Magazine article Public Finance

Feeling the Chill

Magazine article Public Finance

Feeling the Chill

Article excerpt

WINTER CAN BE a difficult time for local authorities as they have to counter the often costly effects of extreme weather conditions. The winters of 2009 and 2010 were notable examples. Prolonged periods of sub-zero temperatures and sudden snow flurries caused a host of problems, leaving councils with huge repair bills totalling millions of pounds.

For social housing, the consequences of burst water pipes can be particularly costly. Since 2006, insurance claims in the sector as a result of this damage have risen by 55% and the average cost per claim by 91%.

There are, however, simple steps that housing providers and councils can take in preparation, to help minimise problems and their potential cost.

For the winter months, it is often recommended that frost thermostats are fitted and set to 4C-5C. But the recent cold snaps have caused experts to revise this upwards to 10C, to prevent the overall temperature dropping and causing pipes to freeze in the first place.

This can, of course, mean an increase in fuel bills in some instances. So providers will need to demonstrate to tenants the balance between increased costs and the prevention of damage.

Education, information and communication are vital. Residents need to understand, for example, how to conserve energy. They also need to know where their stopcock is, so they can turn off the water should a leak occur. This collaboration with tenants should be combined with a building maintenance programme all year round to check for problems in the making, such as uninsulated pipes.

The maintenance programme should extend beyond pipes and into the wider housing complex, to ensure that even the smallest signs of damage are caught quickly and before they require costly repairs. It is important to ensure that roofs and chimneys are ready to withstand bad weather. Any small weakness could be a risk, rapidly becoming a route for water. …

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