Government to bring an end to unsafe cladding with multi-billion pound intervention

MHCLG report unveils a five-point plan which, they say, will provide reassurance to homeowners and confidence to the housing market

  • Housing Secretary announces the government will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in high-rise buildings, providing reassurance and protecting them from costs
  • New levy and tax on developers to ensure industry contributes
  • Measures will boost the housing market and free up homeowners to once again buy and sell their properties.

Hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be protected from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding on their homes, as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick unveiled a five-point plan which will provide reassurance to homeowners and bring confidence to the housing market.

With an unprecedented £5 billion investment in building safety, including £3.5 billion announced last month, the Housing Secretary confirmed to the House of Commons that the government will fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres (six storeys) and over in England.

This will ensure funding is targeted at the highest risk buildings in line with longstanding independent expert advice and evidence, with Home Office analysis of Fire and Rescue Service statistics showing buildings between 18 and 30 metres are four times as likely to suffer a fire with fatalities or serious casualties than apartment buildings in general.

Lower-rise buildings, with a lower risk to safety, will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal with a generous new scheme offered to buildings between 11 and 18 metres. This will pay for cladding removal – where it is needed – through a long-term, low interest, government-backed financing arrangement.

Under the scheme, no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding. This will provide reassurance and security to leaseholders, and mortgage providers can be confident that where cladding removal is needed, properties will be worth lending against.

The government is working with industry to reduce the need for EWS1 forms, preventing leaseholders from facing delays and allowing hundreds of thousands of homes to be sold, bought, or re-mortgaged once again.

The Housing Secretary also announced plans to introduce a ‘Gateway 2’ developer levy. The proposed levy will be targeted and apply when developers seek permission to develop certain high-rise buildings in England.

In addition, a new tax will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector. This will raise at least £2 billion over a decade to help pay for cladding remediation costs. The tax will ensure that the largest property developers make a fair contribution to the remediation programme, reflecting the benefit they will derive from restoring confidence to the UK housing market. The government will consult on the policy design in due course.

The government will protect future generations from similar mistakes by bringing forward legislation this year to tighten the regulation of building safety and to review the construction products regime to prevent malpractice arising again.

The measures will mean people living in homes which they have been prevented from selling, or re-mortgaging, through no fault of their own, will now be able to move on with their lives.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “This is a comprehensive plan to remove unsafe cladding, support leaseholders, restore confidence to this part of the housing market and ensure this situation never arises again.

“Our unprecedented intervention means the hundreds of thousands of leaseholders who live in higher-rise buildings will now pay nothing towards the cost of removing unsafe cladding.

“Remedying the failures of building safety cannot just be a responsibility for taxpayers. That is why we will also be introducing a levy and tax on developers to contribute to righting the wrongs of the past.

“These measures will provide certainty to residents and lenders, boosting the housing market, reinstating the value of properties and getting buying and selling homes back on track. We are working with lenders and surveyors to make this happen.

“Our landmark intervention will make homes safer and free those who did the right thing – saving for years to get on the property ladder – to enjoy the homes in which they have invested so much.”

Joe Garner, CEO Nationwide Building Society, said: “Nationwide welcomes the £3.5 billion grant funding the government has announced to ensure the cladding on peoples’ home is safe and to protect the people who live in them. This is a decisive step forward which we hope brings some relief to people worried about the safety of their homes.

“Supporting people who find themselves living in this difficult position could not be more important. We look forward to working with government, lenders and other interested parties to understand the details and implement the initiative quickly.”

The government is aware that securing appropriate professional indemnity insurance to cover the completion of EWS1 forms is a major barrier to qualified professionals undertaking EWS1 forms. The government is therefore committing to work towards a targeted, state-backed indemnity scheme for qualified professionals unable to obtain professional indemnity insurance for the completion of EWS1 forms.

The government will work closely with industry to design an appropriate scheme. Further details on the scheme, including eligibility and the claims process, will be provided in the coming weeks.

The Grenfell tragedy laid bare failings in the building industry dating back 30 years. The announcement is a further step by the government to bring about the biggest changes to building safety in a generation, ensuring people are safe and feel safe in their own homes.

