The COVID or Compliance Campaign – What installers need to know

The Association of Safety and Compliance Professionals (ASCP) has joined forces with CORGI Technical Services to launch the nationwide ‘COVID or Compliance’ campaign, in a bid to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus across social housing. Installer spoke to Claire Heyes, CEO of the ASCP Group, to find out more:

COVID or Compliance Campaign, can you please explain to what this is?
Right across the UK social landlords provide nearly 5 million social housing homes and who are now operating in a new unknown world, one where existing compliance regulations are at loggerheads with the COVID virus itself.
In line with the Gas Safety Installation and Use Regulations, specifically Regulation 36 within 12 months social landlords must service and safety check around 4 million gas appliances every year – the sheer scale is almost incomprehensible.
…presenting landlords with a new world trilemma – the impossible trinity!

  1. Contagion of the COVID virus,
  2. verses a duty of care to their tenants and staff/contractors,
  3. verses compliance with old world regulations – before contagion of COVID

And so, landlords, heating engineers and managers find themselves grappling to do the right thing for our society at large.
Causing hundreds of organisations, heating engineers and tenants’ excessive issues the current climate which is why we have launched this to campaign for urgent change.
The Association of Safety and Compliance Professionals, along with CORGI have successfully worked with government to implement positive change in the industry previously with the introduction of regulation 36a allowing for an MOT style servicing & this is now another common sense issue which we have to fight for.
How big a problem do you see this as?
Disturbingly, over the next 8 weeks alone we estimate there will be nearly 700,000 regulatory routine gas safety checks are due to take place.  Astonishingly this could result in 2 million unnecessary social interactions taking place in just 8 weeks. – these are alarming numbers that will only increase.
Can you summarise the key issues for us?
The ASCP and its members, backed by CORGI Technical Services have lobbied the government to relax the 12-month deadline by a minimum of 3 months and up to 6 months, which is what the DVSA announced on the 25th March for car MOT’s where were extended by 6 months – who were hot on it as a quick and logical reaction to the pandemic even when there are approximately 28 million more cars on the roads than boilers, which are also inherently more dangerous! The similarities in the two scenarios are obvious. I see no reason why we cannot follow suit in this sector.
There are 6 Key issues were dealing with here:

  1. Gaining access to people’s homes to carry out the landlord gas safety checks due to self-isolation/shielding of tenants as well as unwillingness to allow access for a whole host of understandable reasons.
  2. Many social housing tenants are elderly (70+) and may have underlying health conditions and the government has restricted social interaction. We have already seen tenants feeling “hassled” by engineers/landlords and feeling put under pressure.
  3. As you might expect there is/will be untenable lack of resource of housing providers and contractors due to self-isolation and illness, or underlying health conditions.
  4. We know PPE is a global scarcity even for our frontline medics and carers, let alone for all heating engineers, and it just isn’t always possible to carry out work, with high volumes of services under safe social distancing conditions.
  5. Compliance teams understandably are urgently driving gas installers to gain access, which is a challenge at the best of times, and currently is going against government guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID-19 but they’re doing so in order to remain compliant – a nightmare for all concerned.

And a 6th – clearly the longer this crisis exists, the bigger the potential will be for cross contamination, which will be directly contradicting the advice issued by the Chief Medical Officer.
Not to mention the consequential backlog to clear up as the nation becomes operational again!  I optimistically estimate it will take the best part of 6 months to get back to where we were pre COVID.
And what would you like to see in practical terms?
 Well here is what we are calling for:

  1. All non-emergency work to be suspended. Including the routine annual gas safety check.
  2. A short-term extension is granted for a minimum of 3 months, although 6 months would be more practical to deal with backlogs.
  3. A relaxation period, adopting a “light touch” approach to non-compliance by the Regulator of Social Housing for the remainder of 2020, to safely clear backlogs.
  4. Housing providers must still visit any emergencies, repairs, or issues considered dangerous.
  5. Additionally, residents should have the right to request a gas safety check when due and practical to complete, providing that a risk assessment has been carried out.

What sort of response have you had for the COVID or Compliance Campaign?
We’ve had overwhelming support from landlords across the UK who provide over a million  homes  as well as over 17 Members of Parliament Nationally. This is growing daily & shows that this is an industry wide issue recognised by organisations all over the UK.
And how do Social Homes compare to private homes?
I must stress that gas appliances found within social housing properties are known to be the safest in the UK, largely due to the fact their boilers are serviced, and safety checked every year by qualified, competent Gas Safe registered engineers.
Landlords also have regular replacement programmes, and repairs are carried out in a timely manner. In addition, many properties have a carbon monoxide alarm, which generally is unlike many privately owned homes, which probably present a greater risk in this respect, due to the lack of compulsory servicing or safety checks.
So, what are the next steps for the campaign?
Despite attempts to reason with the Health and Safety Executive, other than advising on some basic additional steps the landlord should take, they have refused to really take account of these unprecedented circumstances, instead putting the responsibility of this IMPOSSIBLE trilemma, unfairly in the hands of the landlord – AND holding them to account where they have not been able to carry out the gas safety checks and at a time where private homes are not having routine gas work carried out.
There’s also a level of hypocrisy in all of this as the Gas Safe Register who deliver the HSE remit have understandably so (!), postponed their face-face inspections of gas engineers during the contagion.
How can people support you?
Undisputedly there is a conflict here with the Government mandate around “essential” work and limiting person to person contact. Government is asking everyone to make sacrifices in order to slow the spread of this treacherous virus and protect the NHS and keep everyone as safe as possible.
Now we are calling on the government to better understand what is at stake here and “do the right thing” stop sitting on the fence and amend legislation as DVSA have done for car MOTs.
To support the COVID or Compliance campaign:
Email your support to:  enquiries@ascp.org.uk
Use on social media: #COVIDorCompliance
Stay up to date: http://www.agsm.uk.com/covid-or-compliance-campaign/