Keeping essential services running
Some of the services carried out by our 300-strong Technical Services Team include:
- Repairing tenants’ homes and empty properties
- Emergency repairs
- Gas safety checks and responsive gas repairs
- Other safety checks including electrical, fire safety, asbestos
- Planned maintenance such as electrical rewires, fitting new kitchens and bathrooms, painting, re-roofing, and replacing brickwork or guttering
- Health and safety
- Purchasing and storing materials
- Damp and condensation management
- Business Services
How our Technical Services Team has risen to the challenges of the pandemic
If you need an emergency repair doing, it’s reassuring to know that someone will be out to fix it quickly. Every year, our Technical Services Team carries out thousands of vital jobs to keep tenants safe, warm and comfortable at home.
With over 18,000 properties to look after, it’s a big operation. The team has around 300 staff delivering a range of repair and maintenance services, some of which operate 24 hours a day throughout the year.
We know that a responsive repairs service is crucial for you, especially when there’s an emergency. So, when the pandemic struck and the government ordered its first lockdown in March 2020, we had to re-think our approach and find a way to keep essential services running safely.
In the beginning
Paul Gorton, Repairs and Maintenance Contracts Manager, says the lockdown created a unique situation that we had to adapt to quickly: “Our service involves going into tenants’ homes, and the public were being told not to mix with people outside of their household. It took a few days to get some guidance from the government on how to operate. We then had to understand what this meant for us and what we needed to do – downing tools wasn’t an option.”
Our main concern was your safety and our staff’s safety, so the team had to scale back repairs and focus on critical services. These included emergency repairs, safety checks and working on our unoccupied properties so we could still provide housing for people who desperately needed somewhere to live.
“One of the first things we did was carry out a full risk assessment and create safe systems of work,” says Paul. “We looked at what type and amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) we needed and how to source it, which staff needed to shield, how the team could maintain two-metre distancing and how we would cover all of our critical services.
“Focusing on keeping our staff and customers safe, we followed government guidance as it was announced and collaborated with unions and staff to create new ways of working. Processes were, and still are, reviewed constantly as the situation changes.”
Tackling new challenges
Our team had to be flexible as things were changing on a daily basis and there were a number of challenges to overcome.
Firstly, there was a worldwide shortage of PPE such as masks, gloves and sanitising spray. There was also a shortage of materials, such as plaster, because many builders’ suppliers and manufacturers were closed. Office-based staff responsible for raising jobs, tracking progress and recording costs also had to move to home working while operatives worked from their vans.
Some staff had to shield because of health reasons while others self-isolated after having contact with the virus and, more recently, through track and trace. Many of our contractors – such as asbestos removal specialists – either furloughed their employees, had ongoing staff absences, or closed completely.
Our team looked for innovative solutions to problems. For example, to tackle staff shortages, operatives with the right skills moved to work in areas outside of their field. This one-team approach has meant that we’ve been able to deliver the emergency and essential services that many of you have needed, 24 hours a day, without any downtime.
Despite the pandemic, between March and December 2020, our Technical Services Team delivered:
- 24,187 repairs
- 727 empty properties put back into use
- 14,231 gas services
- 2,001 electrical safety tests
- 1,061 general electrical services
Gavin Clapp is our Business Services Manager. Gavin leads a team of 30 staff who provide support to other teams across Technical Services and ultimately you. Speaking about adapting to the situation, Gavin says: “We’ve had to put a number of new steps in place to help ensure our tenants’ safety. We make contact 48 hours before a repairs visit to ask if they or anyone in their household has symptoms of COVID-19, or whether they’re shielding.
“We offer guidance and go through what to expect during a visit. For instance, we explain that operatives will be wearing PPE and ask that members of the household wear a face mask and stay in a different room while work is being done. Since the end of March 2020, we’ve made over 24,000 repair visits and over 16,000 gas and electrical safety visits. These numbers are a credit to all tenants and staff involved.”
As well as delivering these critical services, all customer-facing staff in our Technical Services Team – including caretakers in high-rise blocks – have been happy to offer support and advice where it’s been needed, and, especially to those who’ve felt more vulnerable.
Gavin says the team appreciates that it’s a worrying time for everyone. “We want to reassure tenants who are nervous about operatives coming into their home that we’re working to very high safety standards. It’s vital that we’re able to access homes to carry out emergency work and safety checks. We always follow the latest guidance from the government and regulatory bodies like Gas Safe.”
Gavin adds: “Our tenants have been very patient with us as we continue to navigate our way through this situation. Sometimes we’ve had to re-arrange appointments at short notice and there are people with non-urgent repairs waiting for us. We’ve worked hard to keep people up to date with the progress of their repairs. We want to thank everyone for their patience and for following guidelines whilst we work in their homes safely.”
Providing essential and emergency services, including ready to let properties has been, and will continue to be, our priority.
Behind the scenes we’re planning to reintroduce all our repairs and maintenance services as soon as restrictions are lifted, and it’s safe for you and our staff. If you’ve been waiting for a repair appointment, thank you for your patience and understanding. Take care.