On 10 February the Government announced that they will put an extra £3.5bn towards removing dangerous cladding from high rise buildings taller than 18m (making a total pot of £5.1bn), with leaseholders in buildings less than 18m being offered loans to fix their buildings.
What does this mean for you?
The announcement mentions that “No leaseholders in buildings taller than 18m will be charged “for cladding remediation works”. In practice, buildings will only be eligible for the new funding to cover the removal of any non-combustible cladding from buildings over 18m. This eligibility is identical to the current limited criteria that applied to the existing Building Safety Fund and does not cover any issues identified behind the cladding or in the build-up of the overall wall, which have been commonly been identified.
It is also not clear whether the new funding will also to apply to balconies where non-combustible material may have previously been approved by Building Control but has since been added to the list of materials requiring removal by recent government guidance.
We believe that leaseholders shouldn’t have to pay for the remedial work that is caused by a systemic failure of building regulations and control. Unfortunately, this latest government announcement does not guarantee that will be the case. Where we have identified issues relating to the compliance of our properties, we are doing all we can to find alternate sources of funding for remedial works, whether through warranty or buildings insurance providers, or by pursuing liability claims against the building’s original contractors. Charging leaseholders is an absolute last resort and one we are working hard to avoid.
We do not believe that housing associations should have to pay these bills either. However as owners of the buildings that require remedial works we are responsible for ensuring the safety of residents, and as a result we are prioritising resources for remedial works, meaning we have had to defer other non-urgent planned investment work.
As a charitable organisations, our core purpose is to provide affordable housing to people on the lowest incomes. We have a responsibility to all of our residents, and others in our communities, to remain financially secure so that we continue to provide, maintain and build homes for the people who need them.
We have to adhere to strict regulations on spending charitable funds, ensuring this is only spent in the pursuit of our charitable objectives. This means that even if we could, we may not legally be able to pay for leaseholders’ share of remedial works – and this is why we have been calling for additional funding so that our leaseholders do not have to pay for the works themselves.
The Government also said that for buildings below 18m anyone living with dangerous cladding, a loan scheme would be set up to protect leaseholders so you would pay no more than £50 a month for the removal of unsafe cladding. This loan would be direct to the building rather than the leaseholder, so if you do move then this liability would remain with the property.
What is Origin Housing doing about ESW1 forms?
The original intention for the use of EWS1 forms was only for buildings over 18m with cladding. Mortgage companies have widened their use to encompass most flats regardless of height or construction, preventing many people for being to sell or even re-mortgage their properties. This has increased the number of properties requiring the detailed and intrusive inspections needed to complete the form, with still only a limited number of firms qualified to undertake them.
In the meantime, we would like to reassure our residents that all of our blocks:
Received Building Control sign-off at the time of build
Have an up-to-date fire risk assessment – we review these each year for our high-rise blocks (18 metres or above) and any recommendations are dealt with immediately or put into a programme of work to be completed as soon as possible
We have installed fire alarms and instigated waking watches in blocks where we have concerns around fire safety.
We are unable to carry out the detailed intrusive investigations to all of our buildings and complete any remedial works identified all at once, due to the scale and cost of the works involved. We are currently reviewing our properties to produce a priority order for the review of the buildings, and we will let you know as soon as this has been agreed. The prioritisation of our buildings will be based on assessed risk and will include height, building shape, materials used and occupation, amongst other factors.
We are also waiting for the outcome of a review by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) on the scope of buildings requiring formal EWS1 sign. This review is intended to rationalise and redefine the range of buildings requiring this sign off and is likely to reduce the number of buildings requiring an EWS1 form.
Even if buildings are removed from the EWS1, recent government guidance and forthcoming legislation will require us to complete a survey on the exterior walls of all of our buildings to understand any risks associated with them regardless of height. We anticipate that this programme of inspections along with any planned programme of remediation works will take at least five years to deliver and possibly longer.
In the meantime, we would like to apologise to those residents who will need to wait for their building to be inspected – we know how difficult this situation is for you.
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