Town Hall staff carried out essential housing repairs ‘even if residents had Covid’, councillors told

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Citizen

Frontline council staff in Islington visited residents in homes where there was Covid to carry out vital repairs, councillors have been told.

Despite their anxiety about the virus, the repairs team got training and donned personal protection equipment to tackle urgent issues.

They called ahead and asked “Covid questions” before visiting residents.

Matt West, the council’s director of housing property services, said: “Even if someone had Covid or or was shielding, we still had to go in because it’s really important. We can’t have them without electricity.”

The team met with resident panels and others to decide what were crucial tasks and also got public health advice to keep people safe.

He said: “These are builders and we asked them to go into people’s homes when they had Covid at a time when we were all very scared, we were all very worried about the impact on us.

“A lot of them are from ethnic minorities and were particularly concerned and we asked them to trust us that the PPE and guidance and the way of working we set out for them was the right way and to recognise that what they were doing was really essential and was needed.

“They took us at our word. They went out and did those jobs without any complaints, without any sort of shying away from it, they went out and did the repairs that needed doing.”

The policy and performance scrutiny committee (9 September) reflected on the lessons of coronavirus and how the housing team responded to the emergency.

West said that it really put the spotlight on priority repairs and for two short periods only emergency and essential repairs were done by the Housing Direct teams.

When lockdown was called in March 2020, calls for repairs from the council’s homes dropped dramatically.

“People stopped reporting repairs which made us a bit concerned that there were things going on that we did not know about,” West added.

At the same time the call centre was transformed with staff working from home.

The demand for repairs spiked in August 2020 when Covid rules relaxed and residents felt more comfortable to have visitors.

There have not been fewer than 5,000 repairs reported in a month since then.

West said there were no Covid transmissions linked to visits to residents or in the workplace.

The team also made the protective screens at various buildings and constructed the Covid testing sites in Islington.

Mayor Troy Gallagher asked if housing repairs can help play a role in acting as the “eyes and ears” looking out for residents.

Maxine Holdsworth, director of homes and neighbourhoods, said a worker recently foiled a suspected attempt to scam a resident.

She said: “Last week an engineer went in to do a gas check and heard someone on the phone clearly being conned.”

She explained the engineer asked if he could speak to the caller – and they hung up on him.

“I’m so pleased he felt he could do that.”

Islington Council is also focusing on domestic abuse and teaching staff to spot signs.