The measures build on steps already taken to support leaseholders, including £1.6 billion of funding to remediate unsafe cladding, the £30 million Waking Watch fund to help end unfair and excessive costs and new legislation in the Building Safety Bill which will ensure homes are made and kept safer in future.

Five-point plan to bring an end to unsafe cladding:

  1. Government will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for leaseholders in all residential buildings 18 metres and over (six storeys) in England
  2. Generous finance scheme to provide reassurance for leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 metres (four to six storeys), ensuring they never pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal
  3. An industry levy and tax to ensure developers play their part
  4. A world-class new safety regime to ensure a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again
  5. Providing confidence to this part of the housing market including lenders and surveyors.

Fire chiefs respond to government announcement on cladding

The National Fire Chiefs Council has welcomed Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s announcement of a five-point plan to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding

In response to the government’s announcement, National Fire Chiefs Council Chair, Roy Wilsher said: “We welcome the additional funding announced, which we hope will help to speed up the removal of dangerous cladding off high-rise buildings. This is a step in the right direction.

“Whilst we will need to work through the detail of the announcement, it is vitally important that the new funding is distributed quickly so that as a matter of priority people can be made safe in their homes. We acknowledge that this will not address all the safety issues in the built environment and we will continue to work with government and partners to address these to ensure all residents can feel safe in their homes and are protected from the financial impact of these building failures.

“The government has also set out the support package for other buildings and we will be working with fire and rescue services in the coming weeks to assess what the impact on the sector and leaseholders will be.

“We are pleased to see that action is to be taken to introduce a new tax and levy on developers to help finance this work going forward. It is right that those that built these buildings in the first place pay for the problems to be fixed.

“Only by ensuring that new builds are designed and constructed safely from the outset can government, regulators and the wider industry ensure that unsafe buildings are no longer built. This action must start as soon as possible and we look forward to the introduction of the Building Safety Bill so that the proposed new ‘Gateways’ regime of building controls can be introduced.”

Leaseholders deserve better

Government intervention is urgently required, say the Fire Sector Federation, as it calls upon government to help release leaseholders from living in danger

The Official Opposition debate on February 1 highlighted the plight of the sleepless nights of the many leaseholders caught in a dreadful limbo of living in unsafe homes unable to meet the costs of making their homes safe by replacing combustible cladding found in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Leaseholders, because of their responsibility as homeowners, find it is they who have to fund the costs of remediation to their homes, costs that they cannot meet.

Although the circumstances of how exactly this happened are still being investigated this suffering must cease. Leaseholders are dealing with an outcome they did not create or even know existed.

The reasons for what is a building control failure are many: from the thoroughness of material testing to the appropriateness of building regulations with possible defective construction and ineffective building control oversight compounding these failures.

As a result buildings sold as ‘fit for purpose’ are simply found wanting after the whole chain of safety net provisions did not work. So where do these leaseholders go so that they can at least sleep safe and retain value in their investment – their home?

Michael Harper, Chairman of the Fire Sector Federation, said: “We recognise that lives are continuing to be blighted by this continuing saga and it must end. The solution has to come through government intervention because the scale of the cost and complexity of accountability mean only government can make that happen. That said those who created this situation cannot and must not escape their responsibility.

“The Fire Sector Federation suggests that:

  • Government increases the remediation fund and allows leaseholders to apply for government secured funding to meet remediation costs
  • A government-led industry group to set deadlines and drive progress to ensure that those deadlines are met as soon as possible
  • The government recover from all appropriate parties their shared obligation for the cost of the remediation fund.

“We note one construction company has already stepped forward to offer financial support and we encourage others. This is however a failure of many, some of who may need more than a little encouragement to step up and answer the call.”

The Federation has been working to address raising levels of competency, revising standards and promoting the value of third-party certification and assurance.

Building owners cutting corners on emergency lighting

Too many building owners are cutting corners when it comes to emergency lighting, despite past tragedies, according to a report by Hilclare

Despite previous studies highlighting the dangerous gaps in emergency lighting, it remains an issue today. According to a 2020 Hilclare report, 44 per cent of firms in England do not have the correct emergency lighting.

In 2018, Inside Housing revealed over a third of England’s social housing tower blocks have inadequate emergency lighting. In a survey of 1,584 tower blocks – 40 per cent of the country’s total social stock – a total of 402, or 25 per cent, had missing or broken emergency lighting on the residents’ escape routes.

