Letting agent furious after social landlord escapes prosecution despite gas safety breaches in 1,000 homes

A decision not to prosecute a social landlord over breaches of gas safety in over 1,000 properties has infuriated a letting agent.

Terry Lovett, of Lovett Sales & Lettings in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, told EYE he is incensed that Luminus Homes has escaped prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive.

He believes that no private letting agency or landlord could possibly have been treated so leniently.

Last August, for example, a private landlord was prosecuted for breaching exactly the same law, the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, and ordered to pay nearly £18,000 after just one rental property, in Haverfordwest, was found to have a dangerous boiler and no gas safety certificate.

Lovett has now written to his MP, Jonathan Djanogly, and to his local council demanding an explanation as to why Luminus Homes has not been prosecuted.

Huntingdon-based Luminus Homes, which owns 7,300 properties, was found to have exposed tenants in more than 1,000 of its homes “to the risk of serious harm”, according to a report last year by the Homes and Communities Agency.

The report said Luminus had not complied with the requirement to provide annual gas safety certificates.

Now the HSE has written to a former county councillor, Paul Bullen, who raised his concerns after receiving complaints from tenants.

The letter said that HSE had investigated: “It is clear from the evidence obtained, breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 have occurred.

“However, it has been decided that no further action (such as legal proceedings) will be taken in respect of this matter by the Health and Safety Executive.

“For confirmation, the breaches considered were: failure by Luminus Homes Ltd to ensure their gas appliances were checked for safety within 12 months (during 2015-16).

“Subsequent inspections of the properties identified 43 appliances were classified as either ‘at risk’ or ‘immediately dangerous’.”

The letter added: “Luminus Homes Ltd had made these appliances safe before your concern was received by HSE.

“However, their legal duties [have been] made plain and if in future, evidence comes to light of similar offences by them, they may be prosecuted without further warning.”

A Luminus spokesperson said the organisation had identified a problem with the servicing of gas boilers in June 2016. It had been fully compliant since last January, and had co-operated with both the Homes and Community Agency and HSE investigations.

But Lovett said he is “disgusted” with the HSE decision.

He said the breaches had been blatant.

He said in his letter: “For any organisation managing tenanted property to have just ONE gas appliance that has not been certified safe is a criminal offence subject to a £6,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.

“To have over 1,000 non-compliant properties is beyond incompetence and ALL directors of Luminus should have faced the full force of the law if it is to discourage other landlords and managing agents from escaping their legal responsibilities.”

He went on: “Clearly this matter would have remained undiscovered with hundreds of tenants lives being put at risk if it hadn’t been brought to the attention of the HSE by a third party.

“I trust that if a member of my own staff misses one of the hundreds of gas safety inspections we carry out each year, we will be given the opportunity to issue a current certificate rather than face criminal proceedings.”

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18 Comments

  1. Chris Wood

    I have always and will continue to fight for equal treatment for all agents/ businesses of all sizes and models but it increasingly appears that various regulators apply very different standards to larger businesses. I wish Mr Lovett all the best with his campaign.

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    1. NewsBoy

      Absolutely. What a complete mess. This really should be taken up by ARLA and others to clarify the position. A single landlord or an agent with hundreds of properties expects to go to jail if they get one single case wrong.  This really needs dealing with – now.

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  2. ArthurHouse02

    As with many things in life it’s who you know and how you are scratching their back. Big business will always get favours that us mere small business people do not benefit from. The law it would appear is not the law, but the law makers will decide who laws apply to when it suits them. I would imagine however that when the next small time letting agent or landlord gets prosecuted for not having a gas safety certificate there will be quite a big fuss about it.

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  3. SussexJack64

    Speaking as a landlord, there should be a level playing field for all. Another case of big business having unfair advantages?

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  4. AHire10

    It’s a discrace, clearly. But I wonder if the HSE (or, more likely, a higher authority) is looking at the bigger picture here.

     

    1000 breaches could equal a fine of £6m or more. Luminous owns 7000 properties, that’s 7000 tenants who might be facing unaffordable rent increases in the coming years. In the worst case, Luminous goes bust and those tenants (eventually) face eviction.

     

    That would create an enormous problem for the local authority.

     

    It’s not right though, clearly.

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    1. AgencyInsider

      The law is the law regardless of consequence. This company should have been prosecuted.

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    2. Robert May

      Its only when 71 tenants perish unnecessarily in full view of the city commute along  the M40 is there any need for air sucking and hand wringing inquiries.This only needs to be a small bump in the  living room rug, no-one will notice. It will soon get trodden flat.

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    3. singlelayer

      They could always imprison the CEO of Luminous…

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  5. gk1uk2001

    Surely this has now set a precedent for future cases and any landlord etc not complying, if caught, could argue that they can’t be prosecuted because of this case? Really dangerous ground that’s just been entered.

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  6. RGordonJames71

    An absolute disgrace – its not the lack of punishment that is the worst thing with this, its the fact that so many tenants have been let down and exposed to danger. Another case of social housing tenants getting second best? Remember what happened at Grenfell?!!

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  7. Mark Walker

    Huntingdonshire District Council is a ‘person with significant control’ of the company:
    https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/03736718/persons-with-significant-control

    Raise your hand if you are actually surprised that the company was not prosecuted.

     

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    1. gardenflat

      Says it all!

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  8. Mark Walker

    One of the Councillors of Huntingdonshire District Council, is a Director of the Ltd Company:

    Councillor Mrs Rita Elaine Mathews
    Elton and Folksworth
    Conservative
    Chairman of the Employment Committee,

    Raise your hand if you are actually surprised that the company was not prosecuted.

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    1. Ostrich17

      Looks like they have had a clear out of the Directors since this was first raised –

       

      https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/luminus-into-the-light-50803

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      1. eltell

        This link offets a fascinating insight as to how a publicly funded company has been allowed to operate. It appears a whole can of worms has been opened!

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  9. Robert May

    I think you have the essential ingredients of an effective twitter campaign there Mr Walker;  #grenfell2 who knows what, now?

    People like Chris Wood  and Eric Walker have some very good connections with people who are well placed to ask some very serious and very necessary questions about this.

    I doubt @Mothercare will want the publicity, they seem to be connected to this too.

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  10. IHS

    Luminus purchased Huntingdonshire District Council’s housing stock in 2000. The Council remain a member of Luminus’s board and nominate tenants off their housing waiting list.

    The Luminus web site  states their aims (see https://www.luminus.org.uk/luminus/about/mission-values-goals) but it is frightening that they cannot even protect the basic safety of their tenants. The manager responsible for ensuring that gas safety checks were up to date should be made to answer for this massive failing.

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  11. Will

    This is why councils should not be enforcers on housing matters.  The HSE do not come out smelling of roses and their professionalism must be considered as highly suspect.  It highlights one law for jo public and dodgy dealings elsewhere.

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