Coronavirus (COVID-19) policy update for LAs and Partners

As at 13 July 2020

At Octavia, our first and foremost priority is the health and wellbeing of our residents; those in the wider community, to whom we provide services and support; our colleagues; partners; volunteers; and others in our neighbourhoods. As the COVID -19 situation escalates, we are continuing to closely monitor the situation and follow the guidance of Government and Public Health England as it emerges.

As part of our business continuity planning, we have contingency plans in place to cover all envisaged eventualities. At this current point in time, we are endeavouring to retain essential services to our residents and the community where possible, with priority being given to older and vulnerable residents.

We have put in place a series of measures and actions to ensure that we, in line with Government advice, do as much as we can to prevent the spread of the virus whilst continuing to provide vital services as far as possible.

Contact Centre – Our contact centre remains open for enquiries and service requests between the hours of 10am-4pm during the week. Staff have been provided with the equipment needed to answer calls remotely.

Repairs – Our repairs service is now open as normal. Any resident who reports a repair is asked a series of additional health and safety questions before every appointment is made. Where we believe the risk posed to a resident, their household or our staff is too high, we will make a note of the repair and review again periodically and in line with government guidance.

Fire safety – Until otherwise advised by Government or the Regulator, we will continue carry out gas safety and servicing and we are ensuring regular fire safety inspections to our blocks. Unfortunately, due to the difficulties with access, we are not able to continue with any internal fire safety works unless the Fire Risk Assessment deems these urgent, however we are carrying out all fire safety works to communal areas.

Meetings and travel- We are utilising our digital platforms to ensure that all non-essential travel has ceased and instead, all meetings are conducted virtually and support is given remotely. Access to our head office (Emily House) has been restricted to essential roles only.

Hygiene – Areas of ‘high’ contact including our office (Emily House), shared areas to our properties and extra care schemes continue to receive cleaning services. Colleagues have been regularly reminded and updated on rigorous hygiene practices, with specific advice followed from the CQC in our care schemes. We have also been regularly urging residents to follow official advice regarding isolation and social distancing to keep themselves safe and ensuring effective personal hygiene such as regular hand washing.

Communal cleaning - Our caretakers are continuing to provide as near a normal service as possible subject to staffing levels and safe working practices being upheld. Currently, our cleaning team are paying extra attention to areas such as door handles, hand rails, lift panels. Our staff are issued with PPE for protection. 

Home visits – All housing management and supported housing colleagues have stopped meeting residents in their home until further notice. Instead, we are directing all queries online or by phone via our contact team. Residents can also use the MyOctavia app where relevant.

Anti-social behaviour service - In line with government guidance we have made changes to the way we deliver our ASB service - suspending all face-to-face home visits and office interviews. We continue to take all reports of neighbour disputes and illegal or anti-social behaviour seriously and are now using telephone and video conferencing to interview victims and witnesses of serious ASB and conduct an independent mediation service. 

Citizens Advice Bureau Service – The Drop in Citizen’s Advice Bureau Service at Emily House has been suspended and replaced with telephone appointments. Residents have been instructed to call us to make an appointment or call their local CAB directly.

HR and staff communications – Specific COVID-19 staff guidance continues to be updated and circulated on a regular basis. We have a robust cascade system in place to ensure every individual is contacted by their line Manger with any updates. In addition, there is an all-colleague communication issued weekly from our CEO and we are heavily using our internal communications tool which is available remotely.

IT - Our servers are fully operational in a remote environment, with our documents and activities stored within cloud-based facilities. Any issues experienced by staff are being raised with the IT Helpdesk, which is run remotely.

Lettings and viewings – Following guidance from our Local Authority partners on new lettings, we are carrying out virtual tours of our properties which give a realistic walkthrough of the properties available. To complete the process, virtual sign ups are now taking place via video conferencing. 

Office – As above, our Main office, Emily House is only accessible for essential operations. The reception service is closed to the public.

Rent advice – As usual, any residents concerned about paying their rent or service charges are being asked to let us know so that we can put them in touch with our Financial Inclusion and Income team. Free debt advice is also available via our Charity partner, StepChange and we continue to publicise this, and other advice via our external channels including our website and social media.

Resident Communications – A robust communications plan is in place that allows us to get messages out to residents quickly and effectively including temporary service changes, health advice from official channels and thirty party support. Residents are being directed to our website for the most up to date information.

Self-Isolation - All staff are advised to self-isolate consistent with government policy should they meet the guidance for doing so and we are regularly reminding of social distancing and good hygiene practices.

Staff Support – All staff have been offered support via Octavia’s network of trained Mental Health First Aiders and independent EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), which is accessible by phone.

Services for older people – We are working hard to mitigate both the risk of Coronavirus and the wider impacts that social distancing measures will inevitably have on some of the older people we house or support either in our homes and extra care schemes. All non-essential visits to our care schemes, including day care and communal gatherings have been suspended. We are also making contact with our Local authority partners to offer additional help where we are able.

Befriending – Through volunteer support, we usually run both one-to-one and group befriending support for older and vulnerable individuals living in The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and in Westminster. This service has been replaced by one-to-one phone befriending sessions to limit face-to face interactions, which we are growing rapidly at this current time, training new volunteers remotely. In addition, we are diverting staff to assist with shopping and basic support for those most in need.

Shops - We have temporarily closed the Octavia charity shops and are unable to accept donations until further notice.

Taking precautions – Colleagues have been educated on how to prevent the spread of the virus in accordance with government guidelines and given extra hand-sanitiser and wipes to disinfect work areas and to facilitate regular handwashing. NHS advice posters have been put up in offices and care schemes to promote best practice.

Youth Club - All face-to-face youth work activities including those delivered at Base@theReed have been temporarily suspended and replaced with virtual sessions. The full list of activities can be viewed here.

This is an unprecedented challenge but as an organisation, we are well-placed to work alongside local partners and community groups to offer support and to manage our own services during this time. Due to the pace at which the current state of affairs is changing, this document will be reviewed regularly. We would like to encourage you to keep in touch with us so we can work together to enable our services to be delivered to the best of our ability. We thank you for your patience and understanding during these difficult times.

Specific Contacts

Octavia operate across a number of Local Authorities. To ensure a swift response, all Local Authorities are asked to send any enquiries to David Woods, Development Director, via email to: david.woods@octavia.org.uk