Legionnaires’ Disease: Letting Agents’ Responsibilities

In 2012, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) amended its policy on management of Legionnaires’ Disease to include residential lettings, and landlords (and letting agents acting on their behalf) became responsible for conducting risk assessments and taking relevant action.

Yet many remain unclear exactly what is involved, and where letting agents’ responsibilities lie when it comes to Legionnaires’. The HSE has published a Code of Practice that outlines these areas, but we’ve put together some basic guidelines to help your agency stay compliant.

Why is a risk assessment needed?
Legionnaires’ Disease can be fatal, and letting agents’ responsibilities extend to ensuring that the risk factors which contribute to the disease are investigated so serious illness and fatalities can be prevented.

What does a risk assessment entail?
Primarily, the identification of any areas where legionella bacteria (which causes Legionnaires’ Disease) could grow, and treatment if required. Legionella thrives in stored warm water, such as hot systems, air conditioners, and spa pools.

To stay compliant, a “competent” person must conduct the risk assessment and be capable of making recommendations if a risk is identified. The guidelines are comprehensive, and include not only within the four walls of the managed property, but potential risks from the water supply as it comes into the property.

What does “competent” really mean?
The HSE states that staff need to be fully trained and provided with detailed information on not only how to conduct a risk assessment, but on what to do if they do identify a problem.

Because the guidelines are rigorous, many letting agents have decided to outsource risk assessments and follow-up to one of the multitude of companies which specialize in this specific area. This has advantages, including reducing the need for in-depth training, saving time and resources, and peace of mind that an expert is assessing the situation. The cost for these assessments can also be passed onto the landlord in the same way as a gas safety check or a PAT.

However many letting agencies are happy to invest in training for their staff to keep the expertise in-house. And even if you choose to outsource, your staff will still need to be trained in Legionnaires’ basics, to ensure that they are not exposed to risk while working in properties.

What if my agency is not compliant?
If the correct assessments aren’t conducted, there is a risk that one of your tenants (or someone visiting them) could become seriously ill or die. Aside from the obvious moral implications of this, you open your agency up to potential lawsuits if you have failed to comply with legislation. Therefore while the ultimate responsibility for these checks lies with the landlord (who will incur fines for non-compliance), there may be serious legal and financial implications for letting agents who do not follow the proper procedures.

More information
For full information on how to manage Legionnaires’ Disease risk in properties your agency manages, visit the HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires.