Forced entry sounds like a very harsh term. In Scotland it is fairly well established procedure to force access on or before the anniversary date of the annual gas safety check. In this blog I will be explaining the process of forced entries and hopefully removing some of the stigma that surrounds this process.
The Scottish housing regulator encourages housing associations to have a clear position on, and procedures for, forcing entry for when they have not managed to gain access to a tenant’s home to complete a gas safety check. It goes without saying that any organisation forcing entry must have robust procedures, monitoring and auditing regimes in place to make sure mistakes are not made.
Forcing access to a property allows a landlord to carry out their statutory obligations and more importantly keep the tenants and surrounding tenants safe. In the annual return of the charter, landlords need to report on the percentage of properties that have had an annual gas safety check within the last 12 months. The expectation is that this percentage should be 100% and if this not the case questions will be asked.
It is good practice to implement a case file to show what steps have been taken to ensure all reasonable methods have been employed to gain access. The case file may include things like copies of letters sent, notes of additional visits carried out or calls made as well as details on any known vulnerabilities.
This is a live document which will keep everyone aware of the steps that have been taken as well as encouraging all relevant members of staff to participate in the process.
A forced entry will generally have a joiner, a gas engineer, an electrician and one or two housing operatives present. On the majority of occasions at this stage you will find at this stage the tenant will open the door and allow access.
The two main pieces of legislation that pave the way for allowing for forced entry is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Gas Safety (Installation and use) Regulations 1998. The main difference between England and Scotland however is the implementation of the Scottish Secure Tenancy agreement (SST).
The SST states that the landlord has the right to make forcible entry provided they have taken all reasonable steps to allow for access voluntarily. It also states that if the landlord needs to make forcible entry the tenant will be liable for any associated costs for damage reasonably caused. So tenants generally do not want the burden of being lumped with a rechargeable repair for a door and emergency call out.
There are many reasons why tenants do not allow access for annual gas safety checks. it can be down to a simple reason that work has not allowed them the time off. More often than not it is an indicator that there are other issues going on like fuel poverty, abandonment of the property or the tenant is just generally struggling. People may be ashamed to let you into their house because they can’t afford to live, if the person is generally hard to get a hold of then access for the gas safety will be no different.
Once we are able to make contact and establish what the barriers to entry are we can then make steps to help the tenant. We have an excellent benefits adviser as do many housing associations who can assist tenants in financial hardship. Cunninghame Housing Association have taken an extra step by creating a subsidiary company called Citrus Energy. Citrus Energy can assist tenants by ensuring tenants are on the best tariff and can assist in this switch of supplier.
We can also work with the energy supplier to wipe the meter in certain circumstances or set the meter to allow repayments to be made that are affordable to the tenant. Ultimately it is in our interest to not only sustain the tenancy but to also ensure the property is not being damaged due to lack of heating. We have had many success stories of tenants who have went from high debt to being able to get back on track and get regular use from their heating.
This can make a huge difference in the tenants life. So forced access is not where the procedure ends it is a starting point for a new process of assisting the tenant whilst allowing the landlord to comply with their legal duties. Keeping tenants safe and reaching out to do everything possible to help tenants who can often be in dire need of assistance should be a landlords top priority.