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Brighton & Hove City Council terminated the guardianship arrangement with Oaksure Property Protection at Knoll House in Hove last month, with 21 resident guardians having to leave their home. Both parties contest the facts and legal issues surrounding the eviction.
The council working with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service says there were numerous fire safety failings at the property which, in the event of a fire, would pose a significant risk to life. The alleged failings included poor fire safety management, insufficient information and training of the waking watch where they were unaware of the evacuation procedures and could not identify the assembly point, insufficient information and training provided to the head guardians with responsibility for fire safety, incorrect information about room occupation, which could cause delays to firefighters in the event of an emergency and out-of-date fire extinguishers.
A potential closure of the premises was previously avoided in July after discussions about the fire safety failings with Oaksure. But, following a subsequent inspection by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service on 19 August, the council terminated the contract with immediate effect and evicted the resident guardians.
“Given the significant risk to life caused by the fire safety issues, we make no apology for insisting that the occupants moved out and they understood why this was necessary,” said a council spokesperson.”
“We had given Oaksure repeated opportunities to resolve the fire risk so that their live-in guardians were safe. But the situation had become so serious that we had no option but to prioritise safety over income”.
“We very much regret that Oaksure’s failure to address these issues led to this situation.”
But Oaksure has a very different account of what happened. The company said it previously received a termination notice to vacate within 20 working days, which was subsequently annulled by the council’s Acting Chief Executive, who gave Oaksure an extension of the contract.
Daniel Hudson, Oaksure’s Chairman said “We carried out all of the amends requested by Brighton & Hove City Council and the fire brigade except new fire training of guardians and evacuation drills, which were in progress. The property had been deemed safe by the fire risk assessor contracted to write the FRA and that there were no urgent advisories outstanding. This was confirmed by the risk assessor who was on-site with the council.”
“We have never received a prohibition notice from the fire brigade, which would be the only legal grounds for an eviction of domestic residents with less than 28 days’ notice. A prohibition order can be issued if it is considered that continued occupation would be a serious threat to life. Our risk assessor would never have signed off the FRA if there had been a serious threat to life, and we have full confidence that the fire brigade would have issued a prohibition order if they deemed there to be a serious threat.”
The council says the occupants were guardians contracted by Oaksure, not council tenants, and did not pay rent to the council. “The company was given adequate time and multiple warnings to ensure the accommodation was safe and did not present a fire risk. When Oaksure failed to take appropriate measures, we had to take decisive action in the knowledge a fire could present a genuine threat to life. Fire safety risks which could lead to loss of life or serious injury are something which the city council cannot tolerate.”
Oaksure has offered all guardians free hotel accommodation for 28 days while it finds alternative permanent accommodation, while council staff are providing them with advice and assistance about new housing.
The council said it will be reviewing its use of guardianship schemes in the future.
“The council do not have any contractual relationship with our guardians, their contracts are signed with us. Therefore, if they wanted to remove our guardians without our consent, they needed to get a court order to establish possession. They then would have needed to get licenced bailiffs to enforce the court order for possession, who are the only people who can do so legally. They never had a court order and they used security guards to forcibly remove our guardians.”
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has confirmed that it did not issue a prohibition notice and says that the council led on the case.