- Achieving 10 consecutive years of 100% gas safety across circa 8,236 dwellings
- Developing a strategic partnership to manage the process and ensure resident safety
- Liaising with tenants to gain access to their homes
- Working with the local authority’s legal team when access is denied
- Implementing measures to ensure ongoing gas safety inspections during the coronavirus pandemic
Aston Group has undertaken gas servicing, maintenance and reactive repairs for Waltham Forest Council (Housing) since 2011. The relationship initially began under the auspices of Ascham Homes (Waltham Forest Arm’s-Length Management Organisation) just after it achieved 100% gas compliance, a position that Aston Group committed to maintaining.
In line with that ambition, we formulated a strategic plan in partnership with Waltham Forest Housing Management and its legal team. The plan mapped out the gas inspection process, ensuring all parties could work together to maintain the 100% compliance record.
Waltham Forest’s preference is for a 10-month service programme, which provides sufficient time for the local authority to conduct its legal process if access is denied by the resident. It is crucial that Waltham Forest’s legal team has adequate time to obtain a warrant of entry and organise a forced entry before the annual Landlord Gas Safety Certificate expires.
Wherever possible, Aston Group endeavours to avoid the legal route, even if this means exceeding the baseline terms of our contractual agreement. This may involve several telephone calls to the resident and additional visits to the property, both in and out of hours.
Before the commencement of each year, we schedule gas servicing appointments via our Computer-Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) system. This ensures that all relevant correspondence is sent to residents and gives them adequate notice of the forthcoming service appointment. The system issues a 28-day letter and a 7-day reminder. Thanks to the CAFM system, correspondence with residents is electronically generated, providing a specific date/time stamp for all letters, which are stored for future reference.
As a result of this early and sustained communication with residents, 77% of properties are accessed on the first visit (on average), strictly following the gas-service process and exceeding our (first access) targets.
For properties where further action is required, we liaise with Waltham Forest’s legal department because early engagement is crucial to initiating their process and maintaining the compliance record. In these instances, Aston Group collates a gas service legal pack and provides this to the Legal Team. This pack includes:
- 28-day and 7-day reminders
- All no-access information/cards
- 48-hour notice letters
- Confirmation that all necessary checks have been completed by Housing Management regarding vulnerabilities etc.
Once the Legal team is in receipt of all correspondence, a court summons is issued requesting access. This correspondence is hand-delivered to the property by Aston Group. During these visits, we try to gain access and attempt to arrange an appointment with the resident.
Prior to the Court Hearing date, most of the residents make contact and book further appointments. However, for the minority, the process continues. Once the warrant of entry is obtained, a further letter is prepared by the Legal Team and hand-delivered by Aston Group. It advises the residents of the forced entry date and time.
One we have obtained the Court’s warrants, we organise the forced entries and advise all relevant teams, in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act. The teams that attend the forced entry are made up of:
- a representative from the Waltham Forest Housing Management Team
- a locksmith
- Aston Group’s service engineer and supervisor.
The gas-inspection process usually runs smoothly, but it has become increasingly difficult since March 2020 due to COVID-19 and related restrictions.
Understandably, residents were reluctant to allow engineers into their homes due to the possible spread of COVID-19. As a team, Aston Group and Waltham Forest adapted our processes and overcome challenges, such as not physically attending court (at present, warrants are obtained via online proceedings).
On some occasions, we even encountered verbal abuse from residents. In spite of the potential setbacks, the team pushed ahead with its work with the support of Waltham Forest Council.
“Keeping our 100% compliance for the entire 10-year period has been extremely satisfying,” says Luca Carstea, Gas and Repair Manager at Aston Group. “When we first achieved the 100% compliance goal, the team was delighted and it was a time for celebration. Then, as the years passed, we reported 12 months’ compliance, then 60 consecutive months (five years) and, ultimately, this incredible achievement of 120 consecutive months, or 10 years.
“We have encountered a number of challenges over the last ten years, from aggressive residents, for whom riot police had to be called, and flats being used as drug dens, to the tragic circumstance of discovering a deceased resident on a forced entry – and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Communication is the key to solving many of these problems: not being afraid to take decisive action, and knowing whom to contact and when.
“What sets this team apart is its unity. We never hesitate to help whenever a team member needs us. Caring for others, a creative approach to problem-solving and pride in our work are also factors.
“We’re absolutely delighted by this achievement because we’re committed to keeping Waltham Forest’s residents safe.”
“In partnership, the London Borough of Waltham Forest and Aston Group has achieved 100% month-on-month gas compliance for 10 years across our housing stock. This is an outstanding achievement and is a reflection of the hard work and commitment of the Aston Group Gas Team, LBWF Housing Gas Team, Housing Management and our Legal Team.
The partnership has ensured the safety of our residents over the years. No more so, than during the recent COVID pandemic, where we met the additional challenges by agreeing to a safe system of work, in order to guarantee the safety of both our residents and the engineers.
This has been a real accomplishment and a testament to what can be achieved when various teams across organisations truly understand the importance and the need to pull together.”
Claudio Rizzi, Head of Mechanical and Electrical, Waltham Forest Council
“It’s with great pleasure that we are able to celebrate 10 years of 100% gas servicing and compliance in our Council housing stock. We are determined that our residents have a decent roof over their head and can live safe and healthy lives, this is at the heart of our Housing strategy, and it’s been a true partnership to get to this point. There are so many teams involved that, if any one link in the chain broke, the whole process would fail. From the Aston Group team, which delivers the gas inspections and the correspondence, to the Legal Team and the Housing Management team, everyone has really pulled together to achieve this incredible milestone.”
Councillor Louise Mitchell, Housing and Homelessness Prevention, Waltham Forest Council