This paper considers the debate about who is responsible for paying for fire safety works on blocks of flats in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. It covers progress in implementing the Government decision to fund remediation work for affected blocks with ACM cladding in the social and private sectors. In March 2020, a £1 billion Building Safety Fund was announced to fund the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding on high-rise blocks in the social and private sectors.
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Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, the Government established a Building Safety Programme with the aim of “ensuring that residents of high-rise residential buildings are safe, and feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future.”
At 31 May 2020, 455 residential blocks and public buildings over 18 metres in England were identified as having Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding installed or previously installed, i.e. of the same or similar type to that applied to Grenfell Tower and are described as “unlikely to meet current Building Regulation guidance.” Of the 455 identified blocks, 300 were yet to be remediated.
Remediation work is complex, and the associated costs are significant. The question of who is responsible for paying for remedial works has been described as “a legal quagmire” and has been at the forefront of debates about how quickly the necessary work can be carried out and the financial implications for some residents, particularly those living in privately owned blocks.
Funding to remove ACM cladding
On 16 May 2018, the Government announced that it would meet the reasonable cost of the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding by councils and housing associations. Although the Government argued that the cost of remediation work should not fall on individual leaseholders in affected private blocks, not all developers/freeholders responded positively to these calls. On 9 May 2019, James Brokenshire, then Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced that the Government “will fully fund the replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on high-rise private residential properties where building owners have failed to do so.” The deadline for submitting applications was 31 December 2019. The expectation was that ACM cladding would be removed by June 2020 in all but exceptional cases – this target has not been met.
Funding to remove non-ACM combustible cladding
In the March 2020 Budget, the Government announced that it would provide £1 billion in 2020 to 2021 “to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on residential buildings 18 metres and over in both the private and social housing sectors.” The registration process opened on 1 June and closes on 31 July 2020. MHCLG is aiming to open a full application process by the end of July 2020.
The funding announcements have been welcomed by stakeholders but there are significant ongoing concerns highlighted in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s report Cladding: progress of remediation (12 June 2020). These concerns span the following areas:
- The adequacy of available funding.
- Exclusions from the Building Safety Fund for non-ACM cladding removal.
- The lack of assistance in tackling other fire safety defects and interim measures (waking watches).
- The impact on leaseholders who are facing rising costs and are unable to sell their homes. The Committee describes the physical and mental toll on affected leaseholders as representing a public health crisis.
This paper considers progress in implementing remediation works and issues raised by landlords and residents. The final section provides brief information on the position in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A Library briefing for a debate on Fire risk in flats and shared buildings sets out (in part 1.1) the responsibilities for building owners around fire safety in a multi-occupancy building.
Affected long leaseholders should seek professional legal advice and assistance. The Leasehold Advisory Service and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (which also acts as the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on leasehold reform) are potential sources of advice. The LKP has a dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org