A call for a level playing field

There’s a lot of indignation at present over the HSE’s decision not to prosecute a social landlord over gas safety breaches. The breaches weren’t a minor mistake. The Homes and Communities Agency has highlighted the fact that more than 1,000 of the landlord’s 7,300 properties were exposing tenants to the risk of serious harm. Subsequently, 43 appliances were found to be either ‘at risk’ or ‘immediately dangerous’.

None of us should need telling that a single faulty appliance can result in a fatality. What’s more, regulations are clear and usually, any breaches are dealt with appropriately, with prosecutions, stiff fines and even jail terms. But over 1,000 properties? Over 1,000 tenants and their families? Forget the decision not to prosecute for a moment and consider the level of incompetence shown by the landlord – it’s almost unbelievable that breaches of such magnitude happened. This isn’t a novice landlord, feeling their way through the rules and regulations. It’s a major provider of housing which took over all a council’s housing stock seventeen years ago. It should know what it’s doing, and it should have had the necessary controls in place. In our view, there’s no excuse.

The case raises some interesting questions, not least about the relationship between the council in question and the landlord. Are the council, who maintain a position on the landlord’s board, really going to treat this landlord as they would any other?  You could argue that as providers of social housing, dealing with perhaps more vulnerable tenants, their methods of ensuring safety should be absolutely impeccable. They should be a beacon of good practice.

Maybe their size has conferred a degree of immunity – after all 1,000 fines of £6,000 could seriously affect the viability of the business, and then where would the tenants and the council be?

Yes, it has been made clear that any more breaches will result in prosecution, but effectively, the business has faced little more than a rap on the knuckles. Imagine the furore if this had been one of the press’s beloved ‘rogue’ landlords, not a social housing provider. Can the private landlord who has missed an annual gas safety inspection expect the same leniency?

We would like to think that the same rules apply across the board. We are facing more regulation, licensing schemes for landlords and agent registration, but what use will schemes like that be unless they are applied equally to all who operate in the sector?  If more legislation is imposed, we need to be able to trust it, its purpose and its enforcement.

Gas safety isn’t optional, so why is prosecution?

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