Ever since the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, the UK has seen the cladding crisis develop and increasingly affect leaseholders both financially and mentally. The likes of disabled people are feeling “constantly sick and stressed” due to financial pressures and their buildings ‘being built unsafe’ for them whilst even children “do not feel safe” in their own homes. It is evident that more needs to be done to help protect leaseholders during and after this crisis.
A new report into the matter, titled ‘Cladding – A Way Forward’, was recently published online by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors to give an insight into how the industry can move forward from the cladding crisis. This includes their own research, input from experts in various sectors, key findings and a ‘10-point plan’ with recommendations for the UK Government and industry.
According to Irwin Mitchell, around 1.93m UK people are considered ‘mortgage prisoners’ whilst over 600,000 currently live in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding. They also say there are 537 buildings with ‘waking watches’ in place to improve safety while they wait for remediation, and the remediation works on buildings with ACM cladding have either been completed or started on 91% of residential buildings.
Leaseholders are piled on with ever-increasing bills relating to:
- EWS1 fire safety forms which can delay house sales;
- Waking watch costs that tally up to millions owed by homeowners;
- Fire alarms which see on average each building face £127,000 in fees;
- Increasing building insurance such as the rise by more than 1,000% for flat owners;
- Remediation bills with many people unable to afford the sky-high rate of £100,000.
Since these fees are unrealistic and unaffordable for most people across the country, Irwin Mitchell proposes that leaseholders should not have to repay any government funding. They also say that the £5bn made available so far should be trebled to £15bn as a minimum since the current total is too little. Other radical changes are proposed by the law firm, which they say also need to be made in order to start seeing any change with this crisis.
Suppose the government wants to avoid any other disaster, such as what happened with Grenfell almost four years ago now. In that case, they will have to start making changes that will benefit leaseholders who are being unfairly punished for things they have no control over. Having these people go through these challenges will not serve the government well going forward.
Simon Allison, one of Irwin Mitchell’s experts and Barrister for Landmark Chambers, said: “We need to keep the pressure upon the government to help sort the funding. Leaseholders say building owners need to “do the right thing”, but many of these high-rise buildings aren’t owned by big pension funds and private equity firms. They’re owned and managed by residents who don’t have any commercial income and can’t readily fund the remediation works without all leaseholders paying substantial sums upfront. We need clear government direction on a practical solution.”
The ten-point plan is as follows:
- The figures some leaseholders are being asked to pay for remediation works are financially crippling, unrealistic and unjustified. They must be given up-front government funding, which they shouldn’t have to repay. Wherever possible, this should be offset by future clawback from the parties deemed to have been at fault. Such liability must be adequately determined through the legal process.
- Access to government funding for remediation works must then be made easier and faster. Often the wrong people have been left dealing with things. The fund must be significantly increased to cover all dangerous materials or defects, including those discovered during remediation. We propose a minimum of £15bn. It should be available for all dangerous buildings, regardless of height.
- The government should give freeholders a statutory right to install, maintain and charge for new systems that will help make properties safe. This includes whole-building sprinkler systems and fire alarms. We agree that these costs should be paid for by leaseholders. However, the installation will reduce Waking Watches’ need and associated costs, typically falling on leaseholders.
- Planning and building regulations must have greater cohesion and work in tandem with digital and regular on the ground oversight. These must be quickly reviewed and checked. Rules should cover safety and not just aesthetics. Online details of all at-risk buildings, relevant defects, safety features and evacuation procedures should be available to all, including potential homebuyers.
- The privatisation of building control has proved dangerous. It needs a complete overhaul with clear, integrated lines of responsibility and the best use of the currently available technology. Total independence and wide powers to review and intervene where necessary are required.
- Certification of safe building materials and methods must be similarly and radically overhauled so that the failings exposed by the Grenfell Tower inquiry can never be repeated. Sub-contractors must not be allowed to substitute materials. Risk should not be watered down through the contractual chain to the point of no responsibility.
- Special provision must be made for disabled occupants of high-risk buildings as quickly as possible. This would include easily available relevant information for fire and rescue services and tailored escape plans.
- We must learn from what others are doing. The Building Information Modelling (BIM) standards developed in the UK have been adopted worldwide. But other countries, such as Ireland, have a much more rigorous approach to regulation and enforcement. Digitised record-keeping and Modern Methods of Construction must continue to be standardised.
- We need to accelerate the provision for surveyors able to issue EWS1 certificates. The Fire Safety industry needs similar support. Relative costs are minor and well worth investing in. Many are trapped, awaiting administrative assistance that’s keeping their lives on hold.
- We must be able to look back in years to come at the Grenfell Tower disaster as a watershed moment for the industry and its regulators. It should mark the start of a new era for building standards and people’s safety in high-rise properties.
As a landlord, your fire safety responsibility goes beyond cladding. Watch our latest fire safety video to find out more about the current fire safety regulations.