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Coronavirus latest 09/04/2020 Labelled as Scrutiny, Legislation, Regulation

ARCH's primary focus continues to be to support our member councils through this difficult time and to encourage member councils to keep ARCH informed of any issues which they feel need to be brought to the attention of Government through our regular weekly teleconference updates with senior officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) and other sector representative bodies such as the Local Government Association, Chartered Institute of Housing, London Councils and the National Federation of ALMOs. 


Although we have had to cancel or put on hold ARCH Board meetings, ARCH Tenants' Group meetings and other face to face meetings, we will continue to publish our fortnightly e-bulletin and wherever possible continue our work digitally or over the telephone.


Liaison with MHCLG

We are holding regular weekly "catch-up" teleconferences with MHCLG officials to share concerns and issues flagged up by our member councils.  Those "catch-up" meetings will provide an opportunity for ARCH to raise matters on behalf of our member councils and the sector as a whole, including:


  • Urgent issues affecting or impeding the level of service councils are able to provide to their tenants and residents.
  • The impact of the virus on the long-term financial viability of councils' housing revenue accounts.
  • The impact of the virus on future supply of council housing.
  • The potential role that councils can play in stimulating the supply of housing and wider stimulus to the national economy following the crisis.
  • The potential need to address a number of technical issues including potential changes to legislation and associated government guidance.


Following our first catch-up meeting with MHCLG officials, Government published updated guidance for landlords and tenants on 28 March and at the latest teleconference with MHCLG officials on 7 April several issues flagged up by stock retained councils were discussed:


On immediate concerns MHCLG were asked to raise/escalate:

  • Need for clarity on essential/non-essential work. For reference this is the latest   Cabinet Office guidance on Going to Work.
  • Difficulties in meeting statutory timelines for processing and determining Right to Buy applications. 
  • Reported increases in domestic abuse cases which is having a knock-on effect on other services and difficulty helping people access other services.
  • Increases in requests from DWP seeking landlord confirmation of rent increases, despite assurances from DWP that only cases outside prescribed tolerances would need to be checked.
  • Concern about an increase in homeless people without recourse to public funds who were being housed by charities.
  • The need for adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly for staff working in supported housing and staff needing to conduct home visits to self-isolating or shielding residents for essential emergency repairs and other housing matters. ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby recently wrote to the lead officers at each ARCH member council asking them to complete a very short survey on their specific need for PPE. 


On cost and income pressures:

Overall it was considered too early to say exactly how income will be affected but councils and ALMOs were beginning to raise a number of concerns:  

  • Growing rent and service charge arrears which are looking increasingly likely to become a significant issue, with concerns that leaseholders especially may refuse to pay when service is unable to be provided during the crisis.
  • The growing cost of emergency accommodation - especially as it is impossible to predict how long this will last.
  • Void rent losses due to the slowdown in void repairs, relets and advice to households not to move home unless essential.
  • Rising cost of construction contracts, assuming that when and where construction does resume it will be with social distancing measures and so projects will take longer.
  • Commercial rent arrears where commercial units such as shops are held in the HRA.
  • Longer term homelessness pressures.


On longer term concerns

  • Need for consideration of longer-term impacts and pressures of what delaying new construction and refurbishment works and non-urgent repairs and gas servicing now will do to timelines for services, the extent and size of the backlog and any additional costs of completing construction contracts and backlogs of repairs within reasonable timelines and the capacity of councils and the construction sector to deliver.
  • Concern about the sustainability of current homelessness provisions, and the exit strategy for those homeless households and rough sleepers now living in newly repurposed temporary accommodation.
  • Concern about an expected increase in homelessness at the end of the eviction ban in three to nine months' time as a result of rent arrears in the private rented sector and mortgage arrears and the pressure this will have on local authority housing services and demand for council housing.


Member councils will no doubt have their own Emergency Planning and Business Continuity Plans in place and the Government is providing local authorities with regularly updated wider advice and guidance and ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby has written to the lead officer at each ARCH member council to ask if, without adding any unnecessarily bureaucracy to the work burden at this time, member councils could keep ARCH informed of any housing issues which it is felt need to be brought to the attention of MHCLG as they impact on councils' landlord services, particularly if member councils have useful information to share or action by Government is considered necessary.


Social distancing in the workplace

Following the teleconference, the Government have published further updated advice on social distancing in the workplace for employers published on 7th April.  This practical advice is tailored to various work scenarios. It is not meant to be comprehensive, but it includes specific practical guidance for tradespeople working in homes, construction, and outdoor businesses.


The Government has also published updated guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus.


Gas safety checks


Recognising the concern among social landlords, residents and inspectors, on 7 April 2020, the Health & Safety Executive published further guidance setting out detailed advice for a range of scenarios including:  

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