A 21st Century Guide to LGSR

Faulty Gas and Heating systems pose a definitive health risk to residents. An average of 9,700 deaths per year are believed to be caused by living in a cold home, according to the NEA’s research. For the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions, the risk is intensified. That is why regular Gas Safety checks are vital. The overall aim of the Housing Sector is ‘about keeping our customers safe and our organisations legal’, this requires regular gas safety checks along with consistent boiler maintenance to ensure the health and wellbeing of residents.

Current UK law dictates that Landlord Gas Safety Records (LGSRs) should be carried out at least once every twelve months in order to ensure that all gas appliances, flues and related pipework are meeting the outlined safety standards. One of the biggest frustrations facing Housing Associations is compliance. With the renewed scrutiny on gas safety and the Fitness for Human Habitation law, non-compliant properties could end up costing landlords thousands in legal fees, as well as risking resident health.

In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement and current UK Net Zero policies, the Housing Sector is shifting away from Gas systems in favour of climate-neutral electrical solutions.  But this change isn’t instantaneous. Figures show that approximately 85% of homes across the UK are reliant on Gas heating systems, which means that Gas Safety remains a vital concern for Housing Providers across the country. With tightening budgets and strict compliance laws, Providers are looking for a way to streamline the efficiency of these procedures to ensure all homes are safe and secure.

But how can Housing Providers streamline existing Gas Safety procedures?

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Understanding What’s Broken

The first step is to understand the common issues affecting most homes. In terms of procedure, the most ineffective thing is the use of fault codes. Boiler codes are an important part of maintaining a property and ensuring that a home is safe. These codes allow engineers to identify what the specific fault is and how best to resolve it. Unfortunately, this area is responsible for a lot of wasted time and effort.

When conducting a boiler inspection, often the engineer will have no understanding of what the issue might be until they’re inside the property. This means that on many occasions, maintenance teams have to conduct multiple visits to a single property because they are unlikely to be equipped with the right tools on the initial assessment. With this approach it is almost guaranteed that multiple visits will be required, inconveniencing both the resident and the Housing Provider.

These repeat visits could be detrimental to resident satisfaction. For example, if an engineer is called out to a property to repair a boiler but discovers they do not have the right equipment, the tenant could be left without proper heating until the next visit. When it comes to vulnerable resident groups, such as the elderly or those with disabilities, this can have severe consequences on their health and wellbeing.

This is where modern advancements could be the answer. Nowadays, technology can be used to conduct remote boiler tests, allowing maintenance teams to identify the issue ahead of their visit and ensure they have the necessary fix. Not only does this reduce the risk of negative resident response, but it also has the potential to save Housing Providers money. A lot of the time, maintenance is outsourced. Knowing that they’ll likely be required to make multiple visits to a property, thus losing out on pay, maintenance teams write these extra costs into the contract as a safety net. By eliminating the need for this, Housing Providers will likely be rewarded with lower overall costs, allowing them to maximise their budgets, and channel added finances into other outlets in need of attention.

What Is A Remote Boiler Test?

Remote boiler tests are a great way to prevent the deluge of heating maintenance requests that occur at the first sign of winter. Heating systems don’t last forever. However, repairing them can be a costly job and can lead to negative resident engagement. Technology can help circumvent this. Remote tests allow Housing Providers to screen for issues, giving them the opportunity to test efficiency and flag up any potential problems with the existing system.

This form of remote testing has been used to effectively identify problematic systems during summer, ahead of the first chill. Systems that were shown to be at-risk were then assigned an engineer, who visited the property during regular hours and carried out the necessary repairs – reducing the upheaval to tenants and allowing Housing Providers to save time and money on expensive out-of-hours maintenance calls. Remote Heating tests are the way forward and adopting them sooner rather than later will certainly save your organisation some money.

How Communication Can Facilitate Gas Safety Checks

According to Russell Thompson, Group Director of Property Services at Thirteen Group, ‘It is short-sighted and naïve to think you can just leave it to the gas team’ to ensure proper Gas Safety measures are carried out. In Thompson’s view ‘Collaboration and communication with colleagues and customers are key factors in maintaining and developing understanding and ownership of compliance’, and without clear lines of communication achieving compliance across the Social Housing sector will be an impossible task.

One thing is clear: the responsibility for gas compliance should not rest solely on the maintenance team.

Involving residents in Gas Safety procedures could be the solution. One of the biggest frustrations when it comes to Gas inspections is gaining access to properties. Research carried out by CIH on behalf of Mears showed that they had an average of 31% no access appointments, costing them £2.4million per year.

