Fire safety failures at Camden Council ‘put residents at risk of harm’, says housing watchdog

Camden Town Hall

Council tenants were put “at potential risk of harm” when Camden Council failed to put right thousands of fire safety issues, a housing watchdog has found.

The government’s Regulator of Social Housing said the Town Hall had breached home standards, which meant “there was actual and potential serious detriment to LB Camden’s tenants”, and slapped it with a regulatory notice to improve its perfomance.

Kate Dodsworth, the regulator’s chief of regulatory engagement, said: “Through our investigation, we found that Camden Council has failed to address thousands of fire safety actions in its tenants’ homes. This is unacceptable and has put tenants at potential risk of harm. The council needs to act urgently to put things right, and we will scrutinise it closely as it does this.”

It looked into the council’s actions after it was fined £500,000 this May when London Fire Brigade took it to court following a fatal fire in Hampstead in November 2017.

Fire risk assessments in January 2013 and May 2017 found serious risks including combustible wooden cladding on the internal staircase and a lack of proper fire doors on flat entrances.

The council had not put the problems right, although they were on its list of work which needed doing.

The regulator examined “whether the fire safety failings demonstrated by this case had been resolved and whether Camden was compliant with our regulatory standards.”

The investigation found more than 9,000 overdue fire remedial actions – and 1,500 had been on the list to be completed since 2020.

This included 400 high-risk actions, despite a timetable setting out that a third should have been completed within 10 days and the rest within a month.

The council has done fire risk assessments for the 3,200 housing blocks which need one.

The regulator looked at a 2019 internal audit of fire safety, which included 9,000 overdue fire remedial actions and problems about the quality and reporting of issues.

Since then the council has completed more than 40,000 tasks raised by fire risk assessments, improved the way it reports on the work which is needed, and has new governance.

This includes a resident fire safety panel to quiz it on its performance and make recommendations about fire prevention, preparedness, and response and recovery.

The regulator warned : “However, taking into account the outcome of the fire in 2017, the findings of the internal audit in 2019 and the current fire safety position, the evidence demonstrates a longstanding failure by LB Camden to complete all fire safety remedial actions in a timely manner and to mitigate the risks to tenants in the meantime. “

It said: “As a consequence, tenants have been, and continue to be, exposed to potential harm.”

More than 9,000 council homes were lacking a hard-wired smoke alarm and just under 4,000 properties were without a carbon monoxide detector.

The regulator concluded that the council “does not have an effective system in place to allow it to meet its responsibilities in relation to its statutory fire safety responsibilities”.

Camden’s council leader Georgia Gould said: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our residents and we are taking this notice very seriously.”

In the wake of the fatal fire at Grenfell Tower, she said, fire safety was “our first priority and that we would invest in a new era of resident safety”.

Cllr Gould said: “There is still more work to be done to complete all remaining higher risk actions, along with all other lower risk actions. A programme of work is in place for delivery this year and next.

“I won’t be content until every action is complete and that’s what our teams are working on delivering right now. We recognise that many of the remaining actions outlined by the regulator are difficult for residents, such as the removal of security grilles. We will be working alongside residents to complete these.”

The council is introducing monthly updates on its fire safety work, making sure it deals with high-risk actions within their recommended timescales, and more work with residents to get into the 40 per cent of homes it said it can’t access to fit smoke detectors.

Town Hall bosses said they are “ensuring homes have appropriate fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms, and fire stopping.”

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