Has Haringey/Enfield council or your housing association closed concierge services and cut cleaning during COVID-19?

New government guidance ‘Covid-19: Cleaning in non-healthcare settings’ states that 'Fortunately, normal cleaning methods do kill this virus. Cleaners, caretakers and concierges play an important role in keeping people in their buildings protected, and are on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus (COVID-19) to keep staff, customers, and particularly the most vulnerable safe.'

However Haringey Council’s management company Homes for Haringey posted notices on 27 March: ‘The Concierge Service will remain closed. Estates services will be providing a limited service until further notice.’

Has your council or housing association done the same - or has it done the opposite? In either case, please let us know.

As you can see, no reason was given for the closures, but we understand that management are saying that the concierges are non-essential workers, and that many of them usually travel to work by public transport.

But when everybody is being told to stay at home, the role of the concierge becomes even more important, especially when there are strains on residents from the Coronavirus crisis, contributing to a need for assurance about the safety and welfare of residents, and a need for reassurance to residents themselves.

Sadly a resident died on our estate two weeks ago. When their neighbour said they had been knocking at the door of his flat for days and getting no response, my first thought was to ask the concierge when they had last seen him - but there was no concierge any more.

Reducing cleaning standards is just as bad. Tower block residents in particular are at high risk of contracting Covid-19. The existing cleaning standards in Haringey’s blocks are variable, and on the landings and corridors of some blocks, like mine at present, very poor to non-existent.

This is not a time to cut cleaning services. It is a time to invest in big improvements, to be delivered by staff with full PPE and with proper safety measures in place. This a national issue, and new, much higher cleaning standards need to be driven though by the Housing Minister, working with local authorities and housing associations, and with a guarantee of no additional resident service charging.

An online search looking at ten London boroughs showed that only Westminster was improving its whole estate cleaning service because of the Coronavirus outbreak; while Camden is improving its service for sheltered housing schemes.

Some boroughs do not seem to realise that estate services are relevant to the present crisis. And some do not like to admit that they own and manage council housing at all.

However Southwark and Croydon both give specific service standards for the outbreak period. Croydon says that 'most high rise blocks (classified as level 1) get some services daily - for example the lifts and lobbies are swept and washed every day. Other blocks (classified as level 2) will get most services weekly and some monthly - for example the stairs will be swept and washed each week. Due to coronavirus, caretakers are working to their existing schedules and timetables, but only on a priority basis'.

Haringey is the only one of the ten which is explicitly cutting services: ‘Estate Services staff will be working at a reduced level covering essential work only such as checking lifts, lobbies and bin areas’.

Haringey is also the vaguest, promising only to 'visit' blocks and 'check' lifts, lobbies and bin areas. There is a promise to focus cleaning on high touch areas such as door handles, lift buttons and banister rails. But there are no timescales, and no pledge to sweep or wash floors, walls, lifts, passageways and lobbies in blocks. Indeed these tasks may be the functions which have been cut. This is completely unacceptable in a national health emergency.

Bizarrely, following the service closures, Haringey Council wrote to all estate residents with a letter from the Council Leader Cllr Joe Ejiofor and a Covid-19 update for estate residents which states 'For Veolia [cleaning] services, grounds maintenance, estate services and concierge services we do not currently foresee any immediate concerns'.

Haringey Council has a free food distribution service for vulnerable residents, with deliveries by council officers, and at Finsbury House N22 on 3 April, the delivery team told me they are not allowed to go into the lifts to make their deliveries.

The government guidance applies to any non-healthcare setting such as workplaces, offices, waiting rooms, hotel rooms, student accommodation, and boarding schools.

I suspect the authors may not be very concerned about council blocks. But I bet if they stayed in a hotel or sat in a waiting room that looked like our landing on the tenth floor of Newbury House N22, they would not be happy about the experience, or about the risks to which they were being exposed.

All information, feedback and responses are welcome. Together, let’s make the change.

Paul Burnham 07847 714 158

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