The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) select committee published a report on 12 June looking into the progress of cladding remediation. The report states that there are still 2,000 high-risk residential buildings with dangerous cladding in England.
Through the report, the committee is calling on the government to make an absolute commitment that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding will be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. Similarly, buildings with other forms of dangerous cladding should have all safety defects removed by June 2022 – the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Our members are committed to ensuring the safety of their residents, and housing associations have been making progress on remediation works already, without waiting for funding from the government. However, we recognise that our members face a number of challenges in remediating buildings, in terms of the scale, funding and resources.
We submitted evidence to the HCLG Select Committee ahead of this report, citing some of the challenges our members are facing, such as the scale of the work to address widespread safety concerns, the likely timeframe needed to address it, the need to prioritise limited resources where they are needed most, and the impact of diverting funding away from much-needed affordable homes and other essential work.
The Select Committee report picks up on many of these concerns we highlighted, making a number of recommendations to the government to speed up remediation, fund works upfront and recoup costs later, and focus resources according to risk.
The committee remarks that the £1bn fund is not sufficient to remediate all 1,700 buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding measuring 18m and above. It is likely to cover a third of these. The committee is therefore calling for the fund to be increased to address all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building – potentially costing up to £15bn.
The government published further details of the Building Safety Fund on 26 May, which we have summarised for members. While we are pleased to have secured an important clarification in the fund details – that leaseholders in the social and private sectors will not have to pay for remediation works – we are engaging with the government to share some of the same concerns the HCLG select committee has raised. These include the risk of fewer affordable homes being built, as housing associations are forced to divert funds to remediation projects, as well as the scale of the challenge and time needed to complete the works.
The committee criticises the fact that many social landlords will effectively be excluded from the fund, as many have already prioritised and taken forward remediation work. Funding will be available only to those who cannot afford the cost, or have not yet committed to carrying out work. It argues that this exclusion risks redirecting funds to build affordable homes, and taking resource away from repairs and maintenance of existing homes.
It also picks out other aspects of the administration too, such as the limited application window and the fire-come-first-served basis for allocating funding.
In addition, the committee is calling for those who are ‘responsible for the crisis’ to be made to contribute to the fund. It echoes our call on the government to provide funding up-front, and take legal action to ensure those responsible are made to pay. It also proposes a review of proportionate taxes on developers, freeholders and others to help fund remedial works, and suggests that any residential building where works have not commenced by December 2020 should be subject to a compulsory purchase order.
We recognise that, if these recommendations were to be adopted by the government, they would present a challenge for our members. We will continue to raise with the government how we believe remediation works could be expedited.
The committee is calling on the government to provide funding for the costs of interim fire safety measures, such as waking watches and fire alarms. These measures are not eligible for funding under the Building Safety Fund, according to the prospectus.
The committee argues that the External Wall Systems Fire Review (ESW1) process, which was developed to enable mortgage providers to make informed lending decisions on high-rise buildings with possible fire safety defects, is not working. It is calling for a faster and fairer system, noting that the current approach is being applied to an unnecessarily wide range of buildings, taking up valuable resources of an already limited pool of fire safety professionals.
The report notes the physical and mental toll on leaseholders of living in potentially dangerous buildings, and being unable to sell or remortgage their properties, and calls for support from the NHS, as well as better information and financial guidance. We are continuing to raise with government and the relevant industry groups the impact of the EWS1 form on your leaseholders and wider organisations.