22 Sep 23
Sheffield City Council received 1,970 new disrepair cases in the year to April 2023, compared with 392 in April 2021, and just 117 in April 2018, a report prepared for a meeting of its Housing Policy Committee last week (14 September) has revealed.
The report suggested, however, that the council “may have reached the peak case numbers”. Up to the end of July 2023 there have been 210 new cases.
It said disrepair cases had increased not only due to a pause of non-urgent repair work in 2020 due to COVID 19 but also due to changes in legalisation. “Our Legal Team advised us back in 2021 that in their professional opinion we will continue to see cases increase,” it noted.
The report identified several reasons behind the large increase in the volume of disrepair cases. These include:
a) The Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 – this applies to all tenancies since 20 March 2020. It places additional repairing obligations on landlords to keep its properties ‘fit for human habitation’ and free from hazards. There is only an actual breach, and the Council are liable, if the property is uninhabitable.
b) Changes to funding of Personal Injury (PI) claims – under court reforms solicitors can now only claim fixed fees for PI cases. This makes that area of works less attractive. Claims Farmers view Disrepair as ‘the new PPI’ and an area where social landlords are vulnerable. As there is not currently a fixed fee regime, Claims Farmers can claim disproportionately high costs in relation to damages.
c) Pandemic – tenants have spent an unprecedented amount of time at home during the pandemic and noticed areas of their property where there is disrepair. In addition, we ceased responsive repair works to properties during the pandemic resulting in a backlog of responsive repair works to properties.
The report said: “We do not feel that case numbers will return to pre covid levels of 117 – 200 cases per annum however we forecast that it is likely that we will see new monthly cases of around 50 – 70 per month so around 500 – 840 new cases per annum moving forwards.”
It also revealed that in 22/23, the average payment in compensation to customers was £397.76. In 23/24 (up to end of July 23), it was £858.88.
The report noted that the average amount paid out had “remained constant” for each case, but there had been a shift in the split between the percentage of damages paid to the customer in cases.
“In general, this has decreased from 52% to 30% in each case with a greater share going to the tenant’s solicitor”, the report added.
Total payments/expenditure for 2022-23 amounted to £2.93m, compared to £1.75m the previous year, £573,000 in 2020-21 and £292,000 in 2018/19.
The report noted that the council was still receiving more disrepair claims than it was resolving, adding: “it is clear that we need to invest in further repair teams to ensure that we can complete a higher number of works orders per month”.
It noted that if disrepair repair work is not completed within a maximum of 55 days, the council’s liability increases. However, the data revealed it is only completing 6.5% of disrepair repairs within the 55-day target.
The report said this was due to the council prioritising cases from its backlog.
Sheffield has introduced a new triage process for all disrepair cases, amongst other measures.
Outlining its “early resolution improvement plan”, the council also said it would, amongst other measures, “continue to improve performance” of Repairs and Maintenance Officers to ensure that it can complete 20 disrepair pre inspections per week.
This would mean it can achieve its financial saving of £1.2m within the Housing Revenue Account budget for 23-24.
The report said the council’s Repairs Service currently had two teams engaged on disrepair activity and were looking to engage additional resources to support completion of repair orders in excess of new disrepair claims coming into the council.
It was “business critical” that the council drives a monthly reduction in disrepair cases completed within the 55-day repair category, the report added.
It also revealed that Sheffield is “researching the use of environmental sensors to properties experiencing damp and mould” so that it can “specify this as a standard item on all properties reporting disrepair”.
Further, the council noted that it has “many people” who are advised by their legal representative not to allow them to enter a property until they have agreed the works/claim level.
On this, the report said: “We will deal with these cases more robustly in future and will be clear with legal companies that we have a legal right to enter the property and mitigate a claim and to ensure that all repair work is completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
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