to landlords already feeling uncertain and often quite vulnerable on this and other COVID challenges.
The obvious temporary solution remains extending the validity of a safety certificate from 12 to 18 months. Lobbying is ongoing on this, but it’s hard to be optimistic about this in the face of HSE’s unflinching unwillingness to understand what landlords and tenants are really facing.