Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service

Nottingham’s Joint Audit and Inspection Team (JAIT) was established in the autumn of 2019. The idea arose from an informal conversation between two senior colleagues from Nottingham City Council and Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) about building safety.


Summary

Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service have a formalised structure for joint working on fire risks to multi-occupied residential buildings (MORBs). A joint team audits and inspects all buildings containing 11 or more flats. There is a regular programme of meetings in place to provide oversight, share information and ensure that stakeholders are engaged at a senior level.

Working together

Nottingham’s Joint Audit and Inspection Team (JAIT) was established in the autumn of 2019. The idea arose from an informal conversation between two senior colleagues from Nottingham City Council and Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) about building safety.

The two authorities have a strong history of working together, which facilitated the development of the joint team. The council formed the JAIT within its Community Protection service. A principal environmental health officer (EHO) and two other EHOs were assigned to this work, and one fire officer was seconded into the team from NFRS.

The JAIT has grown over time, and now numbers eight individuals:   

  • one principal EHO – responsible for management of general activities and reporting
  • three EHOs – to organise and carry out Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) inspections, produce letters and take enforcement action where necessary
  • two fire safety inspectors – to complete audits and take enforcement action where necessary
  • two support officers – providing administration for the EHOs.

Inspections are carried out by both EHOs from Nottingham City Council and fire safety inspectors from NFRS. They inspect and audit MORBs that contain 11 or more flats, a figure calculated to optimise the number of buildings that could be inspected for the duration of the project. So far, 517 buildings have been identified, with new buildings being added to the list.

The JAIT operates a risk-based approach with the highest-risk properties inspected first. The team uses a range of factors for prioritisation, including:  

  • number of flats/occupiers and height of the premises
  • intelligence from either authority to indicate a historic concern  
  • previous record of inspection or audit at the same premises or where the same ‘responsible person’ has been identified
  • concerns raised by a tenant or other relevant stakeholders (such as accreditation schemes or universities).   

Oversight  

A governance and operating model was put in place early on, which dictates how the joint team operates. It outlines the background, strategic intention, objectives, governance, management and delivery of the project. Operational oversight is provided by both the operations manager and head of service from Nottingham City Council, and by the station manager and area manager for NFRS. There are regular meetings at all levels.

  • The principal EHO holds regular case catch-ups with all EHOs and fire safety inspectors to discuss workloads, cases and training needs.
  • The ‘Operational Assurance’ (OA) meeting (every two months) brings together the principal EHO, operations manager, head of service, station manager and area manager, providing an update on notable cases and statistics of inspections/actions taken.
  • The ‘Bronze’ meeting (every two months, alternating with the OA meeting) is attended by the same five people as above. It provides operational oversight of the JAIT to ensure that risk-based approaches, effective outcomes, communication and stakeholder engagement are being achieved.
  • The ‘Gold’ meeting (every six months) is chaired by Nottingham’s director of community protection and NFRS’s deputy chief fire officer, with the operations manager, head of service, station manager and area manager also present. This oversees governance and strategic delivery – ensuring that the JAIT has sufficient resources and that stakeholders are engaged at a senior level.

The portfolio holder for planning, housing and heritage is updated every six weeks on the work of the wider team and the JAIT.

It was found that many of the buildings being inspected came under Nottingham’s ‘Selective Licensing’ scheme for single and family-occupied properties within the designated area. So, it was agreed that funding for the JAIT would move to come from the licence fee, as it aligned with the work of the scheme to improve rented properties in Nottingham. Duncan Newbutt, Operations Manager, explained: “Many of these buildings fall into the Selective Licensing scheme and have to be inspected. The licence fee funds the JAIT to carry out both a licence compliance inspection and fire safety inspection at the same time, which is working well.”  

Enforcement activity  

There was already a ‘Joint Working Agreement’ in place between Nottingham City Council and NFRS, setting out who enforces what in certain situations. This is a county-wide agreement which has been signed by all of Nottinghamshire’s local housing authorities, creating a clear and consistent approach, and it provided a solid foundation for the JAIT’s work.

Daniel Lewis-Hickinbotham, Principal Environmental Health Officer, said: “Informal actions such as meetings and letters have been highly effective, and in the most part responsible persons have engaged well with the process.”

With regard to enforcement under the Housing Act 2004 specifically for the hazard of fire, the council has served three Improvement Notices.

Example 1: Council enforcement

This building of over 18 metres, occupied by students, had cladding (Aluminium Composite Material and High Pressure Laminate). There was an L1 fire alarm system and a phased simultaneous evacuation strategy. As well as the cladding issues there were missing cavity barriers.

A legal argument was underway between the developer and the freeholder over who would pay for remediation works, which was delaying essential works to the premises. Nottingham City Council contacted the national fire safety Joint Inspection Team to assist in an inspection. As a result of this, an Improvement Notice was served on the freeholder.

This led to both the freeholder and developer setting aside the discussion about who would pay until later. The notice had a six-month operative date and a six-month compliance date. Within one month, all dangerous cladding had been removed. Supply issues delayed the new materials and the compliance date passed, but this was considered a reasonable excuse. During the remediation works, other defects came to light. The freeholder and council are now discussing how these will be remediated. 

Example 2: Fire service enforcement

This under-18 metre new build block of flats had no cladding. There was an L1 fire alarm system and a simultaneous evacuation strategy.

Inspection revealed inadequate protection to the means of escape. Sixty-minute compartmentation did not extend above the false ceiling in the corridors leading to the flats/bedrooms, putting the occupiers, and the means of escape, at risk in the event of a fire. The fire risk assessment (FRA) had missed a number of significant issues.

As the premises was owned and managed by a university, it fell outside the remit of the Housing Act 2004. An Enforcement Notice was served by NFRS with a short timescale for compliance. The building was identical to two others on the same site, which were found to have the same deficiencies.

The council and NFRS worked with the relevant parties at the university to resolve the deficiencies, and to improve the quality of FRAs and fire safety procedures across their whole portfolio. The university appointed a new member of staff to oversee this issue. Compliance with the Enforcement Notice was achieved within the required timescale. 

Learning points

  • Nottingham recognised early on that this work was not just about tall buildings, and that smaller ‘MORBs’ had to be included too.
  • Expert advice from both building control and fire engineers is key to identifying problems and understanding how a building would react in the event of a fire.
  • Appreciate managing agent complications associated with timescales, costs and contractor availability for intrusive investigations.
  • Request relevant paperwork such as FRAs, testing and maintenance records prior to inspections, to reduce time on site.
  • Where possible, appoint one case officer per managing agent to inspect their portfolio, providing a better understanding of patterns of behaviour around fire safety.

Contact

Daniel Lewis-Hickinbotham, Principal Environmental Health Officer, Joint Audit and Inspection Team, Nottingham City Council: [email protected]

Richard Ellis, Station Manager, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service: [email protected]ts-fire.gov.uk