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Meeting the requirements of the Building Safety Bill

Social landlords must manage their assets to address safety issues, empowering staff to accurately record and manage data about assets should be the priority for social landlords. In this article originally for Housing Executive Peter Luke considers some of the impacts of the Building Safety Bill will have on existing Housing Management Systems.

In particular, there are some newly prescribed ways of doing certain things and in this article the emphasis is on how to fix the data not the reports through working with the people, creating and applying consistent business rules and automating data management.

With the new building information regime expected to come into force in 2023, social landlords should be diligently preparing their asset management data strategy now before any gaps in information start flowing to customers who will rightly expect better.

Four years on from the Grenfell disaster and many social landlords are still struggling to address the mass of safety issues it exposed.

Poor quality information about the fabric and fittings of tall buildings, and the condition of these products, is one such issue.

Yet, despite the Regulator of Social Housing telling housing providers in 2019 that it expected them to have assurance on the quality and integrity of their stock condition data, and that any landlords without it risked placing their tenants in danger, it has proven difficult to instantly comply.

Further pressure is being applied with the introduction of the Building Safety Bill later this year. Following in the footsteps of the Fire Safety Act, which gained Royal Assent in April, the Building Safety Bill will legislate on issues laid out in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future review, including the effective creation, maintenance and handover of building safety information.

The Building Safety Bill will enforce change, imposing duties on the person responsible for higher-risk buildings to keep, maintain and update ‘prescribed information’. This information must be kept in accordance with ‘prescribed standards’ including the creation of a digital record.

The new regime will see social housing compliance managers facing unprecedented levels of scrutiny. It also presents a major test for the many providers still using spreadsheets to double check stock condition – a common practice that’s often in place because of disparities in the information held by an organisation’s different IT systems.

For instance, it is common for providers to hold varying (and sometimes contradictory) levels of information on the equipment and materials installed in their buildings, from floors and cladding to alarm systems or fire doors.

This lack of structured record keeping makes it difficult for suppliers to respond to tenders and service charge teams struggle to re-charge works to tenants. It will also present barriers as housing providers prepare for inspections.

Empowering staff to accurately record and manage data about their assets should be the priority. The answer is to fix the underlying data, not the report. Here are some initial first steps:

Start with people

Before you look for a new digital system to manage your building information, think about what data governance means from a people perspective. You need the understanding and trust of staff to ensure data is collected and updated in the right way. Whilst service level agreement (SLA) reporting might not motivate everyone in the organisation to the same extent, understanding your link in that chain will help, especially with the regulator calling for complete transparency and flow of performance information to customers.

Apply consistent business rules

If departments have different rules to describe asset information, then the basis for good quality data isn’t there. For example, many organisations will be starting to record compliance information on fire doors for the first time and this is a good opportunity to ensure defects, remediation and overall compliance reporting about the building is consistent from the outset by taking hold of source data and applying consistent business rules. This will help auditing and improve transparency as to where the real problems are.

Automate data management

At the start of a contract, define how asset data will remain updated between parties. Some providers ask suppliers to send asset information quarterly or annually. Others access contract information including asset data, servicing records and certificates via the supplier’s online portal.

By putting automated systems in place to gather, consolidate and transform data from different sources and present this in a unified data layer, it means there is a recognised single source for data within the organisation. This will prevent silos of disconnected information springing up.

Prepare tenant-facing data

Once the Bill is passed, residents living in blocks over 18 metres will have the right to request safety information at any time. Storing data accessibly and ensuring it is always accurate and consistent will become essential. Some landlords might use an app to do this, and others are looking at using existing tenant portals.

With the new building information regime expected to come into force in 2023, social landlords should be diligently preparing their asset management data strategy now before any gaps in information start flowing to customers who will rightly expect better.

Peter Luke is commercial director at social housing data management company Illumar.

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