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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Fire safety and housing in 2018: the big issues


CIH's head of practice Debbie Larner shares her observations on the Hackitt report and the ongoing fire safety challenges for housing organisations.

Sadly, 2017 will be remembered for the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower and resulted in the loss of 71 lives. Seven months since this tragedy occurred there are still many questions to be answered – it is hoped that the numerous reviews and inquiries will go some way to identifying the causes of this tragedy. But while this is important, we cannot wait for the outcomes from prolonged inquiries to review our own working practices, competencies and behaviours.

The tragedy at Grenfell has thrown up a whole range of issues and questions which are directly pertinent to us as housing professionals – what is the role and purpose of social housing? How do we ensure that tenants have a voice and are actively listened to? What is the role of the housing regulator? Are we equipping front line staff with the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs? Are we employing competent people to carry out specialist tasks?

Among many others, these are issues we need to address in order to ensure lasting change.

I’d like to share a few of my initial observations from the interim findings of the Hackitt review.

Firstly – don’t wait for instructions, act now!

On the 15 December, three days before the interim report was published, Inside Housing reported that owners and landlords of over 943 residential building were waiting for the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s building regulations review before taking further steps on fire safety messages. Well, the first message from the report comes across very strongly – do not wait – put in place any relevant and remedial measures to ensure sure buildings are safe and which offer reassurance to your tenants.

Secondly – a change of mind set is required across the board.

While it is clear that there are serious systemic faults in processes and procedures – the review recognises that a fundamental cultural and behavioural change is required among all agencies and professions involved in the design, planning, build and management of homes. I think this is a fundamental point and one that has seems to have been missed in many conversations I have been involved over the last seven months.

Thirdly – levels of professional competence must be raised

A lot of emphasis has been place, rightly so, on the competence (or lack of) of fire risk Assessors. The report also calls into question the competence of those involved in the design, construction and ongoing operational management and maintenance of complex and high-risk buildings. As housing professionals we all have a key role in ensuring that whoever we commission, contract with and employ has the professional skills and competencies to do their role. We need to understand what this looks like and ensure our own staff have the appropriate qualifications, experience and competencies – accredited where relevant – to do their roles. At CIH we are working closely with our members and other professional bodies to ensure that we can provide the relevant accreditation, training and qualifications to support this aim.

And finally – residents must have a voice.

It is positive that the review has looked beyond regulation and legislation and has raised the importance of listening to residents. The report offers no specific recommendations on this, and rightly so. We shouldn’t need recommendations, as a sector. Take a bit of time to look at how you listen to and address residents concerns (and not just on fire safety) – do you have good systems in place? Are you accessible, transparent and accountable in your dealings with your residents?

The Hackitt review has set a positive framework of sensible interim recommendations and a clear direction of travel. We know that housing professionals are taking their approach to fire safety very seriously and urge you to continue to do so. Please do get in touch if you need any help and support from us.

Debbie Larner is head of practice at CIH.

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