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Tenant Services Authority - Plans for national register of social housing tower blocks

Plans for a national register of social housing tower blocks in England are being outlined today by the Tenant Services Authority (TSA).

The social housing regulator’s national register will hold details on ownership, the number of properties and the age of the tower block. It will also list the date of the last fire risk assessment and the date of the next assessment.

The TSA will begin collecting data from housing associations in February 2010.

Phil Morgan, Executive Director Tenant Services said, “The health and safety of tenants is obviously of paramount importance to housing associations and their tenants.  That is why the TSA is proposing to include health and safety in its new standards for social housing landlords, which come into force from April, and by developing a new national register of tower blocks.

“The register will be a valuable tool, allowing us to build up a comprehensive picture of tower blocks in England. It will allow us to work with landlords to ensure that they are fully complying with their responsibilities to carry out risk assessments and taking appropriate action so that tenants are properly protected from the risk of fire.”

The TSA wrote to all housing associations in July last year asking them to check the fire safety of their tower blocks following the fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell. Housing associations were asked to inform the TSA if they owned any housing with similar “scissor block” design features which were of concern.  Communities and Local Government (CLG), with whom the TSA is working closely on these issues, wrote to all local authorities asking for similar information.

Five housing associations have reported that they have a total of six blocks with a similar design to Lakanal.  These associations are:
• Amicus Horizon
• Gentoo Sunderland
• South Yorkshire Housing Association
• Paragon Community Housing -subsidiary:- Richmond upon Thames Churches Housing Trust
• Whitefriars Housing Group

All five associations have advised the TSA of the plans in place or action taken to address any fire safety issues. All of the associations have up-to-date fire assessments and the tenants who live in the six blocks have been notified and will be kept updated.

As the regulator, the TSA is continuing to work with the five landlords on the issues raised.

The register is expected to be available in the summer.

For media enquiries, contact the press office on 020 7393 2094/2118/2115 or by email pressoffice@tsa.gsx.gov.uk

Notes to editors:
1) Scissor block” design has a number of variants, but typically has two storey flats or maisonettes laid out so that the lower storey is served by a common corridor leading to a shared stairwell whilst the upper storey, accessed by an internal staircase, spans from side to side of the building passing over the common corridor.  In taller buildings this pattern is repeated.  The proposed register of tower blocks would include all buildings of six storeys or more (excluding basements) that contain social tenants.

2) The blocks with similar design features to Lakanal are:
Amicus Horizon: 170 Peckham Rye, London (5 homes) This scheme is not a tower block - it is a small 4 storey 5 home scheme.
Gentoo Sunderland:  Hahnemann Court, Sunderland (208 homes, 94 tenants).   This property is being decommissioned with 80 tenants being rehoused during  February and March.

Paragon Housing Association (subsidiary Richmond upon Thames Churches Housing Trust) Palgrave House, Whitton (24 homes) Palgrave House is a 4 storey block of 24 two bedroom maisonettes.

South Yorkshire Housing Association:  The Fosters, Sheffield (35 homes).  The Fosters tower block is to be demolished in summer 2010 following completion of 15 new apartments.  13 tenants have chosen to remain at Fosters until the new properties are completed in May 2010.  

Whitefriars Housing Group:  Paul Stacey House, Coventry (58 homes) and Douglas House, Coventry (58 homes). 

3) The TSA ‘s view, shared by CLG is that whatever the design of a building, the key issue is that landlords are fully meeting their responsibilities for carrying out risk assessments to ensure the safety of their tenants.  The TSA will continue to work closely with CLG and other relevant organisations to ensure social landlords have appropriate guidance on these matters.

4) The Tenant Services Authority (TSA) is the independent regulator for affordable housing. It launched on 1 December 2008 and currently regulates housing associations. From spring 2010, subject to Parliamentary approval, the TSA will also regulate other providers of social housing, such as local authorities and arm’s-length management organisations.

5) The TSA is consulting with social housing tenants across five million households and their landlords, as well as stakeholders, to develop new standards to improve services for tenants. The statutory consultation, which begun on 12 November 2009, will close on 5 February.

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