Four years on from the tragic Grenfell disaster and thousands of buildings across the country still have serious fire safety issues which need to be remediated. A survey by Inside Housing revealed that landlords in the social housing sector have already carried out remedial works on as many as 800,000 homes but there is still much more work to be done.
Government advice in January 2020 stated that relevant buildings of all heights required an external wall assessment to confirm their compliance with the updated fire safety regulations, but only buildings above 18m in height would be eligible for support from the government’s Building Safety Fund. For those living in non-compliant buildings below this height, the challenge of sourcing funds to resolve the safety issues identified remained.
New advice that states that buildings under 18m now do not require an external wall assessment of their cladding, facades and balconies may be a financial relief for leaseholders but the truth remains that many of these buildings remain unsafe and work to protect the lives of tenants must still be a priority.
In most cases of social tenants, the cost of remediation works will not be transferred to them but this puts an additional burden on landlords to find the money to cover the costs without having to increase rent. The government has provided a £1 billion Building Safety Fund for housing associations but this is only expected to cover 600 buildings and has already had over 2,000 applications.
Four of the UK’s largest housing associations, Clarion Housing Group, L&Q, Network Homes and Peabody have stated that remediation costs across their portfolios will come at the expense of 40 per cent of their new social housing targets over the next five years. Pressure is piling up on all sides to recover the UK’s social housing stock despite the complexities around cladding, Brexit and the pandemic.
Some social housing landlords may see the change in advice as a release from the costly obligations of fire safety work but no longer requiring an external wall assessment on their tenanted properties does not mean the problem goes away. To prioritise the safety of every person living in unsafe buildings, the government would need to complement this advice with a meaningful way to improve the quality of buildings below 18m.
The future of social housing
A number of housing associations have highlighted how fire safety work comes at the expense of other work landlords need to carry out, including development and decarbonisation targets.
Landlords are currently expected to ensure their properties are compliant with future eco targets, as well as complete fire safety work, all with no additional financial support. For this reason, the immediate danger associated with fire safety is unsurprisingly prioritised, putting social housing at risk of falling behind in other areas. Without access to any additional support, social housing landlords may jeopardise the UK’s adherence to climate targets.
Keeping tenants safe
Above all, the most important concern is the safety of tenants in buildings of any size. While the change in advice may no longer render non-compliant properties below 18m valueless, owners of these homes shouldn’t take this as an opportunity to avoid carrying out vital safety inspections and remedial work.
With no further clarity on what support the thousands of buildings below 18m will receive to resolve their issues, some housing associations have begun generating money from their social rents as this is currently the most reliable way to ensure the work can be completed in a timely manner.
With the urgency removed from resolving the issues in low rise buildings, social housing landlords may be pressured to turn their attention elsewhere; but issues around the cladding scandal can’t end until all fire safety issues in buildings of all heights have been resolved.