Government announces new ‘Building Safety Fund’
New fire safety guidance for residential buildings was brought in following the Grenfell fire initially only applying to blocks taller than 60ft / 18m – typically six storeys. In January 2020 the guidance was extended to buildings of all heights and now affects all apartment blocks with any type of cladding.
Unfortunately, the latest government safety advice is leaving owners unable to sell or get a new mortgage. Bank valuers have been reporting zero valuations on flats where Fire Safety Reports are not available from managing agents or building owners or where the extent and cost of any recommended remedial works is unknown, leading to banks being unwilling to lend and buyers having to pull out of sales.
Many flats have no ACM (Aluminum Composite Material) or HPL (High Pressure Laminate) cladding but building inspections can identify additional works required at some buildings and flats are then also unfairly being refused for mortgages by banks. This situation has surprised flat owners who bought homes in the knowledge that Local Authority Planning departments and Building Control consultants had approved the detailed construction and building materials for their apartment block.
A Fire Safety Report is an important document reporting on the safety of a building as part of a freeholder and managing agents’ responsibility for ensuring the safety of all occupiers. The Fire Safety Reports often recommend further investigations be carried out by specialist façade engineering consultants including intrusive exploratory work to both the external materials and also internal walls/insulation. It is only once these additional reports have been completed that freeholders and managing agents can organise the remedial work.
Since Grenfell the demand for Fire Assessors and suitable organisations with the correct credentials, accreditations and insurance policies in place has been unprecedented. The workload on these professionals and organisations has been intense and lead to an increase in lead times for testing, inspections, design solutions etc and has meant each stage is a lengthy process. Without information from the original developer or follow up reports it is not possible for a Fire Consultant to certify a building as safe or complete the new standard EWS1 form produced by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
In 2019 the government allocated £200m for the removal of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from 20,000 private flats. In the Budget on 11th March 2020 Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated more money for the removal of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in England. A new ‘Building Safety Fund’ is to be established worth £1bn of government money in a bid to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed from all private and social housing above 18 metres in height.
The additional money recognises the fact that it has since emerged that it is not just ACM cladding that is a problem and all flammable cladding materials have now been banned. A key issue is how quickly managing agents are able to access the funds and what specific criteria must be met for developments to be eligible.
There was no mention of support for buildings below 18 metres and it is uncertain if the fund will cover up to 70,000 flats with other kinds of flammable cladding or insulation, the cost of expensive repair bills, or the cost of waking watches (24 hour safety officers) that are now a familiar site in many residential buildings.