Social Housing Management: Gas Safety During COVID-19

The restrictions that are in place at the moment to reduce the spread of the corona virus has given rise to some confusion around gas safety. Some gas contractors are refusing to carry out annual gas safety checks and some landlords are confused as to where they stand.

I am going to touch on some of the main points of the process of carrying out gas safety checks during this crisis that we find ourselves in, however this is not meant to be an exhaustive blog by any means. There are various government guidance notes on the government website as well as great guidance on the Gas Safe Registers website if you are looking for detailed and up to date guidance.

Landlords have legal (and I would argue moral) duty of care to their tenants under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition, to ensure an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue, and to keep a record of each safety check. The law is however flexible and where it is not possible to carry out a gas safety check, it will normally be enough to show that you took reasonable steps to do so. I aim to discuss what some of these reasonable steps are and what to do in the event that the annual gas check does not go ahead.

The Conundrum

Health and safety is always about managing risk. On one hand you have an annual gas safety check that needs to be completed to allow the landlord to fulfil their statutory obligations and manage the gas safety of the property. On the other hand you have tenants that are self-isolating to protect themselves from catching the corona virus and thus do not want anyone entering their property.

There are clearly two risks at play here with the corona virus trumping the risk of a missed gas safety check. However if there is a direct risk to the safety of the household relating to a gas appliance this will take precedence. This is why each case needs to be judged on its own merits.

The standard that we need to set ourselves when trying to reduce risk is to ensure every measure has been taken ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. Blanket statements like ‘we will suspend all gas services’ or ‘we will cap every gas supply if we fail to get access’ will land you in hot water.

Providing a sensible method of assessing the risk has been put in place which is backed up with clear evidence demonstrating the thinking behind any decision made, the housing regulators will be more than understanding and this will not be seen as a failure to provide a service.

Contractors Safe Systems of Work

Your gas contractor should have devised a safe system of work during this crisis to allow them to continue to carry out essential work and this should be in line with the most up to date government guidance. Areas that need to be considered include the following:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Personal hygiene, hand washing and sanitisation
  • Handling waste
  • good working procedure, notifying tenants before arrival, maintaining safe distances

It should go without saying but no work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

The Gas Case File

The best way to assess what needs to be done in any given circumstance is by completing a gas safety case file. This is essentially a compilation of all the information you have to allow you to make an informed decision on what is the best action to take. Most landlords will already be completing gas case files anyway prior to the corona virus outbreak but now an enhanced case file will be needed.

The type of information you will want to capture within a case file will be including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Proof that the tenant has received adequate notification
  • Confirmation of the type of tenancy agreement
  • Information on whether the tenant is usually difficult to get a hold of or if there are preferred methods of communication
  • Whether there are vulnerable persons within the property and in particular in relation to COVID-19 which vulnerable group they fall into
  • Length of delay if the service is to be delayed
  • Record of previous maintenance
  • Age and type of the appliance present
  • LD2 compliance (more relevant in Scotland) and whether there is in-date CO and smoke detectors present
  • Condition of the boiler or other gas appliance including any known defects or manufacturers faults
  • Diary notes with a record of any correspondence (emails, letters, texts etc)
  • Contractors job sheets and photos are also useful

The gas case file will have input from a variety of housing staff from the maintenance and tenancy team. This is a collaborative effort and not a job for a single individual to complete. The case file should then be signed off by a manager / head of service with the recommend action clearly outlined.

If you have completed the case file and it has shown that there is a direct risk to the safety of the household then regardless of the status of self-isolation you will need to take action. If the tenant is not self-isolating then work must proceed as normal as delaying the service unnecessarily will be raising the risk of missing a gas leak or faulty and dangerous gas appliance.

If your normal contractor is unavailable you must make all reasonable efforts to secure a gas engineer to complete the service. If after making all efforts a gas engineer is simply not available, the service should be arranged as soon as reasonably possible as one becomes available.

Vulnerability status

There are different category’s of vulnerability which the government has set out in detail. Essentially you have the vulnerable person category, the extremely vulnerable person category and people who are self-isolating as they or a member of their household are presenting symptoms. No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household.

14 Day Self-isolation

The first category worth discussing are people who are self-isolating for 14 days as their household has a possible corona virus infection. In this case you may find that the 14 day period will be up before the gas anniversary date so there wont be a problem in completing the service. The most important thing in these cases is tracking the self-isolation period and communicating with the tenant after the 14 day period is up to establish if the household is out of self-isolation. Your standard gas letters may need to be adapted to account for the reality that we now find ourselves in.

If the self-isolation period runs over the anniversary date you can delay the landlords gas safety check until after your tenant’s isolation period has ended if it is safe to do so. You must be able demonstrate that you have taken reasonable steps to arrange and reschedule the gas safety check, so a fully completed case file along with records of communication will be vital. A means of tracking self-isolation through asset management systems or housing management systems will help in making sure the delayed service does not slip off the map.

Clinically Extremely Vulnerable

Extremely vulnerable people are people who are shielding because they are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), because of an underlying health condition. These include organ transplant recipients, people with certain cancers, people with severe respiratory conditions etc. People in this category would have been sent a letter advising them to follow strict self-isolation measures for 12 weeks. In this case you will be delaying the landlords’ gas safety check until after your tenant’s isolation period has ended. These will more than likely cause a delay to the gas service which is completely understandable. Again completing the case file will prove very useful especially when you need to report back to the regulator on why the as service was delayed.

Vulnerable Person

The vulnerable people category is going to affect a wider amount of people as it includes anyone aged over 70, pregnant women and those with a number of specified underlying health conditions.  A full list of what ailments put you in the vulnerable category as apposed to the clinically extremely vulnerable category can all be found online. If someone is in this vulnerable category and is choosing to self isolate you can delay the completion of the landlords gas safety check until after the isolation period has ended.

This category seems to me a bit unclear as to how long someone should be isolating for. If extremely vulnerable people are to self-isolate for 12 weeks and healthy people within a household are to self isolate for 14 days then vulnerable people will be somewhere in between these two. It may be worth delaying the service for 4 weeks and checking back with the tenant after this time has passed to find out the status of their self-isolation. The worst case scenario they may choose to self-isolate for 12 weeks depending on the medical advice they are given. Again, the case file should be completed and the risks assessed.

Reducing the Risk

If a service is being delayed past the anniversary date then there are still measures that can be put in place to reduce the risk. Now is the perfect time to be making sure you have up to date contact information for your tenants. Ensuring there is an in-date CO detector within the property and providing tenants with information on gas safety and what to do in the case of an emergency. Now is a good time to firm up internal processes and get teams working together using technology whilst working at home. Reviewing the gas safety policy and procedure is a must as well as regular team meetings to discuss upcoming cases, now is a time for more work not less.

I hope this blog has been useful and that I have not missed anything glaring. All information can be found through the GOV.UK site as well as great information and example scenarios on the Gas Safe Registers website which was last updated on the 16th of April. I would implore you to read those as the latest guidance has a tendency of changing as the weeks pass.

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