In May 2018, just under a year after the Grenfell tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt published Building a Safer Future – an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. Dame Judith’s conclusion about a “culture of indifference” included her concern that “the voices of residents often go unheard, even when safety issues are identified”.
In order to bring residents closer to the nuts and bolts of building safety and to give them a louder voice, the BSA 2022 (as applied to buildings ‘in scope’ ≥ 18m/7 storeys) requires that residents have access to key building safety information; that there are clear methods for residents to bring safety issues to the fore; and residents have a chance to participate in decision making.
Amongst several other responsibilities, the Principal Accountable Person (PAP) is now obliged (since 1 October 2023) to prepare a residents’ engagement strategy (RES), keep it under review and establish a complaints procedure – all of which forms part of the golden thread of information and the building’s safety case. As the PAP’s managing agent, this is likely to fall to you to lead on.
What does a RES need to achieve?
A RES will keep residents informed with building safety issues, promoting their active participation when decisions are made, no matter the potential language or disability barriers. Safety information must be delivered routinely, proactively and it must be easy to retrieve. Ultimately, the RES will support a culture of continuous building safety learning.
Once prepared, reasonable steps must be taken to ensure a copy is provided to each resident aged at least 16 years, irrespective of their ownership status. For a sector that is largely unconcerned with the leaseholders’ tenants, this will be a culture shock to most in block management. Best endeavours will be needed to track who is living in the building. Be careful with data protection requirements.
Then the PAP needs to put the strategy into action.
Inevitably, this means plenty of electronic communication with the residents, hence a portal solution for the building will be invaluable. Here are some ways that a portal will help you engage with your residents on matters of building safety:
- Portal registration: This is crucial. If the residents are signed up to the portal, then you can reach them quickly and easily. The challenge comes from engaging with leaseholders’ subtenants, who may be reluctant to register. Do give them opportunities to register to satisfy other needs, such as receiving parcels or booking an amenity room. Encourage leaseholders to share their tenants’ details, and lettings agents can play their part too. The portal will let you know which flats/residents have registered and have ‘engaged’ and which have not, so you can prioritise accordingly. Displaying QR codes in the common parts saying “SCAN ME TO STAY SAFE” may encourage residents to sign up to being part of a safer community.
- Fire Safety Induction: Through the portal, a fire safety ‘wizard’ will lead new owners and tenants step-by-step through the fire strategy of the building in a digestible and engaging way. Eventually, portals will be able to guide residents through the building virtually, as part of their building safety journey, but in the meantime, they can enjoy multimedia content, flipbook guides and links to other safety resources.
- Communication hub: The portal will serve as a central hub for communication between building management, the client/PAP, the individual leaseholders and all residents. The portal can facilitate the efficient sharing of information, including notifications of identified building safety risks and remedial actions. All communications and actions are logged on the system, giving you and any other stakeholder a full audit trail. For urgent matters or emergencies, a portal’s notification system is vital in alerting all residents to the dangers, via SMS, app or email.
- Events and Meetings: Part and parcel of resident engagement is holding meetings, online and face to face. Such forums can be organised via the portal and residents can RSVP via the platform to confirm their attendance and demonstrate their engagement. Invite the local fire service to give a talk and you may see a surge in sign-ups. A good time for a meeting is when it is more vulnerable from a safety angle – e.g. during major works.
- Secure document library: Every good portal will have a document repository allowing residents to login and retrieve a copy of the FRA, a fire door guide, the latest PMP, and anything you make available to them.
- User rights and access: A good portal will have user access levels, corresponding with the right to see and receive particular information. For instance, RMC directors will enjoy a comprehensive view of the building safety portal, whereas leaseholders will see less, and tenants less again. Surveyors and contractors will interact with the portal in a limited but helpful manner.
- Feedback: Collecting and acting on feedback from residents is a requirement with a RES. Your portal may be able to host satisfaction surveys, polls and feedback forms, to gather insights on residents’ experiences and any concerns they have about their building’s safety.
Implementing robust resident engagement strategies not only aligns with the legal requirements of the BSA, but also fosters a safer, more secure, and harmonious living environment. By promoting active involvement, transparency and collaboration, your RES will pave the way for a more resilient and empowered residential community, ensuring the well-being of occupants in the years to come.
Chris Stansell MRICS MAPM, Managing Director, Earl Kendrick London