Prison sentences are a real consequence of poor emergency lighting practice and fines are growing in their severity:

  • Fire safety solicitor Warren Spencer reviewed 200 of his cases from 2006 to 2019 brought under the Fire Safety Order legislation and found that the average fine for breaches since the Grenfell fire tragedy is £27,519, more than a third (35 per cent) higher than the average across 2014-2019, which is £20,375. Other findings included:
    • £1,230,879 has been handed out in fines, and the total costs ordered is £819,616.
    • Out of 200 cases, only nine defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges brought.
    • Article 14 of the Fire Safety Order relating to emergency routes and exits is the most enforced.
    • The maximum sentence under the Fire Safety Order is two years imprisonment. The range of sentences handed out across Spencer’s cases varied, with fines being the main punishment. Out of three cases (six defendants) involving fatalities, two of these cases resulted in suspended prison sentences.
    • Government figures from a Freedom of Information requested by Spencer showed that between 2006 and 2009, defendants were convicted of 1,904 charges. Of those charges, 443 (23 per cent) related to article 14 emergency routes and exits. Multiple occupancy (HMOs) premises represent 17.5 per cent of the national cases prosecuted.

Some of the most high-profile incidents include:

  • The owner of the New Kimberley Hotel in Blackpool – dubbed a ‘death trap’ – was handed an 18-month prison sentence in 2015 for breaching the Fire Safety Order, with no proper emergency lighting cited as one of the breaches.
  • A Cardiff care home operator was fined £400,000 (plus fees) in 2020 due to fire breaches putting residents at “serious risk”, including deficient emergency lighting.
  • In 2018, a private landlord was fined £400,000 over a lack of emergency lighting in a property in Lincoln.
  • The owner of a hotel in Yorkshire was fined over £50,000 for fire safety offences in 2018, including a failure to monitor and maintain the emergency lighting.

Why are outdated and/or substandard emergency lighting systems so common in the UK?

Anthony Martindale, field product manager, lighting, Eaton said: “Emergency lighting in a building can quickly fall out of compliance due to damage, lack of testing or maintenance and shifting regulation. A ‘fit and forget’ mindset is at the heart of why outdated and faulty emergency lighting systems are so prevalent today. Compliance often falls between the accountability cracks, particularly as building owners and facilities managers frequently employ third parties to test and rectify issues with emergency lighting systems – washing their hands of the upkeep, yet remaining accountable for compliance in the eyes of the law.”

Other than the potential human impact, what kind of consequences are there for non-compliant emergency lighting in a building?

“Sub-standard emergency lighting systems could lead to inefficient evacuation during an incident – bringing about injuries or worse still, loss of life. Yet in addition to the potential human impact, there are financial consequences. While the use of fire safety equipment can aid in the reduction of insurance premiums, it can also have the opposite impact when done incorrectly. Insurance companies can use non-compliance with fire safety orders as a reason for not paying out. Beyond this, the reputational impact must be considered – from putting off potential employees and customers to impacting share prices.”

How can facilities managers and building owners avoid these consequences?

“To avoid the variety of consequences that come with outdated emergency lighting, a series of best practice initiatives can be followed. First, an up-to-date risk assessment must be kept for all buildings and needs to be updated on a regular basis in order for your building to comply; this will determine the type of emergency lighting system required. The ultimate goal of fire specific risk assessment is to identify and mitigate the number of fire hazards in a building. It is performed by an assessor who considers all the potential dangers within a premise. Naturally, the risks identified should be balanced by appropriate fire protection systems to meet regulation standards and ensure fire safety shifts from afterthought to fundamental safety requirement.”

Chris Watts, fire safety consultant, BAFE board member, Chairman of British Standard committee responsible for BS 5266-1 (code of practice for emergency lighting), provides further insight. As convenor, he introduced CEN EN 1838, CENELEC EN 50171 and 50172 European emergency lighting standards and is recognised as an industry expert on their development.

How can facilities managers meet their legal duty of safety?

