Novus Blog

working in a kitchen in a mask

PRIORITISING TENANTS IN A PANDEMIC

  18 NOVEMBER, 2020      CORE VALUES , INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
Supporting and liaising with tenants has always been a primary pillar on which we’ve based our business – kindness, respect, and good service should be a given, not an added ‘nice-to-have’. Working in homes during the pandemic During the coronavirus crisis, showing respect and kindness has rung true more than any other time. The safety and wellbeing of the people whose homes we work in has always been of paramount importance – but perhaps never more so than now. Our specialist customer care team always lead from the front and they’ve taken the crisis in their stride. Dedicated customer liaison officers are responsible for considering and helping meet the needs of everyone we work around, as well as being a helpful single point of contact for residents. Collaborating with our supply chain It’s always important to be collaborative, but the past few months have required additional togetherness right through the supply chain to ensure that we’re operating as safely as possible. As we’ve come to recognise over 2020, Covid-19 has generated significant confusion, with changing guidelines and grey areas creating a worrying level of uncertainty. That’s why the very first thing we do on any project is communicate clearly and open a dialogue with all tenants. It’s vital that residents are fully informed about the works, what we do and how we’ll work with them. This ensures safety of residents and workers, as well as everyone’s peace of mind. Working tidily and cleanly Once we’re working in the home, we’ve gone to another level of the quality service that comes as standard. We’re still as tidy as ever, cleaning as we go. Only this time, we’re armed with more anti-bacterial wipes to clean down every surface and extra bottles of hand sanitiser at our side. Also, our operatives are working only with their own tools where possible, as well as travelling separately to ensure that contact is to a minimum. We’re always two metres away from the tenants, but try not to lose any of our personal style. It’s our priority to make sure that residents feel at ease when we’re working in their home, and even though we’re taking extra care in everyone’s home, it’s important that we don’t dawdle. Being punctual and prompt Making home improvements can sometimes be inconvenient for a short while, so we always make sure we’re punctual, prompt with our work and prepared to hit the ground running on every job. The sooner we get the job done, the sooner tenants can enjoy the improvements. Homes are our safe haven, particularly during times of crises, and so our work is just as important as it ever has been. While these are strange times, all of us are coming together to keep everything as normal as we can – no matter how ‘new’ it is. Repairs since lockdown Novus have been working inside customers' homes throughout the national lockdowns. 34 weeks on since the first national lockdown in March 2020 and we have repaired almost 50,000 homes (at the time of writing). That equates to 292 per (working) day, 36 per (working) hour, and approximately 1 home every 2 minutes. It's testament to the confidence that tenants have shown in Novus and our operatives to conduct themselves safely, efficiently and, respectfully.
top view of radiator

