Lewisham council housing provision criticised for outstanding fire safety actions

After having identified thousands of overdue fire safety actions, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has announced that the London Borough of Lewisham (Lewisham Council) has failed to meet the “required outcomes of the consumer standards”.

In a regulatory notice published on 26 March 2024, RSH confirmed that, following a self-referral, it had undergone an investigation of Lewisham Council’s housing portfolio and found a number of issues with its homes and services. These included over 5,000 fire safety actions that were yet to be completed.

While fire risk assessments had been carried out for “all relevant blocks”, the high volume of overdue actions was cause for concern, with RSH adding that a “significant number” of repairs were also outstanding.

Between April and December 2023, nearly half of all repairs had not been completed on time. In addition, the council had not correctly assessed the severity of reports of damp and mould reports,” the regulator said.

RSH revealed that over 2,000 homes in the borough did not meet the Decent Homes Standard. Additionally, the council did not have complete data for its tenants’ homes.

Chief of Regulatory Engagement at RSH, Kate Dodsworth said: “All social landlords need to provide good-quality homes and services for their tenants, underpinned by robust data. Lewisham Council has failed to do this.

The council referred itself to us when it found problems and is engaging with us constructively to put things right for tenants. We will continue to scrutinise the council as it carries out this work.”

In response to the regulator’s findings, the council said: “We accept the Housing Regulator’s findings and acknowledge our underperformance and ongoing challenges in some areas of the service.

We have already made progress in some areas, which the Regulator recognises in its notice. We will continue working with the Regulator until we have satisfied their concerns and achieved full compliance for our residents. The regulator is not taking statutory action at this stage.”

An action plan has since been put into place to rectify the issues, with the council committing £321 million of investment in the stock over five years. Additional investment has also been put in place to “modernise” its systems for managing and storing information.

Lewisham Council added that it took the decision to refer itself to the regulator back in December 2023 for a “potential breach of its consumer standards”. Just months prior, in October, the council revealed it had formally taken over the responsibility for managing and maintaining its portfolio of 19,000 homes from its arm’s-length management organisation (ALMO), Lewisham Homes. This included over 13,500 social rent homes. At the time, the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, said the council was committed to improving its standards and providing high-quality homes for residents.

Having reviewed housing services, we established that although many of the homes we manage are in good condition, some are not. We are also aware that our repair service is too often difficult to access, and many of our residents are not satisfied with the level of service they receive,” the council stated.

As part of the investigation, the council had specifically asked the regulator to “examine whether [it was] providing decent homes, running an efficient repairs service, and completing fire safety actions within acceptable timescales”.

Notably, this is not the first instance of a local council making a self-referral to the government regulator. As previously reported by the FPA, earlier in March 2024, RSH identified 20,000 outstanding fire safety actions in the housing portfolio for Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council. The regulator revealed that the West Yorkshire council did “not have an effective system in place to allow it to meet its statutory health and safety responsibilities in relation to fire safety”.