On Monday 10 January 2022, the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, announced a series of measures concerning building safety.
In his announcement Mr Gove made a guarantee that no leaseholders living in a building over 11 metres will have to pay to fix unsafe cladding. They will also receive new statutory protection within the Building Safety Bill and will have the right to challenge those who caused defects up to 30 years retrospectively.
As part of the 4-point plan to reset the Government’s approach to building safety, the next phase of the Building Safety Fund will open early this year. It will be risk-driven and will be delivered quickly. The Government will also allocate an additional £27m for fire alarms to put an end to the use of waking watches.
It is proposed that grant funding guidance will be changed so that shared owners affected by the crisis can more easily sublet their properties. Landlords and lenders will be encouraged to improve subletting arrangements.
In addition, those at fault will be held properly to account with a new team being established to expose and pursue those who are responsible.
The Government will now advise assessors to follow new guidance that has been developed by the British Standard Institute, called PAS 9980. It will be used to carry out statutory assessments of external walls of blocks and will take a more risk-based approach to danger. Assessments will be audited to make sure that remediation is only required where it is necessary.
Our priority is, and always has been, the safety of our residents.
We are now awaiting further guidance on what the next steps will be, and we will update you as soon as we receive more information.
We run a programme to test the external wall systems – including cladding, insulation and fire-stopping - across our buildings. We own hundreds of buildings, over 60 of which are over 18 metres and have some form of cladding (out of a government estimated figure of 1,700 in the UK) and therefore need to prioritise testing. We do this based on building height and type of external wall covering.
When will my building be tested?
We've been reviewing all documentation relating to the construction of our buildings to help us decide on the order they should be tested. The programme prioritises buildings according to height and type of cladding.
So far, we've completed 130 intrusive surveys.
We'll be in touch before testing starts on your building. Unfortunately, we can’t provide a precise timetable due to the shortage of suitably-qualified independent fire safety consultants to carry out the testing and the huge demand for their services from the owners of thousands of buildings across the UK.
What sort of testing will take place?
The independent fire safety consultants will carry out complex and intrusive surveys that involve removing a panel from the building’s external wall system for close examination and, if required, thorough testing. They identify all materials used and whether they’ve been installed according to manufacturer recommendations.
The test which shows how a building’s external wall system reacts to fire is known as a BS8414 test. Where necessary, we'll arrange for a BS8414 test to be carried out in an accredited test centre.
When can I see the results of all the testing?
Once the specialists have completed the survey, they produce a report. This takes an average of three to four months. If a BS8414 fire safety test is needed, it may take longer. When we receive the report, we may have to refer back to the original builders, designers and product manufacturers to fully understand the findings. We'll then provide you with a summary of the report.
What if my building doesn’t comply with the new guidance?
The report will outline what work is necessary to make the building compliant. We're putting together a programme of remediation works across our buildings, prioritised according to risk. We'll let you know when we have more details about your block.
Am I safe in the meantime?
The safety of our residents remains our top priority and we have robust measures in place to ensure your safety. We also carry out regular fire risk assessments to highlight any work that might be required, as well as routine visual checks of community areas to ensure there are no fire hazards.
We also maintain your fire safety systems such as Automatic Opening Vent (AOV) smoke control systems, emergency lighting, dry and wet riser sprinkler systems etc. in line with regulations.
Will the fire strategy change if my building doesn’t comply with the guidance?
Every building has its own fire strategy, which includes the evacuation plan (which can be to evacuate or to stay put) in the event of a fire. This is reviewed after every survey and we'll write to residents if any changes are necessary. Where changes are needed, we may install a waking watch or a fire alarm system until the work is carried out.
What is a waking watch and what does a fire alarm system do?
Waking watches are people we employ to patrol a building around the clock to look out for smoke and fire. They'll alert residents to any potential dangers with an alarm or by knocking on doors. If a fire alarm system is later installed, the waking watch may be scaled back or removed.
Fitted in individual properties and communal areas, fire alarms detect heat and sound an alarm if the temperature rises above a certain level.
What if I need help to evacuate the building?
If your building has a waking watch and you or anyone in your household would need help to get out of the building in an emergency, please complete this online form. The information will be shared with the London Fire Brigade.
This is likely to apply to people with mobility issues, visual or hearing impairments, young children or elderly relatives.
Does this mean my building wasn't safe to start with?
No, it doesn't - all our buildings complied with relevant building regulations when they were constructed. However, the latest government advice is retrospective, which means it applies to existing buildings as well as new ones.
Do any of your buildings have the Kingspan K15 insulation that was used on Grenfell Tower?
Yes. Kingspan Kooltherm K15 insulation was widely used in the construction of buildings across the country until the Grenfell Tower fire.
We've remediated all our buildings with ACM cladding and Kingspan insulation – the devastating combination that was used on Grenfell Tower. Due to inadequate fire testing of the product in conjunction with other types of cladding, Kingspan, along with all combustible materials, is now banned in the wall make-up of buildings.
In response to the government’s post-Grenfell building safety guidance, we've been investigating the external wall systems of our buildings, with priority given to the tallest blocks. Where Kingspan or Celotex wall insulation is identified, we're planning for their removal and replacement. Once again, this cladding remediation programme is addressing our tallest buildings first.
In some cases, in line with expert advice, we've introduced additional safety measures until the remedial work is carried out. These include fire alarm systems and waking watch.
If you're a leaseholder or shared owner and you're considering re-mortgaging, selling or buying more shares in your home, please read this important information.
If you have questions regarding the safety of your building, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read our Building Safety Newsletter here.