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 has been updated to include progress in implementing the Government decision to fund remediation work for affected blocks with ACM cladding 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 December 2019, 315 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.”135 blocks had completed remediation works.

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.

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 pace of remediation has been criticised, as has the sufficiency of the Government’s funding assistance. Leaseholders in blocks with ACM and other types of cladding are experiencing problems in selling/remortgaging their homes. In January 2020 the Independent Expert Advisory Panel published new guidance saying:

ACM cladding (and other metal composite material cladding) with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) presents a significant fire hazard on residential buildings at any height with any form of insulation.

In the wake of this announcement the National Housing Federation, Local Government Association and London Councils, amongst others, called on the Government to meet the costs of remediation work on buildings under 18 metres in height.

This note considers the debate leading up to the 9 May 2019 announcement and provides information on the Government’s decision to fund remediation work in both the social and private sectors. The 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: cladding@leaseholdknowledge.com

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