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Tales from the front line: ‘The old system was clunky’

A new inspection scheme is helping London authorities fulfil their obligation to inspect all temporary accommodation annually.
15 April 2021 , Katie Coyne

Temporary accommodation (TA) is publicly perceived as poor quality and expensive. In London the cost of TA was around £734m in 2018, around a third more than it had been the five years previously, according to figures cited by the Mayor of London.

One initiative designed to improve the system in the capital is the new pan-London Setting the Standard (StS) scheme. Concerned about the cost and quality of TA, London housing directors requested that a centralised, annual inspection system be established. Local authorities have long been required to inspect all privately rented TA units in their boroughs to ensure they are suitable for occupation and award a grade ranging from A through to E (‘do not use’).

Chartered EHP Carlene Thomas, senior inspections officer with StS, said: “Authorities just did not have the resources in terms of the staffing to inspect all TAs annually – something the StS inspection team will now be doing. Also the old system was clunky.”

Funding for a new centralised team is coming from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the Local Government Association, and from the London local authorities taking part (32 to date). Currently the StS team has four housing officers in post, with a further four to recruit. To assist the team, an inspection portal has been built by a company called Rapid, which has also developed a central inspections portal which can be used by local authorities, StS inspectors, and providers of TA.

Providers undergo a number of checks before they are allowed to register, including a fit and proper person check. Checks against the national and Greater London Authority rogue landlord databases are also undertaken. Once part of the scheme, providers can then use the provider app to upload documents such as fire and electrical certificates. For inspection officers, the system has a range of functions and also acts as a communication tool.

StS inspection officers use the inspection app on their tablets to record property findings, to take photographs and grade properties. Their inspection findings are automatically generated into a PDF report. This information is held centrally and shared among the London local authorities taking part. It’s important to note that StS inspection officers are not enforcement officers and where category 1 hazards have been identified, officers will send an email notification to the host authority within 24 hours, and will continue to work with providers to ensure hazards are remedied, and engage with authorities.

So far, Thomas says, the picture looks good. It has been challenging launching the scheme in the midst of a pandemic but the team still managed to run a short pilot in September 2020, followed by the scheme’s launch just a few weeks later. During the pandemic, the StS inspection team started to work on a remote-inspections tool and inspected TA properties under COVID-safe conditions. Inspections took place in properties with on-site management, reducing the risk to both residents and officers. The team also inspected empty properties.

Despite some initial trepidation, the overwhelming feedback from local authorities including EH officers has been positive. While the scheme only covers studios and nightly paid B&Bs, the StS team has been asked when it will start inspecting TA street properties. Thomas didn’t rule this out but did say, “we've quite a bit of work to be getting on with at the moment” and added: “We need to walk before we can run.”

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