Watchdog rules ‘no wider failure’ by council after social housing probe

Shadow cabinet member for housing had urged the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) to intervene over maintenance issues in the borough, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Shires Estate and (inset) Tory housing spokesperson Lee Chamberlain
Shires Estate and (inset) Tory housing spokesperson Lee Chamberlain

A series of safety and maintenance issues affecting homes owned by Enfield Council have not triggered the intervention of a social housing watchdog.

The council was referred to the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) earlier this year over a string of concerns including its handling of structural safety issues affecting two tower blocks that were found to be at risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion.

Further concerns included council failings to meet a minimum homes standard and a proposed tower block at Meridian Water containing a single staircase.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) referred the council to the RSH earlier this year after Conservative shadow cabinet member for housing Lee Chamberlain alerted it to the issues.

But the regulator says it has considered the case in line with its current remit and concluded that it “did not demonstrate a wider failure by the council to meet our existing consumer standards”.

In a letter to DLUHC in January, Cllr Chamberlain expressed his “loss of confidence” in the ability of the council and cabinet member for social housing George Savva “to competently deliver basic housing services in Enfield”.

His letter raised concerns over Cheshire House and Shropshire House – two tower blocks on Shires Estate in Edmonton that were found to be vulnerable to a gas explosion following tests carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The date for switching off the gas supply to the blocks was pushed back to January 2024 so they could be connected to the council-owned Energetik heat network. But the discovery of a gas leak at Cheshire House in November meant the supply had to be cut off urgently, and supplies to Shropshire House were switched off in February.

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Cllr Chamberlain claimed the council had failed “to act with appropriate urgency regarding the two tower blocks”, and the prior decision to replace gas by 2024 was “a shocking and unacceptable risk to take”.

He added that tenants had to endure “inhuman winter conditions” after the loss of hot water to Cheshire House left them “having to shower in street stalls in freezing temperatures”.

In April, senior councillors agreed to take the two tower blocks out of use and rehouse residents within a year after more than three quarters of those who responded to a survey said they wanted to leave the estate.

Cllr Chamberlain’s letter to DLUHC also stated that 40% of council-owned homes fall below decent homes standards – significantly higher than the London average of 11.6% – warning it was “underperforming against councils of all political colours and financial positions”.

He also criticised a plan to build a 30-storey tower block with a single staircase on the flagship council-led Meridian Water development in Edmonton. The block was approved in September last year, despite calls from industry experts following the Grenfell tragedy to include at least two separate staircases in residential blocks to provide an alternative escape route if a fire breaks out.

In December, the government revealed it was considering making it mandatory to include second staircases in new tower blocks above 30m. Shortly after Cllr Chamberlain sent the letter to DLUHC in January, council leader Nesil Caliskan said officers were reviewing the authority’s development pipeline and talking to development partners “about revising designs to include additional staircases”.

The RSH can intervene in cases where the failure to meet its consumer standards has caused, or could have caused, serious harm to tenants. It focuses on whether there is material evidence of organisational failure by the provider – a failure against a consumer standard that it judges to be indicative of a wider breakdown in the provider’s overall organisation and systems.

The RSH will have an expanded consumer regulation role from April 2024 following the approval of the 2023 Social Housing (Regulation) Act.

Enfield Council was approached for comment.

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