In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tragedy, the Government has introduced a raft of proposals and measures to address both the issue of unsafe cladding and other fire safety issues, and this piecemeal approach has contributed to an already complicated situation for many charities and non-profits.
To clarify the current position, this article summarises the key developments of which organisations affected by unsafe cladding and other fire safety issues should be aware.
It also links to a further article which considers the possibility of legal redress against those responsible for the design and construction of affected buildings.
There are still many questions about the implementation of some of the measures and proposals introduced but, at present, key developments have included:
- Government guidance on action that should be taken regarding certain categories of multi-occupied residential buildings with specific types of cladding and/or insulation, including the removal and replacement of cladding.
In some instances the guidance relates to residential buildings that are over 18 metres in height, but some of the guidance applies to residential buildings of any height. The government has also provided guidance on the use of a ‘waking watch’ (that is, 24/7 surveillance to raise the alarm in the event of fire) in some residential buildings, which was intended as a short term interim measure before remediation measures were undertaken.
- A Building Safety Programme which provides for applications for funding from both the public and private sector for the remediation of certain cladding in residential buildings which are over 18 metres in height.
- Separately (and presumably to reassure those not covered by the Building Safety Programme) the government said in February of this year that no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 per month towards the removal of unsafe cladding.
- A fund to provide for waking watch measures to be replaced with alarm systems in buildings with cladding that requires remediation.
- The enactment of the Fire Safety Act earlier this year. The primary purpose of this Act is to clarify the role of the responsible person in multi-occupied residential buildings. In such buildings the responsible person is usually the owner or manager of the building.
The concept of the responsible person was introduced by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and applies to both workplaces and the non-domestic parts of residential buildings.
The responsible person is required, among other things, to undertake general fire precautions and fire risk assessments. There seems to have been some uncertainty as to whether their role covered the structure, external walls (including cladding and balconies) and individual flat entrance doors between domestic and non-domestic parts of residential buildings. The Act is intended to make it clear that it does.
- The introduction of the Building Safety Bill, which is currently progressing through parliament.
This, among other things, places greater duties and responsibilities across the life cycle of a building, from design through to the construction and occupation of a building.
It introduces the concept of an ‘Accountable Person’, who again is likely to be the owner or manager of a building, who will be under a number of obligations, both before and after a higher risk building is occupied.
It is likely that a higher risk building will be defined as one which has two or more dwellings, or two or more rooms for residential purposes or is student accommodation and which is 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys (whichever is reached first).
- The Fire Safety Consultation which was issued in July 2020.
The government has responded to the consultation and is likely to include the following in the Building Safety Bill:
- an increase in the obligations and responsibilities of the responsible person
- a requirement for Premises Information Boxes to include a copy of up to date floor plans as well as information about the nature of any lift intended to be used by the fire and rescue services in all new blocks of flats above 11 metres in height
- the mandating of a statement that the plans of building work have been checked and are considered to be compliant
- A proposal by the government of a new tax on developers and a levy on new developments to help pay for cladding remediation costs.
- The introduction of what is known as a EWS (External Wall System) 1 form by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The process requires a qualified professional to conduct a fire risk assessment on the external wall system and either sign it off as being safe, or flag it as requiring remedial works.
The reason this form was introduced was because leaseholders of many flats in high rise buildings were finding it very difficult to sell or re-mortgage.
There have been some teething problems with the forms, not least the shortage of qualified professionals and the difficultly of those professionals to obtain professional indemnity insurance to sign off EWS1 forms.
More developments are clearly to come, but for more information and commentary on the current situation, most recent developments and questions still to be answered, read our article, and visit or subscribe to our blog Practical Completion to stay informed.