04 June, 2014
Following 3 housing associations being reprimanded by the Homes and Communities Agency for issues with their gas safety procedure, some social landlords have begun to complain that it seems unfair that they are subject to strict requirements yet have very little power to force tenants to allow access.
As a result, a number of social landlords are lobbying the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for an amendment to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 to allow registered providers and local authorities the power to enter a tenant's property without their consent. This would provide social landlords the ability to access a property, solely for the purpose of gas safety, without resorting to court proceedings which are expensive and can be lengthy.
At present, social landlords are required to follow a legal process in order to access a property for the purposes of gas safety and a failure to follow this legal process to gain access can result in both an organisation and their employees facing either civil or even criminal proceedings. If internal attempts to gain access are unsuccessful, social landlords must commence legal proceedings and obtain an injunction against the tenant compelling them to allow entry. Where a tenant still refuses access following an injunction being granted, social landlords then have to commence possession proceedings in order to carry out the gas safety check.
The legal process in securing access for the purposes of gas safety is relatively simple, however, the biggest problem social landlords face is the length of time it can take to obtain a court injunction. In most cases we find that it takes at least 3 weeks from an injunction application being issued to a hearing being listed and if a social landlord has not factored this time period into their internal procedure, they may find that a gas safety certificate expires prior to the court hearing.
Another reason some social landlords are complaining about using the legal process to secure access for the purposes of gas safety, is that it is incredibly costly for social landlords. These costs have now been exacerbated further following the rise of the court fee for an injunction application from £175 to £280. Where access is not gained after an injunction has been granted, legal costs rise even further as landlords are required to commence possession proceedings against the tenant.
Following the representations being made to the HSE, the HSE maintains that landlords do have the right to request access for repairs and maintenance works and therefore the onus is on the landlord to use legislation currently in place to their advantage. Therefore, social landlords will have to demonstrate that they are currently exhausting all available options to gain access to properties but tenant's lives will still be put at risk if they are not given the powers they are requesting.
Given that the HSE have not given any commitments in relation to the proposed change to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, Forbes' would urge social landlords to be more proactive in ensuring their gas safety policies reflect the time it can take to exhaust legal proceedings. Here at Forbes', we work alongside our clients to make sure that their policies make the best use of the current legislation and use it to their advantage by ensuring attempts to gain access to properties are started in a timely fashion and procedures are in place to refer any outstanding properties for legal proceedings as soon as all internal methods for gaining access have been exhausted.