Without the assistance of Technology, Housing Providers are reliant on written correspondence and email which can easily go unanswered. When planning maintenance visits, Housing Providers need to consider time frames, cost, and resident availability. One of the main causes of no-access visits is a failure to communicate with tenants effectively. The time it takes to resend communication can affect maintenance response times and lead to excessive repair costs for Landlords, in extreme cases, it can lead to a costly lawsuit.

What Can Be Done To Minimise Risks?

Evidence shows us that communicating with residents, keeping them informed on compliance procedures, and updating them throughout the process will help bolster resident engagement. This ensures that residents feel valued by their Housing Providers. Satisfied tenants are much more likely to engage positively with landlords and maintenance crews, facilitating annual inspections and general upkeep of a property. This helps boost the rate of access, with engaged residents more likely to report issues and to respond to requests issued by their landlords in a timely manner.

One way to do this is to create an accessible online presence. In creating an online presence, Housing Providers can offer full transparency and access to necessary information which helps regain resident trust.

Another way communication can be used to assist with Gas Safety is to generate company-wide involvement. Employees in all departments should be made aware of outlined policies and procedures and kept informed of any amendments. This creates a culture of collaboration. Staff across departments can communicate readily with tenants and provide support to the maintenance teams, reducing their overall workload and ensuring that all properties are maintained to a high standard in line with government policy.

Maintaining an awareness of current circumstances and sharing this information internally is a simple way to maximise communication. If employees don’t understand procedures, how can housing providers expect their tenants to understand them? Gas Safety is of huge importance and if a property fails to meet Government standards vulnerable people will suffer, these problems are significantly easier to solve if staff are made aware of proper procedures.

How Digitisation Can Help With Property Maintenance

Technology can help reduce the overall cost of Gas safety inspections in several ways. The collection of data gives Housing Providers a keen insight into their properties, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of potential problems, and fix them before they spiral out of control. There is also the potential to schedule maintenance visits remotely – cutting paper waste, saving time and effort, and achieving a higher response rate.

In digitally scheduling appointments, Housing Providers can offer residents a choice of times and dates – allowing more flexibility for tenants while ensuring that maintenance visits are carried out on time thus limiting the risk of litigation. Digital scheduling is a more reliable method of communication when compared to the traditional paper approach. While letters can go unread, misplaced, or overlooked, technology can circumvent all these problems by allowing Housing Providers to send periodical reminders to residents, prompting them to select a date that is viable for them. Certain technology also enables landlords to see when messages have been received and read, which in case of a lawsuit can show that every attempt was made to be compliant.

Technology offers Housing Providers the chance to address outstanding concerns and undertake necessary repairs proactively rather than reactively, saving them money in the long term and increasing resident satisfaction. For example, Switchee’s technology allows maintenance teams to remotely test boilers and identify any areas of concern ahead of peak seasons. This cuts costs and reduces the overall wait time for tenants, it also alleviates some of the strain from maintenance teams. By testing boilers in the summer, issues can be dealt with ahead of the first cold snap when many residents, when turning on their heating after the stretch of summer heat, find out that it is not working. This leads to an increase in emergency call outs, added strain on maintenance teams, and proves a bigger risk to resident health and wellbeing.

Technology plays an invaluable role in the upkeep of properties. Through the use of technology, Housing Providers can develop clear lines of communication with their residents without devoting hours of their time to this end. For example, more and more Housing Providers are turning to automated messaging. Automated systems send out emails or text messages to residents and are a great way to spread information without requiring a lot of effort from Housing Providers. These methods can then help to reduce the number of wasted visits by offering options for the residents, allowing them to fit routine maintenance visits around their daily lives. This, in turn, leads to positive feedback from residents. Automated communication provides efficient customer service for tenants while freeing up time for Housing Providers to focus on more complex issues.

What’s The Takeaway?

Technology is quickly becoming an essential part of the Housing Sector. Through digitised data, Housing Providers can gain a better understanding of their properties and in doing so, they can implement proactive repairs. Technology can keep track of household conditions such as the average temperature, absolute humidity, and air quality, allowing landlords to assess the data at their convenience and gain key insight into their homes and allowing them to make targeted repairs.

Through a combined effort of virtual resources and digitised data, Landlords can strengthen communication between themselves and their tenants which, in turn, minimises the risk of complaints and legal suits.

Digitisation opens the way for more transparency within the Social Housing Sector, showing residents that their feedback is valued and implemented into the day-to-day operations while streamlining efficiency.

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