Resident engagement in high rise residential buildings is a legal requirement but makes sense in all kinds of social housing, says Hannah Mansell, group technical director for Masonite companies in the UK.
The need to engage with building residents on fire safety came in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent Building a Safer Future report by Dame Judith Hackitt. She concluded that better engagement and investment of effort to build a co-operative relationship would help residents feel involved and create trust, while residents themselves are often best placed to support the building management in making decisions that impact on the safety of the building.
Hackitt recommended that a resident engagement strategy “should outline how the dutyholder will share information with residents, how they inform them of their rights and responsibilities, and how they involve residents in decision-making on changes to the building that could impact on safety”.
Building Safety Act 2022: what’s next for resident engagement
Under what is now the Building Safety Act 2022, the principal accountable person must prepare and keep under review a residents’ engagement strategy and provide residents with relevant safety information – as well as keep and update prescribed information about the building. The principal accountable person will be expected to manage the building in accordance with the safety case and the building assessment certificate issued by the Building Safety Regulator. This includes organising the inspection and maintenance of fire doors.
On the other side of the coin, residents also have a responsibility to make sure that their actions don’t undermine the safety of others, and this applies to them regardless of their tenure. They must:
- not act in a way that creates a significant risk of fire or structural failure
- not interfere with a relevant safety item. (When it comes to fire doors, for example, this means not disabling a door closer, wedging or propping open fire doors or fitting additional door furniture that does not match the certification)
- comply with a request by the accountable person for information reasonably required to perform their duties to assess and manage building safety risks
The principal accountable person is required to produce a strategy that promotes residents’ engagement and involvement about the management of their building’s safety. It must also explain how residents will be consulted, and how the effectiveness of the strategy will be measured.
Alongside the engagement strategy, the accountable person must also establish a complaints system that ensures residents’ safety concerns are heard and dealt with. The building safety regulator will also have a complaints system, where residents can escalate their complaints if they feel they are not being addressed by the accountable person.
Going beyond the scope
But resident engagement is not a new concept; it’s been around for some time in both social and private rented housing, such as the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard for registered providers and the Regulatory Framework for Social Housing in England. It makes sense for all landlords – not just those with buildings in scope of the Building Safety Act – to take resident engagement seriously.
The Impact Assessment accompanying the original draft Building Safety Bill estimated that approximately 13,000 existing buildings would be covered by the legislation once it came into force. Forecasts suggested that this would rise by approximately 3% per year due to new development, which is around 490 homes.
While this is only a relatively small proportion, that is not to say that these principles around resident engagement should not be more widely adopted. In fact, several housing associations have led the way by formulating best practice across all their homes based on many of the provisions on resident engagement as set out in the Hackitt report and subsequently the Building Safety Act.
While each building will require a strategy tailored to its characteristics and its residents, when creating an engagement strategy social landlords should consider:
- outlining the engagement objectives, including safety information and updates, maintenance works and the roles and responsibilities of the landlord and resident. Objectives should identify the best ways to engage and communicate with all residents, and establish an effective feedback mechanism that provides regular input from residents
- the diversity of the people in a building, including others occupying or visiting – such as family and friends – and service providers such as electricians or plumbers
- how safety information is communicated to residents, where and how can it be accessed, and what is the process for raising concerns
- establishing an implementation plan using methods such as personalised letters, infographics and repeat messaging, and testing it on a sample group of residents
- incorporating residents’ feedback so that they feel valued and ‘buy in’ to the strategy
By following these principles, landlords can create a circle of improved safety while benefitting from better relationships with residents and resident retention. Ultimately, this will build confidence that you are doing everything you can to keep the people in your buildings safe.
Information on fire doors
It is good practice to give residents as much information as possible, including:
- How a fire door system works – identify the different components, door closers, hinges, intumescent seals, that combine to make the fire door work in the event of a fire
- Clarify the purpose of fire doors, highlighting the key role they play in preventing the spread of flames, smoke and other toxic gases
- Tell them what their fire door should look like and how it should operate on a daily basis. A working fire doorset should close automatically within the frame, without the need for additional force.
- Let residents know about the traceability label or plug that should be located on the door.
- Highlight potential issues with a fire door that are a result of both wear and tear, such as missing or loose screws or the door dropping, and vandalism of the door, such as the arm of a door closer being disengaged. Also, emphasise the harmful impact of a letter plate or glazing panel being added that is not in the original specification.
- And finally, remind them that they should not disable the door closers, add additional ironmongery – even something as small as a new door number – or wedge or prop fire doors open.