How are standards checked?
How the system works – summary
Standards are checked through a system of independent professional verification, undertaken as part of the initial application process and then three-yearly when membership comes up for renewal.
Verification can be undertaken in one of two ways depending on the form of the landlord's application: either through the inspection of a property or, where a landlord wishes to accredit their whole portfolio, inspection of a sample of properties.
Once a landlord applicant has submitted a completed declaration form and property list together with payment of the relevant fee, and successfully completed the skills-based online training course, an independent professional verifier inspects a sample of the landlord's properties to check that the properties and their management meet Code standards before full accreditation is granted, One in five will be inspected. If there are problems identified, further inspections can be carried out.
The verifier checks that the properties sampled and their management meet Code standards before full accreditation is granted. Verification visits focus on the physical condition of the properties, how they are managed and customer satisfaction. If the verifier identifies any shortcomings, membership of the Code can be refused. If shortcomings are not serious the landlord is given a set time for putting them right. If they don't meet these undertakings within the agreed timescale their membership of the Code can be removed. A member's compliance with the standards set is tested periodically through further verification visits. Again non-compliance can result in membership being withdrawn.
Appointment of verifier
Once the declaration process and online training course has been satisfactorily completed, the National Codes Administrator appoints a verifier.
Providing contact details
Landlords are required to give the National Codes Administrator notification of a nominated contact who will oversee verification visits to their properties.
Timescale for verification visit
Following the satisfactory completion of the declaration process (including payment of relevant fees) The National Codes Administrator contacts the applicant to arrange a verification visit to be undertaken at a mutually convenient time and date. For new applicants, all reasonable efforts are made to conduct a verification visit within 10 working days of receipt of an application. For existing members of the Code, visits are scheduled according to priority.
Wherever possible, the landlord is given not less than 10 working days' notice of the verification visit. Wherever possible, however, visits will be undertaken outside the months of July and August and/or when a property is unoccupied. This is because of the importance the verification process attaches to the views of existing tenants.
If a verification visit does not take place within 30 days and this is as a result of the landlord failing to permit the visit to take place or to facilitate the necessary access, the application is rejected and the matter reported to the Tribunal.
Role of verifier after the initial visit
The verifier undertakes the initial verification visit and tracks and oversees any follow-up action that is identified as part of the process. They also maintain a close bilateral relationship with the landlord until their involvement in the verification process is formally concluded.
Two Audit Panel meetings are held each year to receive and consider reports from verifiers on their actions. All verification reports and updates on those reports are made available to Audit Panel members. The Audit Panel has a membership which is totally independent of the verifications it oversees.
The attendance of landlords at verification visits
It is recommended that landlords attend verification visits so that issues which arise during the course of the inspection can be discussed there and then. However, if this is not practical, the NCA will ask the landlord to arrange access via the tenants.
Availability of property certification documents
The landlord is asked to supply copies of, or bring along to the inspection, the certification for the property – this includes:
- the annual gas safety certificate
- a five-yearly certificate demonstrating that the electrical wiring of the property is deemed safe (this is often a Periodic Inspection Report)
- where applicable, an HMO licence (issued by the local authority to certain type and size houses)
- an annual certificate showing that any fire alarm panel had been checked.
The focus of verification
The Code divides the various standards into a number of categories:
- equality and diversity
- during the tenancy
- health and safety
- the environment and sustainability
- community relations
- at the end of the tenancy
- disputes and complaints
Thematically, within this framework, the verification process covers three areas:
- the condition of the building
- the management of the building
- customer satisfaction
Where customer dissatisfaction can be identified, the verifier will ask the landlord how they are addressing those areas.
The verification visit format has three phases, carried out in this sequence:
- The inspector checks the certification documents. (If any of this documentation is not available on the day, the verifier will ask the landlord to provide it within five working days of the receipt of the verification report.)
- The verifier looks around the house, starting outside the property and continuing inside. (The detail of this inspection is covered below.)
- The verifier talks to any tenants present about their tenancy.
What the verifier is looking for
The verifier works to a checklist of items which covers all of the key aspects of the Unipol /Afs Code.
These are some of the main areas:
Outside the property
- Is the garden tidy?
- Are paths clear of hazards?
- Do any steps (three or more) have a handrail?
- Are there any structural issues which may lead to interior problems?
Inside the property
- Is there any damage or disrepair to floors?
- Are the windows large enough and well fitting?
- Is there the requisite furniture in each room – a bed, wardrobe, desk and chair?
- Are there enough bathrooms for the number of occupants?
- Does any shower have a shower curtain/screen/cubicle?
- Does the shower room contain an extractor fan?
- Are there wash hand basins in all rooms with a w/c?
- Are there any signs of mould?
- Are there enough cooking and dish washing facilities for the number of occupants?
- Is there a fire blanket?
- Is there enough work surface, in particular around the cooker?
- Are the floors, ceilings and walls in good repair?
- Are there handrails to staircases (with three or more steps)?
- Are there any obvious electrical safety issues?
Is the smoke detection scheme suitable for the size and type of property and the number of occupants? As a minimum, the door to the kitchen should be a fire door with intumescent strips, cold smoke seals and an overhead hydraulic self-closer. In larger properties a fire door may be required for the lounge and bedrooms.
- Do the main exit doors have mortice locks and thumb-turn release mechanisms which allow escape from the building in the event of fire without the need for keys?
- Do any security grilles have similar have similar thumb-turn release mechanisms?
- Do non-double glazed ground floor windows have locks?
Verification reports: from draft to formal status
Click here to view the AfS/Unipol Code Verification Visit Report
The National Codes Administrator sends landlords a draft copy of their verification report (within five days of the visit). Sharing the draft in this way gives landlords an opportunity to correct errors before the report is formally issued. Landlords have 14 days in which to ask for any changes, if no changes are requested after the 14 days the report is formally issued.
If there is a dispute over the wording of a verification report, which cannot be resolved between a landlord and the verifier (operating in consultation with the Audit Panel), the matter is referred to the Chair of the Tribunal for decision.
The format of the verification report is determined by the Unipol/AfS Code Steering Group.
Once completed, verification reports are held on file for six years.
Part of the verification report format is concerned with the identification and logging of Action Points. Where an Action Point is recorded, the verifier must include a timescale within which the landlord must complete the action specified. The verifier is required to follow up all Action Points they have formally identified and to report outcomes to the Audit Panel.
For new members, although the verifier may have stipulated a number of conditions as Action Points, membership may still proceed on the verifier's express recommendation.
Verification visits triggered by complaints/concerns
Complaints or concerns received by the National Codes Administrator can trigger additional verification visits.