Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, housing associations have been working quickly to assess their buildings for safety risks, and take urgent action where needed. This has included working quickly to identify, remove and replace dangerous category 3 ACM cladding – the type used on Grenfell Tower – as well as identifying and remediating other types of cladding, in line with government guidance. In addition, housing associations have put in place urgent measures to ensure residents remain safe before and during remediation work.
In this section, you will find information on:
What are EWS1 forms, why can obtaining them be difficult, and what are housing associations doing to resolve this critical issue?
The latest advice from the government on remediation is contained in this document: building safety advice for building owners, including fire doors (January 2020). This combines, updates and replaces all previous advice notes issued by the Independent Expert Advisory Panel.
In an update to previous guidance, the 20 January 2020 advice note includes a clear requirement for ACM cladding (and other metal composite material cladding) with an unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) to be removed from residential buildings at any height, and when used in combination with any form of insulation. The Independent Expert Advisory Panel has concluded that this cladding material represents a significant fire hazard on residential buildings of all heights.
We have been arguing for a risk-based approach to prioritising building safety remediation work in existing buildings. This approach recognises that there are other factors beyond a building’s height that affect its risk profile, and would enable limited resources and capacity in our sector and those we work with to be focused first on those buildings that need them most urgently.
The government held a call for evidence on fire safety risk prioritisation in existing buildings between January and February 2020, with a view to gaining a better understanding of the complexity of building risk to ensure an appropriate level of safety is achieved.
We submitted a response to the call for evidence, in which we argued that assessing building risk should take into account other factors besides height and the need to focus resources efficiently at those buildings that need them most, especially given the diversity of the homes we provide and the scale of potential remedial works.
There are currently two main government funds open to housing associations to fund the remediation and replacement of unsafe cladding systems.
The government announced on 16 May 2018 that it would fully fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on social residential buildings of 18m or over, owned by housing associations, with costs estimated at £400m. This is part of an overall £600m pot of funding available to both the social and private sectors.
In the Spring Budget on 11 March 2020, the government announced a new £1bn fund for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on buildings of 18m and over. The prospectus for the fund was published in May 2020, confirming – following the NHF’s engagement with the government – that costs would be covered for leaseholders in both the social and private sectors.
The government published the guidance for applying for funding at the end of July, detailing two separate processes:
We recognise that both the processes and the deadlines involved are likely to present challenges for our members in covering costs and carrying out work, and we are continuing to engage with the government to address these.
There have been widely reported issues with mortgage lenders valuing properties in multi-occupied buildings with potential safety risks at zero pounds, leaving leaseholders unable to remortgage or sell on their homes.
In response to this issue, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) led a cross-industry working group to develop a standardised process for valuing properties in tall buildings of 18m or over with actual or potential combustible materials in external wall systems or on balconies.
The External Wall Fire Review process requires a fire safety assessment to be conducted by a suitably qualified and competent professional, providing assurance for mortgage lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers. The competent professional must complete an External Wall System (EWS) form, and one assessment is required per building, valid for five years.
Since the process was put into place, a number of issues have arisen around how it is being implemented. These include instances where EWS forms have been requested – and refused – for buildings below 18m, as well as issues securing the competent professionals required to carry out the necessary checks.
We are also aware that the government’s updated building safety advice from January 2020 is likely to bring many more buildings in scope for remediation work, and that issues accessing funding for work will continue to present challenges.
We are engaging with the government, the sector, the wider industry and leaseholder groups to raise these issues and try to find solutions. In particular, we are looking at how the form is currently being applied, approaches to valuing lower-rise buildings, and solutions to expedite funding for remediation on all buildings.
You can also find the latest announcements from the government’s building safety programme on their website.