Safety advice and remedial work

Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the Government has set up investigations into materials and practices used in buildings.

In January 2020, the government published updated and consolidated advice for building owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings. This brings together and updates existing advice notes into one single advice note.  

This section provides the latest information on government investigations into building materials and practices – including cladding remedial work and fire doors.

Remedial works

The Government’s Building Safety Programme was launched soon after the Grenfell Tower fire to make sure residents in high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe.

The programme initially focused on the remediation of buildings with cladding that failed safety tests but was broadened out to cover other building safety issues. This work is guided by the advice of an Independent Expert Panel, with input from an Industry Response Group of which the National Housing Federation is a member.

Cladding that failed safety tests has been found on a number of high-rise blocks across the country, owned by private and social landlords, as well as schools and hospitals. Since the summer of 2017 our members have worked tirelessly to remediate their buildings. While this work goes on, people living in affected buildings are kept safe with additional safety measures where needed, such as 24-hour fire wardens, and our members are ensuring appropriate and necessary information reaches residents.

We continue to provide support to members that are carrying out cladding remedial works and flagging to government any issues that delay progress. We are calling on the government to provide additional funding to cover broader building safety issues.

Valuation of properties in high-rise blocks

Due to safety concerns, surveyors have been valuing properties in high-rise blocks at zero pounds. The impact of this has been that a number of leaseholders have struggled to remortgage or sell their flats. 

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Finance, and the Building Societies Association, have worked together to develop a new industry-wide process for valuing high-rise blocks, announced in December 2019.

The new process will be applied to properties in buildings that are 18m and over, and has been developed to provide some consistency for valuations of this type of property. 

Under the new process, a suitably qualified expert would complete an External Wall Fire Review form, supported by RICS guidance, to inform the surveyor in their valuation.

This process should enable some properties in affected buildings to be valued at a level more reflective of the market. However, we understand that there is still uncertainty in valuing flats in high-rise buildings that need remediation and we’ll be analysing how the building safety announcements made on 20 January could affect valuations in blocks below 18m.

In January 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, announced that he intends to work with the Treasury to explore ways to support leaseholders with the costs of remediation, which we understand may be offered as loans. We agree that leaseholders should not foot the bill for remediation works and we are continuing to press the government for funding to cover the costs for housing associations.

Safety advice

Fire doors – latest guidance

We know there is a widespread problem with glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) composite doors and that testing is being conducted on other types of door.

Many of our members are already managing this additional risk, and the government’s updated and consolidated advice note states that building owners should aim to replace flat entrance door sets if they suspect they do not meet the fire or smoke resistance performance in the Local Government Association guide “Fire safety in purpose built blocks of flats.” A risk assessment process is advocated to ascertain the urgency with which doors should be replaced.

Annex A of the consolidated advice note provides further advice for building owners on the assurance and assessment of fire doors. It includes general advice on:

  • Undertaking risk assessment of fire doors.
  • Consideration of fire doors within a building other than flat entrance doors.
  • Considerations where test information is/not available.
  • Testing guidance for fire doors.
  • Repair and renovation of existing doorsets.
  • Replacing flat entrance doorsets.

In addition, flow charts are provided to assist building Responsible Persons to prioritise action specifically in respect of GRP composite fire doors for both general needs and specialised housing blocks of flats.

We are involved in discussions about an industry-led remediation plan, led by MHCLG with the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers and the Local Government Association, and we’ll continue to press for action. We are hoping to provide more details soon.

Resources:

External wall systems – latest guidance

Aluminium composite material panels

  • As of January 2020, the government’s updated advice states that: ‘ACM cladding (and other metal composite cladding) with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) presents a significant fire hazard on residential buildings of any height with any form of insulation. This is updated from the previous advice, which stated that this particular type of ACM cladding was a fire hazard on buildings over 18m.
  • For owners of residential buildings of any height with another type of ACM cladding, please refer to section 4 of the updated advice note for the latest guidance.

Spandrel panels

  • The government has advised that spandrel panels (also including window panels and infill panels) should be considered as part of the external wall of a building.
  • Building owners are being asked to check the materials used in these panels to ensure that they do not present a risk of fire spread over the wall.
  • More information about the use of spandrel panels can be found in section 6 of the consolidated advice note

High pressure laminate panels (HPL)

  • The latest advice on the use of HPL panels is contained in the government’s updated and consolidated advice note, published in January 2020 (section 5).
  • The advice note confirms that the combination of HPL (FR Class B-s1,d0) panels with stone wool insulation achieved the required performance criteria in a large-scale BS8414 test, but advises building owners to take action on any existing buildings where HPL panels are used in combination with combustible insulation. 
  • The note sets out advice of the expert panel, that an external wall system using Class C-s3,d2 or Class D-s3,d2 HPL panels presents a notable fire hazard on buildings 18m and over and building owners should take immediate measures to remediate their system.
  • In addition, building owners are advised to consider the risk from fire spread of these materials on buildings below 18m.

External wall systems with a render or brick-slip finish

  • The latest advice on external wall systems with a render or brick-slip finish is also contained in the government’s updated and consolidated advice note, in response to evidence that safety factors in external wall systems have been eroded through inadequate design or poor installation, making buildings more vulnerable to defects.
  • The advice note states that building owners should consider the need to undertake periodic checks on the condition of external wall systems of a building of any height, as well as an immediate audit where a check has not taken place recently. 

Smoke control systems

  • The updated and consolidated advice note also includes expert panel advice on smoke control systems.
  • The advice note recommends that the use of electromagnetic holding devices as part of part of any smoke ventilation shaft installation should be reviewed as part of the fire risk assessment with consideration being given to replacing these devices with a more robust form of vent actuator.
  • If a repair cannot be carried out immediately, a review of the fire risk assessment should be carried out to determine whether mitigation measures should be put in place, which should also consider any other fire safety risks in the building.  

Other types of cladding – government testing programme

The government has been working with Building Research Establishment (BRE) to investigate the burning behaviour of selected cladding products using physical testing at bench/intermediate-scale in a laboratory. The Expert Panel has considered the interim results of these tests in developing this advice and understands that the government intends to publish the results later in the year.

Call for evidence on risk prioritisation in existing buildings

On 20 January, the government published a call for evidence on fire safety risk in buildings, which could assist building owners with the prioritisation of risks in existing buildings, and with the prioritisation of buildings based on a broader understanding on risk.

The call for evidence is seeking views on:

  • The case for a risk-based approach to be taken for existing buildings
  • The significance of height when classifying risk and other factors to be considered
  • Research considerations and approaches
  • Innovative ideas and evidence to support risk assessment in existing buildings

In our Building a Safer Future consultation response, we called for a holistic risk-based approach to assessing which buildings should be in scope of the new system. 

The call for evidence is open until 17 February, and we are inviting evidence from our members. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

Who to speak to

Victoria Moffett, Head of Building and Fire Safety Programmes