Leaseholders and tenants won’t be protected from fire safety costs

fire damaged building

An attempt by the House of Lords to force the government to pay for fire safety work on buildings with unsafe cladding before reclaiming the money from developers has been thwarted by MPs. The amendment would have made developers, construction companies and cladding manufacturers responsible for unsafe cladding.

However, MPs said that instead of giving more protection to leaseholders and tenants in England, the move would be unworkable and lead to further delays.

The Fire Safety Bill has been brought forward in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Housing minister, Chris Pincher said the amendment would have made legislation “less clear” and that it did not “reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability”.

The government announced in February that a further £3.5 billion would be set aside for the removal of dangerous cladding from buildings 18m or higher in England, in addition to the £1.6 billion committed last year.

Owners of properties in lower rise buildings could access loans capped at £50 per month for remedial work. However, some say they face additional costs of over £30,000 for insurance premiums or other work and would be left in debt for decades.

462 high rise residential buildings have been  identified with dangerous cladding, almost half of which have now had remedial work completed. Work has started on some of the remaining 246 buildings but not all.

The scheme for help from government does not cover all aspects of fire safety within the buildings, for instance balconies built with flammable material.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Building Societies Association (BSA) and UK Finance introduced a new process in December 2019 to value and assess the fire safety of high rise buildings. The creation of the new process provides for a form ESW1 to be provided (External Wall Survey Assessment or Certificate Version 1).

Mortgage lenders now require a form EWS1, a safety certificate which specifically relates to fire safety, before they are willing to offer a mortgage which leaves flat owners unable to sell their property without the work being paid for in advance.

The EWS1 form applies to an entire building or block and records what assessment has been carried out for the external wall construction of residential apartment buildings 18m or higher, or where specific fire safety concerns exist. It is completed by a member of a relevant professional body within the construction industry that deals with fire safety in the built environment, such as a Chartered Surveyor or Engineer with the Institution of Fire Engineers or equivalent.

The government has expressed concern that use of the EWS1 process is ‘slow and expensive’ and perhaps being applied to buildings to which it was not intended.