HAS YOUR CENTRAL HEATING STOPPED WORKING? TRY THESE CHECKS AND QUICK FIXES

  10 NOVEMBER, 2020      INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
At least in the short term, it looks like many of us are going to be working from home over the winter period and spending much more time indoors. So perhaps this year more than any year previously, it is important that your home is warm and comfortable. With a hot summer seemingly now a distant memory, you might have noticed your heating switching on recently. If not, it might be time to test whether your central heating is working ahead of the temperature dropping outside. After a summer of neglect and under use, issues with central heating are quite common in autumn when the system begins to be called upon once more. Before you call the landlord or a Gas Safe Registered Engineer, there are some common issues with radiators and central heating that you can check and potentially fix yourself: My heating hasn’t come on and the radiators are cold The heating is off, and the radiators are cold. There are numerous things that could be causing your heating to have gone off but the first check might seem fairly obvious; make sure that your thermostat is on and calling for heat by adjusting the settings above the current room temperature. Then wait to see if that makes a difference... Check that your thermostat is not on a timer that you don’t recognise, especially the case if you have moved into a new house. Changes in the clocks going forward/backwards at different times of year might throw some people too. A second check is to make sure that central heating and hot water settings are selected on programmer or boiler. All fine? If this doesn’t work, you can check the supplies to your heating system - Electricity – check your heating system has power by making sure the display screen on your thermostat, programmer or boiler is lit up (if they have them). If they aren’t, there is usually a switch in the surrounding area of the boiler which controls the power supply, make sure it is on and has not been switched off accidently. Gas – You can make sure you have gas to your property by checking other gas appliances such as the gas cooker, try lighting one of the hobs. If there is no gas at the cooker and you have a prepayment meter, ensure you have sufficient funds on it. Any issues with the gas supply to the property will need to be rectified by your gas supplier. If you have gas and electric and the heating system controls are correctly set the next two most common problems should be checked – Central heating water pressure Blocked or frozen condensate pipe My central heating has low pressure If you have a combination boiler, low pressure in the system can cause the heating to not work effectively or even switch off altogether. As with most of the issues raised here, there are once again numerous reasons why your heating system may have lost pressure; water leakage or the removal of air through radiator bleeding are the common ones. You can check your system's pressure by taking a quick look at the pressure gauge on the boiler (if it has one). Even when you haven’t necessarily noticed an issue, we recommend that you check the pressure approximately once a month as good practice. On a digital gauge if the reading is lower than 1 bar, then this is considered to be low pressure. If the boiler is slightly older with a hydraulic gauge and a dial, there will be upper and lower limits marked out by red and green sections on the face of the dial. How to repressurise your boiler In the case of a low pressure reading, repressurising is something that you can without the assistance of a professional. However, if you are not confident, don’t attempt it. Although most boilers are quite similar, there will be slight variations between each depending on the manufacturer. Before you start, we recommend that you read and understand the manufacturer’s user instructions first. Repressurising with a filling loop Switch off your boiler and leave the system to cool down fully. Locate the filling loop and check to make sure that both ends are securely attached. Open the two valves and listen for the mains cold water entering the system. Keep a close eye on the pressure gauge until the pressure reaches 1.5 bar. Close both valves one at a time when it reaches this pressure. Turn the boiler back on and press the reset button on the boiler (if it has one). Undo the filling loop and catch any excess water. If you find yourself having to repressurise the central heating system on a regular basis, there may be a water leak and it is important to address this issue as soon as possible to prevent damage to your property. Your condensate pipe may be blocked or frozen Check the condensate pipe is not blocked where is enters the drain, if the water has no where to drain it can back up which will stop the boiler from working. At really cold times, condensate pipes situated in exposed locations can freeze, again causing the water to back up. This can be readily rectified by defrosting the pipe using warm water. If you have tried all of these and still have no heating, it is time to call in a Gas Safe registered Engineer to further investigate.   My radiators are warm at the bottom but cold at the top This is a very common complaint and is sure sign that there is air trapped inside the radiator that has risen to the top, therefore displacing the hot water. To fix this issue, the radiators will require bleeding. How do you bleed a radiator? It’s actually pretty straight forward but you will need a radiator bleed key or with newer radiators, a small flat head screwdriver. Switch off the heating and wait for the radiators to cool down completely. Find the bleed value, which you will find at the top of the radiator on one of its ends (it looks like a round hole with a square inside it). Place a container directly beneath the valve on the floor to catch any spillages when the radiator is being bled. Also, have on old kitchen towel or rag ready. Attach the radiator key to the square bit in the centre of the bleed valve or insert the screwdriver into the groove of the valve screw. Turn it anti-clockwise; one quarter to a half turn will be fine (not fully!). A hissing noise should indicate that the trapped air is escaping from the radiator. Hold the rag or kitchen towel over the hissing to avoid any excess water splashing up the wall. Once all the air has been released, the valve will start to trickle water (hence why you put a container to protect the floor). Wait until there is a steady stream of water and any sputtering has stopped to ensure all the air has gone. Finally, tighten the bleed screw (clockwise) ensuring that you do not tighten it too much as this could damage the valve. Wipe down any spillages and turn your heating back on. Some of my radiators are not getting warm? This is a common problem and is usually caused by a minor blockage or an unbalanced system where the water in the pipework follows the easiest route. There are a few things we can check – Ensure the radiator valves are open on the faulty radiator and the TRV is on its highest setting. If it doesn’t warm up you can force the water in the heating system through the pipework by closing the lock shield valves on all other radiators, leaving the faulty one open. If this works and the faulty radiator heats up you can reopen all other valves by half a turn. This will restrict the amount of water they are taking and ensure the faulty radiator stays warm. If this doesn’t work, it’s time to call in a professional as your heating system may need flushing. Your safety is the priority As always, your safety is the number 1 priority here. Please do not attempt any of the fixes mentioned in this article unless you are absolutely confident that you can complete them safely and, if you are renting, within the boundaries of your rental agreement with your landlord.
to let signs

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT MAINTENANCE RESPONSIBILITIES FOR DOMESTIC LANDLORDS AND TENANTS?

