Sovereign Trades employee carrying out a safety check in a communal stairwell

Regulator issues Sovereign with Regulatory Notice

The Regulator of Social Housing has today published a regulatory notice stating that Sovereign’s management of statutory health and safety compliance has breached the requirements of the Home Standard. This relates to fire risk assessments (FRAs), electrical safety checks and asbestos safety checks in communal areas of some of our blocks. The findings do not relate to individual homes, where we can confirm ongoing compliance.

As the regulatory notice acknowledges, Sovereign is putting this right. Since we first identified the data error, we have undertaken an extensive programme to validate historic data and to establish which blocks have communal areas and if they require up-to-date safety checks. Where checks are needed, we are carrying them out immediately. All asbestos checks and electrical safety checks have now been completed. All fire risk assessments will be completed by the end of February, at the latest. To date, no “Category A” actions have has been required following these inspections.

The reinspection programmes relate only to communal areas for asbestos, FRAs and electrical checks and not to individual homes. Communal areas can include shared bike sheds, storage cupboards or doorways. Although many different types of property have been included in our reinspection programme, a significant majority are low-rise blocks with three or fewer homes.

We made a self-referral to the Regulator at the earliest opportunity and have worked closely with them throughout. We will continue to keep the Regulator fully informed as we conclude our reinspection programmes.

Our Internal Audit and Risk Director is carrying out a root cause analysis to understand how this happened and has appointed an independent consultancy Campbell Tickell to carry out a thorough investigation.

We will be writing to every customer affected and we’ve set up a dedicated helpline where the team will answer any questions relating to these specific issues. Affected customers can call 01256 302485 (available Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, with an answerphone outside these times to leave a message if they would like us to ring them back).

Background

Following concerns raised in our property services team, Sovereign made a self-referral to the Social Housing Regulator at the earliest opportunity regarding potentially incomplete historical data in relation to communal areas in our blocks.

We immediately began an intensive programme of data re-validation to resolve this, alongside a recovery programme, prioritised by risk. To date no high-priority remedial action has been required in communal areas we have surveyed. We have not found any evidence of non-compliance inside our customers’ homes and they continue to meet all safety requirements.

For all three safety checks, our first action was to identify the gaps in our data and then to establish which blocks were missing data. We began visiting blocks to establish whether there was a communal area requiring safety checks. Blocks without communal areas are being removed from the programme as we go. Where we are identifying blocks with communal areas that need updated safety checks we are carrying them out immediately. The asbestos and electrical safety reinspection programmes have been concluded and work is ongoing on the fire safety programme.

In respect of fire safety, we identified a baseline of 1917 blocks without complete data. Of those we have surveyed to date, 10% have required a fire risk assessment and have been added to our reinspection programme. Our data revalidation also identified 919 maisonettes without complete data. Of these 2% have been added into our reinspection programme. We are about three quarters of the way through this programme and aim to complete it before the end of February at the latest.

In respect of electrical safety checks, we identified a baseline of 2,739 blocks without complete data. Of those, 14% required an electrical safety check and have been added to our reinspection programme. This programme has been completed.

In respect of asbestos checks, we identified a baseline 440 blocks without complete data. Of those, 47% were added to our reinspection programme. This programme was completed in December 2021.

To date, no “Category A” actions have has been required following these inspections.

Commentary from Sovereign chief executive, Mark Washer

Speaking today, Mark Washer, CEO said:

“Our customers’ safety is our number one priority. As soon as we uncovered the fact that historic data on communal areas was incomplete, we set in train three major recovery programmes. We have been working round the clock to establish both whether our blocks have a communal area that should be subject to checks, and if so whether those checks are up-to-date. We have invested over £1.5 million in these programmes, and I am pleased that have acted to put this right so quickly. We have completed the overwhelming bulk of inspections, and we will have finished the remaining inspections by the end of February.”

“We have been in contact with the Regulator throughout to ensure complete transparency and we will continue to update them as we conclude these recovery programmes.

“It is completely unacceptable that our data and processes meant we did not have a clear picture of whether our blocks have communal areas and if so if they need safety checks. Everyone at Sovereign from the top down has a responsibility to ensure that our processes comply with appropriate legislation and to guarantee the safety of our customers. Throughout the recovery programmes we have taken a risk-based approach, ensuring that we focused first on higher-risk blocks and vulnerable customers. But we will continue until every last property we own has up-to-date safety records.

“I recognise that managing data in a large and complex organisation like Sovereign, with over 60,000 homes, and which has been the product of successive mergers presents challenges. However, there is no excuse of failing to keep accurate records of a building’s safety. The measures we are putting in place as part of our Building Safety and Compliance Framework must ensure that this can never happen again.”

He went on to say:

“Within the last year we strengthened our team with the appointment of a new director of property services and a new director of health and safety, and I am working closely with them as we move into the next phase of the programmes. Separately to their work I have asked our Director of Audit & Risk to investigate this as a matter of urgency and appointed an independent consultant. We will, of course, take extremely seriously the Regulator’s findings in this case and will implement any recommendations made.”