The Ministry of Defence is responsible for some 47,800 military homes in the United Kingdom. Since 1 April 2022, the management and maintenance of the vast majority of that accommodation has been delivered by three contractors: Amey in the central and northern regions; VIVO in the south-east and south-west; and Pinnacle who run our national service centre.
There are 27 different statutory and mandatory housing safety inspections that apply to each property, which contractors are required to complete at different time intervals. These inspections are each undertaken by the contractor on a regime planner, with the schedule dates at least 12 weeks in advance of the expiry date of any certification.
By law, all occupied rented homes are required to undertake landlord gas safety inspections (LGSI) every 12 months. As part of the standard protocol, all personnel who move into Defence accommodation should have an LGSI, alongside an electrical installation condition report (EICR), completed within 28 days.
Since April 2022, more than 12,000 families have moved into military houses and been provided with valid statutory and mandatory certificates at the point they move in. However, it has become clear that progress to update gas certificates and electrical inspections for a number of existing residents which had already elapsed was not quick enough. Consequently, as of 20 June, there are 795 homes currently occupied by service families without valid gas certificates.
A number of factors have led to this situation. It appears that in many cases operatives were unable to gain access to properties due to miscommunication. On other occasions, contractors missed agreed appointments. Then there were supply chain resource problems, including sourcing suitably qualified gas and electrical tradespersons and a backlog of work inherited from the previous contract. Furthermore, legislation has reduced the currency of existing electrical safety certificates from 10 years to five, increasing this battery of checks.
The expiry of a certificate does not immediately render a house unsafe, but, clearly, the longer a home is left with expired certificates, the greater the risk that it could become so. During checks to date, no issues have been identified that would represent a serious safety concern for the families involved. That said, the safety of our personnel is paramount and it is unacceptable for any family to be living in a home without the necessary checks.
I was made aware of this issue in early May and immediately acted to address the problem, speaking with the FDIS contractors personally, making it clear to our industry partners that we expect this backlog to be cleared, less any exceptional cases, by the end of June at the latest and preferably sooner.
Although not a statutory requirement, the Ministry of Defence also requires its accommodation contractors to maintain current certificates on unoccupied homes—minimising the safety risk to neighbours or those required to visit for maintenance purposes. It is anticipated that all these unoccupied military homes will have up to date gas safety certificates by mid-July.
Finally, all electrical safety certificates should be up to date by the end of August.
One immediate lesson that has emerged is the need for improved communications. Until now contractors had relied on email to notify residents of upcoming checks. It appears that, for numerous reasons, these were not always seen in enough time to ensure that someone was available at the property.
That has now changed with contractors contacting families through letters, by telephone and through house calls. Instead of the usual individual house appointments, gas engineers have been attending military housing estates on nominated days and, supported by the military chain of command where necessary, have moved between homes to carry out the required inspections.
Service personnel have been notified in advance of these changes and are working closely with the military chain of command and our industry partners to ensure staff balance the need for availability with operational demands. If a service person living in SFA has not received a letter notifying them of this process, they can be assured their home is not in scope.
This is not the first time issues have been raised about military accommodation. Problems will always arise to some degree when you are dealing with an estate of this size and scale and with residents whose job by its very nature is demanding and time constraining. Nonetheless, we must do better. Since Amey and VIVO have not met the acceptable level of performance in this case, the relevant performance credit for fixed and variable profit for the service period has been withheld.
There are signs of improvement, but we are closely monitoring the performance of our contractors over the coming weeks to see the deadlines are met and I receive regular updates on progress.
We are also putting in place a lessons learned process for the medium and long-term. Specifically, what can we learn from the failures here that we can apply to future contracts to avoid similar mistakes.
The safety of our personnel remains our top priority. We rely on them to keep us safe and they rely on us to provide them with safe homes.