  13 OCTOBER, 2020      INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
Tenants and domestic landlords both have responsibilities to ensure the reasonable upkeep of a rented property. Here is our guide to where the division of responsibilities lie. A landlord's maintenance responsibilities  Whether it be a private landlord, council, or housing association, by law, the landlord is responsible for most of the maintenance and repairs required in your rented home. To undertake these works, a landlord is likely to employ a trade professional or a contractor (like Novus), depending on the scale of the maintenance required.  What is a landlord responsible for?  As previously alluded to, the landlord is responsible for the major maintenance and repair on the property – it is their property after all. This includes: Electrical wiring  Gas pipes and boilers Heating and hot water Chimneys and ventilation Sinks, baths, toilets, pipes and drains Entrance halls and stairways The structure of the building, including walls, stairs, roof, external doors and windows Generally keeping your home in a safe condition Reasonable repairs How long does a landlord have to do the repairs? Landlords must carry out the repairs and maintenance in a reasonable period of time. This period of time depends largely on the extent of the repairs to be undertaken on the property. Replacing a plug socket will inevitably take more time than replacing a roof for instance. When can the landlord carry out repairs? A landlord is obligated to schedule repairs to the property in advance. The law says that landlords must give the tenant “quiet enjoyment of the property” and as such, they must schedule a convenient date and time with their tenant in which to carry out the maintenance – giving at least 24 hours’ notice. The landlord can only enter the premises without prior notice or permission only in the event of an emergency such as a burst pipe or a fire. What is the tenant responsible for? Tenants have certain responsibilities for the general upkeep, maintenance and any minor repairs required within the rented property. The tenant must look after the home as if it were their own property and behave in a “tenant-like manner.” This is an old term that basically encompasses the following responsibilities: Keeping the home reasonably clean Ensuring that the electrical appliances you own are in a safe condition (i.e. unlikely to cause fires due to faults) Keeping the outside areas and garden of the home in a reasonable condition Undertake reasonable minor maintenance such as changing light bulbs, testing, and changing smoke alarm batteries  Repairing damage caused by yourself, your friends, family, and other guests. The landlord might expect the tenant to pay to repair any significant damage they have caused, and this could be sourced from the security deposit received at the beginning of the tenancy. Additionally, a tenant may be asked to pay for repairs to blocked drains, pipes, or toilets if reasonable care has not been taken to keep them free of blockages. Proving negligence however can be difficult. Overall, a tenant only has to reasonably maintain the condition that they found the house in, general wear and tear is also to be expected. The aim should not be to leave it in a better condition than the landlord provided originally!  Reporting issues to the landlord  Beyond the simple maintenance tasks expected of the tenant, they are also expected to report any issues to the landlord or (if one is being used) the letting agent as soon as they become apparent. Providing access to the property The tenant is expected to provide access to the workers appointed to make the repairs on the property. Tenants are entitled to at least 24 hours’ notice (preferably in writing) and for the works to take place at a time that is convenient and reasonable.
lady working from home

