- Achieving 10 consecutive years of 100% gas safety across circa 8,236 dwellings
- Developing a strategic partnership to manage the process and ensure resident safety
- Liaising with tenants to gain access to their homes
- Working with the local authority’s legal team when access is denied
- Implementing measures to ensure ongoing gas safety inspections during the coronavirus pandemic
Aston Group has undertaken gas servicing, maintenance and reactive repairs for Waltham Forest Council (Housing) since 2011. The relationship initially began under the auspices of Ascham Homes (Waltham Forest Arm’s-Length Management Organisation) just after it achieved 100% gas compliance, a position that Aston Group committed to maintaining.
In line with that ambition, we formulated a strategic plan in partnership with Waltham Forest Housing Management and its legal team. The plan mapped out the gas inspection process, ensuring all parties could work together to maintain the 100% compliance record.
Waltham Forest’s preference is for a 10-month service programme, which provides sufficient time for the local authority to conduct its legal process if access is denied by the resident. It is crucial that Waltham Forest’s legal team has adequate time to obtain a warrant of entry and organise a forced entry before the annual Landlord Gas Safety Certificate expires.
Wherever possible, Aston Group endeavours to avoid the legal route, even if this means exceeding the baseline terms of our contractual agreement. This may involve several telephone calls to the resident and additional visits to the property, both in and out of hours.
Before the commencement of each year, we schedule gas servicing appointments via our Computer-Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) system. This ensures that all relevant correspondence is sent to residents and gives them adequate notice of the forthcoming service appointment. The system issues a 28-day letter and a 7-day reminder. Thanks to the CAFM system, correspondence with residents is electronically generated, providing a specific date/time stamp for all letters, which are stored for future reference.
As a result of this early and sustained communication with residents, 77% of properties are accessed on the first visit (on average), strictly following the gas-service process and exceeding our (first access) targets.
For properties where further action is required, we liaise with Waltham Forest’s legal department because early engagement is crucial to initiating their process and maintaining the compliance record. In these instances, Aston Group collates a gas service legal pack and provides this to the Legal Team. This pack includes:
- 28-day and 7-day reminders
- All no-access information/cards
- 48-hour notice letters
- Confirmation that all necessary checks have been completed by Housing Management regarding vulnerabilities etc.
Once the Legal team is in receipt of all correspondence, a court summons is issued requesting access. This correspondence is hand-delivered to the property by Aston Group. During these visits, we try to gain access and attempt to arrange an appointment with the resident.
Prior to the Court Hearing date, most of the residents make contact and book further appointments. However, for the minority, the process continues. Once the warrant of entry is obtained, a further letter is prepared by the Legal Team and hand-delivered by Aston Group. It advises the residents of the forced entry date and time.
One we have obtained the Court’s warrants, we organise the forced entries and advise all relevant teams, in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act. The teams that attend the forced entry are made up of:
- a representative from the Waltham Forest Housing Management Team
- a locksmith
- Aston Group’s service engineer and supervisor.
The gas-inspection process usually runs smoothly, but it has become increasingly difficult since March 2020 due to COVID-19 and related restrictions.
Understandably, residents were reluctant to allow engineers into their homes due to the possible spread of COVID-19. As a team, Aston Group and Waltham Forest adapted our processes and overcome challenges, such as not physically attending court (at present, warrants are obtained via online proceedings).
On some occasions, we even encountered verbal abuse from residents. In spite of the potential setbacks, the team pushed ahead with its work with the support of Waltham Forest Council.