Ashley Raddon EngTech, FIFireE (Fire Protection Officer from the Torquay based South Devon Group Support Team, seconded to the Housing Standards Team within the Community Safety Unit at Torbay Council) outlines a multi-agency approach to driving up standards in the private rented sector of Devon:
Working efficiently across agencies isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Different policies, processes, procedures and people can sometimes be challenging to navigate. To combat this Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) and Torbay Council are taking the concept of co-location a step further, to create a partnership environment which actively encourages information sharing and creative thinking to solve shared problems at their root cause. It is expected that by working differently in this way, the team will be able to drive up standards of housing in the private rented sector, reduce the risk of harm to residents (including those most vulnerable) and take enforcement action against landlord’s where necessary.
The move is part of the council’s commitment to tackling ‘Rogue Landlords’ in the private rented housing sector. As a dual warranted uniformed Fire and Housing Standards Officer able to enforce both the Fire Safety Order and the Housing Act, my role forms part of a dedicated team comprising officers from a diverse range of agencies and disciplines including housing standards, police, anti-social behaviour, mental health, and immigration.
Tara Fowler, Environmental Health Manager, Torbay Council said “This is about more than just co-location; it’s about bringing together people with a real mix and depth of knowledge, skills and experience to promote a different mindset and creativity around our common goals. It allows the most appropriate tools to be used to resolve an issue or prevent one from escalating.
"For example, a property that was of interest to the Police, Fire and Anti-Social Behaviour Team was closed using an Emergency Prohibition Order under the Housing Act. Taking action in this way provided an efficient response which had a much more positive impact on the community whilst addressing a serious safety issue at the property. Enforce Sale Procedures were then instigated to provide a long term solution. Statements have been provided forming part of the council’s prosecution file.
“For our team we have selected officers from the most appropriate agencies that can assist us to get the best outcomes in our community. For example, we knew that the only way to really understand and support the number of people that touch our services who have complex and chaotic lives was to bring a mental health practitioner into the team, which is exactly what we did”.
Private rented accommodation accounts for 22% of the housing stock in Torbay, which is above the national average. Private rented dwellings have the highest rate of non-decency at an estimated 46% followed by private accommodation at 32%.
The team work hard to identify and assess poor accommodation by working with Landlords and tenants, carrying out assessments in line with the Housing Health and Safety Rating Scheme (HHSRS) and enforcing the Housing Act.
The anticipated outcomes of the 12 month fire secondment are:
• The provision of a service that is more integrated with DSFRS and other agencies providing better and more effective working practices around fire safety issues especially within the private rented sector.
• Robust and innovative co-ordinated enforcement, using the combined tools and powers from the various agencies to tackle Rogue Landlords.
• A multi-agency intelligence led approach to target resources in identified high risk premises with opportunities to data share.
• The implementation of an innovative sustainable partnership agreement to ensure the effective delivery of services to improve safe accommodation in flats and similar premises.
• Support and advise as necessary to other functions within the council’s Community Safety Team such as Food Officers, Licensing, Trading Standards and Environmental Health where fire legislation applies to ensure prompt compliance.
• To lead on and facilitate fire related elements of joint initiatives and projects e.g. Cosy Devon. Cosy Devon is a scheme that brings together Torbay Council, Devon County Council and EON to secure £10m worth of funding under the Energy Company Obligation to improve energy efficiency in homes across Devon. The scheme will improve the thermal efficiency and carbon savings of identified high risk housing groups thereby reducing the incidence of fires caused by inappropriate and inadequate electrical and heating appliances.
• The dual role will also support Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service’s Community Safety Protection Group Area Risk Profile and activity where groups are facing specific identified risks and trends e.g. Mosaic premises types and fire incident data (IRS).
An intelligence police-led operation is about to commence in partnership to target criminal activity within the private rented sector. Police officers will be trained to identify housing and fire related issues including those that maybe of interest to colleagues in Immigration. They will take photos and debrief officers after the execution of their warrant. As this will be targeted at tenant’s behaviour, the issues of why the property has not been ‘managed’ appropriately will also be addressed with the Landlord. This is about promoting behaviour change and having a holistic approach when agencies act. This fully integrated approach is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.
For further information contact: Ashley Raddon EngTech, FIFireE, Fire & Housing Standards Officer, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, Torquay Town Hall, Torquay