Unite, the UK’s construction union, is warning that thousands of council and social housing tenants in Kent, as well as the housing maintenance workers who maintain their homes, are being put at unnecessary risk of Covid-19 exposure.

Covid warning

Unite issued its warning after a series of outsourced housing maintenance companies in the county refused to suspend non-essential housing maintenance work during the current lockdown.

This has resulted in housing maintenance workers being unnecessarily forced to enter tenants’ homes, which increases the risk of the tenant, the worker and their respective families of being exposed to catching Covid-19.

Fears at Mears

The housing maintenance companies that are refusing to restrict their activities during the pandemic are Mears, which undertakes housing maintenance work for East Kent Housing, which in turn manages homes in Canterbury, Margate, Dover and Folkestone.

A separate arm of the same company MPS Mears, which undertakes housing maintenance for Medway council is equally at fault. As is Axis Europe Ltd, which has the maintenance contract for housing association Optivo, which manages social housing in the Swale council area.

Emergency work only

Unite has argued that during the lockdown and until it is safe to resume normal working arrangements, only emergency work and essential maintenance procedures (such as mandatory Gas Safe checks) should be undertaken. The union also supports maintenance work being undertaken on void (empty) properties provided that strict social distancing measures are in place and enforced.

Unite has raised its concerns over safety with the various companies and has also supplied them with its extensive safety checklist (see notes for editors), but has been rebuffed. The union will also be contacting the councils concerned and local MPs warning them of the needless danger that tenants and maintenance workers, are being placed in.

Unite is warning that the unnecessary contact that occurs could lead to increased transmission rates throughout Kent.

Profits before safety

Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said: “The companies concerned are refusing to listen to common sense and appear to be putting profits over safety.

 “The councils involved and which in many cases still own the properties, must step in and demand that only emergency works are undertaken in people’s homes.

 “Unite will be providing clear advice to our members of their legal right to refuse to work if they believe their health is being placed at risk and immediately remove themselves from danger.”


Notes to editors:

Portsmouth council accused of exposing tenants and workers to Covid-19

 Checklist for Members and Reps (Re Construction Tradespersons entering properties and occupied premises)

  • Unite supports local authorities and housing associations responding to emergency situations and essential maintenance only in occupied properties.

  • Planned maintenance work can be undertaken in vacant (void) properties provided risk assessments are conducted and strict social distancing measures are enforced at all times.

  • All necessary PPE supplied to workers, who must have it before commencing work and completing jobs safely
  • Employers must consult with trade union representatives when producing a risk assessment and the results of risk assessments shared with and communicated to employees. All existing risk assessments need to be reviewed and updated.

  • Unite reiterates the requirement for dynamic risk assessment which includes an agreed stop work process, where the assessment highlights a serious risk, incorporates method statements, including induction processes being delivered remotely, and utilises modern technology to update and inform all employees and workers prior to any works commencing.
  • Safe systems of work to be reviewed and updated in light of the increased transmission of the new Covid-19 variant. This to include workplace and travel to work policies

  • Involvement of Unite stewards and health and safety representatives in all safety discussionsPlease see Unite coronavirus guide  

  • All employers must construct a stop work on health and safety grounds procedure. An employee who believes their safety is threatened can stop work, and work cannot be resumed until a solution is agreed. Develop these procedures with trade union representatives.

  • All employees afforded protection under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the right to withdraw from a work area when faced with imminent risk to health/safety).



  • The right to decline work due to the failure of the responsible entity/person to ensure social distancing on site, with no detriment to the worker.

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.