OUR TOP TIPS FOR WORKING FROM HOME

  30 SEPTEMBER, 2020      COMPANY UPDATES , INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
Here are our top tips to help remain healthy, happy, and productive whilst you are working from home. Like many businesses across the UK (and indeed globally), Novus closed their offices on Monday 23rd March in an effort to help halt the spread of coronavirus. Since then, working from home has become a new normal for many office-based colleagues up and down the country. For some who had previously worked this way on a regular basis, the situation was almost "business as usual" but for many, this proved somewhat unchartered waters that took a period of adjustment. Increasing infection rate With increasing coronavirus infection rates observed throughout September 2020, the Government once again recommended that people should work from home where possible. To help stay healthy, happy, and productive whilst working from home, we have compiled some top tips for colleagues and management. 1. Maintain regular hours of work Creating a healthy work life balance whilst working remotely can sometimes be hard, as there is the danger of the days becoming (at least to begin with) a little unstructured; starting earlier and finishing later due to getting caught up in work tasks. However, it is important to still that you structure your day like you would in an office, give yourself a start time, lunch time, and finishing time. And, make sure you stick to them! 2. Schedule breaks Again, structure and routine are important when working from home. It is very easy to get caught up in your work, extending your working times, not taking any breaks, and even working through your lunch. Regular breaks are an ideal way of keeping your mind fresh and maintaining productivity levels. Therefore, we suggest you schedule breaks in the same way that you would when working in the office. Get up and make yourself a cup of tea/coffee every so often and do ensure that you take a proper lunch break - eat, re-hydrate, and stay away from your emails! Maybe you could sit in the garden (weather permitting) for half an hour for a change of scenery? 3. Have a dedicated workspace No, you don't have to sit at a chair and a desk, it could just be your kitchen table! But just because you aren't in the office doesn’t mean you can't bring the office to your home, just set up camp somewhere you feel comfortable, won't get too distracted and (preferably) a place with a decent amount of sunlight. Dedicating a specific space adds familiarity, structure, and a sense of routine to a potentially unfamiliar situation. Why not tweet us a picture of your working from home space? @_NovusSolutions 4. Plan your work list Take 15 minutes at the end of each day to plan what you will be working on the following day. We've found that this will helps us to prioritise your job list, hit the ground running, and really focus on your work tasks.  5. Stay connected Whilst working from home can initially help you focus on work in the short term, it can become quite lonely in the long term, with one of the main complaints from remote workers being the feeling of social isolation. For the benefit of your own mental health and the quality of your work output, it is important to stay connected with your colleagues. Make use of technologies that enable video conferencing and instant messaging to stay in touch with your peers and always remember that you are part of a team contributing to a bigger picture. Managing a remote team: top tips for managers Along with the change in 'normal' office working comes a change in the way that we manage colleagues remotely. 6. Schedule monthly one-to-one meetings with each team member Staying connected with your team is crucial to maintaining a positive relationship with them. Host meetings from a distraction-free environment and minimise background noise where you can. Here is the opportunity to discuss colleague concerns, reinforce team wins and successes, and generally just have a chat - never underestimate the power of asking someone "how are you?" Be sure to focus your discussions on colleague welfare, setting SMART objectives that benefit not the only the business objectives but personal development. 7. Recognise that everyone is different Some colleagues may be perfectly happy working from home but for others, nothing could be further from the truth. Take the time to understand your team member's views and individual circumstances. 8. Trust your team You must trust that your team will work diligently towards their objectives without you controlling every aspect of how they carry out their work. We have seen over lockdown that performance has been as consistent as it was when we were all working in the office. Trusting your team to work conscientiously when you cannot see them is fundamental to the success or otherwise of flexible working in your team. Focus on the objectives you have set your team and if they are achieving them, and how you can support if not. 9. Watch for signs of burnout Research has shown that flexible and remote working carries a potential risk of colleagues working too many hours, resulting in early burnout and harm to a colleague’s wellbeing. Burnout often causes people to feel drained and tired, lacking the energy and motivation to complete their work. Burnout may also present physical symptons such as headaches or even stomach aches. A prolonged drop in normal performance levels should raise a red flag and warrant a conversation around colleague burnout. 10. Look after yourself! Make sure you look after yourself and the people around you by understanding and complying with all health and safety information. Things are changing all the time and it’s really important to keep up to date with Government COVID-19 guidelines. Claim tax back for working from home Not really a top tip but worth knowing, you can claim tax back while working from home.  Head to this page on the Government website to find out more. Have some working from home tips of your own? We hope you have found these tips useful and thank you for your support during this time. If you would like to contribute your own ideas to these tips, please share them via our social media channels. We can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
PRESS OFFICE
Hannah O'Brien
Telephone: 07854 781631
Email: hannah.obrien@novussolutions.co.uk
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