Report of the Cabinet Member for Housing.
The Cabinet Member for Housing thanked the Committee for inviting him to the meeting. The Committee was informed that out of the 333 faulty reports the Council had received, the actual number relating to frozen pipes was 215. This represented 7% of the Council’s housing stock that had been fitted with domestic gas heating systems. The remainder of the faults related to time controls or radiator valves. Frozen condensate pipe issues had been resolved within a 5-day period, with the majority being addressed within a 3-day period.
The current contract with Liberty Gas included a clause that dealt with frozen condensates so no additional costs would be incurred by the Council. There were implications for tenants who had no heating during the period because of the boilers being inoperative whilst frozen.
Worcester Bosch boilers were tested to -15 degrees for a 3-hour period. During the period the condensate pipes froze, the wind chill factor had dropped to between -15 to -22 in South Kesteven.
A programme of work pro-actively dealing with the issues was well underway alongside a separate programme of work that was retrospectively checking Council stock that had the same boiler system but had not been affected by the cold weather.
Officers had contacted Worcester Bosch about the issues. An auditor from Worcester Bosch had attended a number of the inspections of affected properties. The boilers had been fitted in line with the manufacturer’s instructions at the time of installation. Worcester Bosch advised that the condensure unit had been redesigned from a trickle feed to a volume dump. The discharge pipe was now wider and allowed the condensate unit to be held in a larger trap and discharge larger volumes of condensation.
The boilers affected by extreme temperatures were being installed with this new fitting which enabled the water to be discharged and had heat tracers that would heat the pipe. The pipes had been repaired using a compressed connection unit rather than a soldered connection. This allowed for an easier disconnection and discharge of condensation in the pipe internally.
The remaining unaffected properties with a boiler of a similar age would also be fitted with the newer condensate pipe. It was noted that even though insulation had been in place the pipework had still frozen. Checks were being undertaken to ensure the correct insulation was in place. Newly fitted boilers had a condensate trap that sat around the heating flow pipe so that when the heating was on the pipe would be heated and the water discharged at a higher temperature to reduce the risk of freezing.
Discussions had taken place with Liberty Gas which had resulted in identifying that the discharge pipe in the majority of the affected properties had been more exposed to the northerly and easterly winds during that period. Physical mitigation to protect these pipes along with a post inspection process to ensure all boilers were fitted to the manufacturer’s instructions had been agreed with Liberty Gas.
SKDC was part of the Direct Works Forum (DWF) which was a group of councils that had retained an in-house housing repairs labour. Officers had contacted the DWF who had confirmed that many councils within the forum had also been affected by the cold weather and freezing pipes. Other councils were taking similar actions in order to mitigate the problem.
Officers had also contacted the Gas Safety Register (previously Corgi) and been informed by the Technical Safety Manager that measures could be taken to mitigate the problem but there was no guarantee that pipes would not freeze under extreme and severe weather conditions. They advised that a foam based lagging around the pipes was a good mitigation and it was noted that the Council did wrap all exposed pipework in a foam based lagging.
Members queried how quickly the Council received notification of the faults from Liberty Gas and expressed concern at the length of time residents, especially the elderly, were without heating. Members welcomed the action plans and the detailed information provided on the actions taken.
In response to a request for reassurance about additional cost to the Council, Members were informed that any additional cost to the Council would be minimal with the bulk of the cost being incurred by Liberty Gas. All affected properties would have been visited by early January 2019.
A general discussion took place on the length of time it had taken to resolve the issues and it was noted that lessons had been learned and that everything was being done to ensure that residents would not be in a similar position in future years. In addition, the Communities and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee would be looking at the frozen pipes issues at a future meeting. The Governance and Audit Committee would be kept informed of the outcome of their scrutiny.
The Governance and Audit Committee noted the update in respect of the issues relating to the frozen condensate pipes and the contract monitoring arrangements for the gas services contract.
That the Committee is kept informed of the Communities and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny findings.