Member Q&A on building safety tests

31 July 2017

You can also read about the Federation’s initial response to the tragedy or see all of our responses and submissions. If you have any questions, please contact us at housingsafety@housing.org.uk

DCLG testing on cladding and insulation

What testing was done to the panels?

In the beginning, the tests focused on the ACM cladding filler – the core of the panel – to check if it was of limited combustibility (category 1) or not (category 2 or 3).

In early July, the independent expert panel on safety advised further testing, to establish how different types of ACM panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire. This is in accordance with British Standard 8414. The testing involved building a nine-metre tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system – including panels and insulation – fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spreads up the outside wall.

What were the results of this testing?

A summary of the tests, along with the overall number of buildings affected, if the system had failed, were made publicly available. Landlords are expected to take their own professional advice on what is required for their buildings in the usual way.

The Government published consolidated advice for building owners, bringing together good practice for tower block safety, in September 2017. You can read this advice on the DCLG website.

What should housing associations do if a building fails the test?

If the cladding on your building fails a test, the guidance from the Government remains that you should work with the fire service to assess the risk to your tenants and take the appropriate action. If you need support in any of your stakeholder engagement, or need us to press DCLG for information, please contact us.

What should I do if I think the cladding on our building is made of aluminium composite material (ACM)?

If you think the cladding on your building is ACM:

  • Inform DCLG by sending your data return form [excel] to housingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk
  • Send samples of the cladding to Building Research Establishment (BRE), Bucknalls Lane, Garston, Watford, Herts WD25 9XX by courier as a matter of urgency
  • Contact your local fire service who can inspect the building.

There will be a number of factors that determine how safe the building is alongside the cladding and what immediate and long-term action you need to take to protect your residents.

My organisation doesn’t have any tall buildings clad with ACM. What should I do?

It’s important that you still complete a data return form [excel] as a nil return and send this to housingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk. This will help DCLG direct support and advice to the right organisations.

What about cladding on other buildings?

The Government is currently focused on high-rise buildings. If you want to test your ACM cladding, even if it is not from a high rise, you can use the BRE scheme to do so, but please note, they are prioritising ACM cladding from high-rise buildings.

If you have concerns about a different form of cladding, you may want to seek advice from your local fire service about testing it.

Communicating what’s happening with your tenants and local stakeholders

Do you have any additional advice about reassuring tenants?

We know you are doing everything you can to reassure your tenants about your response to the Grenfell Tower fire. It’s important to regularly update them on progress using a number of communications channels. It is also good to make representatives from your organisation visible on the ground for face-to-face conversations where needed. As well as advice to tenants in affected buildings, you will want to communicate with your wider tenant base to re-confirm fire safety procedures.

We’d encourage members to provide key information in a simple format that's accessible and which sets out all the steps you are taking to ensure tenant safety. This could be a Q&A published on your website, door drops to residents or fire safety articles in your tenant magazine or newsletters. You could offer advice on fire safety and preventative actions, such as avoiding dumping rubbish and propping fire doors open, and encourage your residents to report any defective smoke detectors or fire doors so that these can be resolved quickly.

Should I let my MP know what we’re doing to keep tenants safe?

Yes. MPs and other key stakeholders, including councillors and mayors, will be worried and keen to know how housing providers and other landlords in their constituencies are responding to the Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent safety issues that have come to light. The most effective way to address their concerns is to get in touch with them proactively to explain what action your organisation is taking to ensure buildings are safe and reassure tenants.

If you need any advice on dealing with stakeholders or the media, you might find our media guidance helpful, or please email housingsafety@housing.org.uk   

Working together with DCLG

How is the Federation working with DCLG?

We have continued to work closely with DCLG and our members and called on the Government to focus on making people safe.

We have asked the Government to make a clear commitment to ensure funding is available upfront for any remedial works and to give clearer guidance on what material is safe to replace cladding.

What is the Federation doing to ensure there is funding for the remedial work carried out on affected buildings?

The Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that help and support would be provided, including funding support for local authorities if that is what is needed. 

We have written to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, to ask the Government to establish a fund to cover the costs of replacement and removal of cladding and have suggested that these works are VAT-exempt. We’ll continue to ask for clarity on this situation for our members. In the meantime, we're asking members with tower blocks with ACM cladding to provide us with information about the costs of repairs. You can download the survey here and return it to housingsafety@housing.org.uk.  

How do I keep in touch with what the Federation is doing on this?

So far we have mainly been communicating with chief executives about this situation and our work, but if you work for one of our member organisations in another role, or if you think there are other members of your team who would benefit from receiving our updates, please let us know and we’ll include you on our mailing list.