“Facilities managers are responsible for the safety of occupants in their premises so they have a duty to check the competence of fire safety providers when sourcing help to protect their building. Given that facilities managers are unlikely to be experts in building and fire safety standards, the recommendation is always to verify that their suppliers have a third-party certification that is appropriate and valid for the work required. Sadly, it is all too easy for those without experience of fire safety and protection to put their faith in individuals without the right qualifications or competencies – leading to inadequate equipment being installed or a lack of suitable testing and maintenance. BAFE – the independent registration body for third party certified fire protection companies across the UK – is a useful starting point for anyone wanting to meet their legal duty of safety. By going through the independent register of quality fire safety service providers, facilities managers can find independently audited and competent professionals able to help them meet their fire safety obligations.”

Is emergency lighting legislation in the UK fit for purpose?

“Emergency lighting legislation in the UK is fit for purpose – if followed! Sadly, all too often it is just not implemented correctly. For example, the principal of fire risk assessments is much more suitable than blanket rules which may be inappropriate for particular applications. When done correctly by qualified individuals, fire risk assessments provide a measured response to risk levels. However, they only work when implemented correctly. This means not only ensuring the assessment is carried out by individuals with the right training, but also proceeding with the correct level of follow-up in terms of inspections, maintenance and – when required – repairs. Incidents occur when the initial assessment falls short, or follow-up is inadequate.”

What will it take to see a shift to prioritising safety which meets – or even exceeds – standards?

“Unfortunately many individuals take a short-term view when considering fire safety. Investing in quality equipment solves the problem in the long-term, yet many are swayed by the false economy of opting for the lowest cost deal to tick a box at a moment in time. If they choose substandard systems and don’t engage certified professionals to do the installation, they usually end up paying more in the long-run to replace or repair faulty technology. Furthermore, if an incident occurs and the individual responsible for the building has clearly not done their due diligence, that false economy becomes even more pronounced as they are hit with major fines – or even a prison sentence.

“Ultimately, fire safety should never be viewed as a short-term problem to be solved for the minimum cost. Until that short-term mindset evolves into a longer-term view which prioritises safety and considers total cost of ownership rather just the initial price tag, we will continue to see substandard equipment installed, a lack of appropriate maintenance and, sadly, peoples’ lives needlessly put at risk.”

First Chief Inspector of Buildings announced

The Health and Safety Executive has announced the appointment of a Chief Inspector of Buildings to establish and lead the new Building Safety Regulator

Peter Baker, HSE’s current Director of Building Safety and Construction, will take up the post of Chief Inspector of Buildings with immediate effect.

The government asked HSE to establish a new building safety regulator in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and following recommendations in the Building a Safer Future report by Dame Judith Hackitt.

In his role as the Chief Inspector of Buildings, Peter Baker will head up the Building Safety Regulator to deliver the new regime for high-risk buildings, oversee work to increase competence of all professionals working on buildings and ensure effective oversight of the entire building safety environment. Peter will also be the first head of the building control profession, and lead the work to provide independent, expert advice to industry, government, landlords and residents on building safety.

Peter said: “I am honoured to be appointed as the first Chief Inspector of Buildings and for the opportunity to play a lead role in bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.

“I look forward to working with government, industry, partner regulators and residents to shape and deliver a world-class risk-based regulatory system for the safety and standards of buildings that residents can have confidence in and that we can all be proud of.”

Peter has over 30 years’ experience with HSE as an Inspector and in a number of senior operational posts dealing with a wide range of industry sectors, including the role of HSE’s Chief Inspector of Construction.

Dame Judith Hackitt, Independent adviser to Government on Building Safety and Chair of the Transition Board, said: “I am delighted to hear of Peter Baker’s appointment as the new Chief Inspector of Buildings. With his impressive background experience in regulating both major hazards industries and construction he brings a wealth of experience to this important new role.

“I very much look forward to working with Peter as the new Building Safety Regulator is established as we move to establish a new regime where people can be confident that their homes are safe and fit for purpose.”

Minister for Building Safety, Lord Greenhalgh, said: “I welcome the appointment of Peter Baker as the first national Chief Inspector of Buildings. Peter will use his and HSE’s wealth of experience to implement a tougher regulatory regime.

“I look forward to working with Peter and his team to ramp up engagement with residents and the sector as part of the biggest changes to building safety in a generation, backed by our £5 billion investment to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres (six storeys) and over in England.

“We have a comprehensive plan to remove unsafe cladding, support leaseholders, restore confidence to this part of the housing market and ensure this situation never arises again.”