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Life Experience

Dangerous cladding scandal - the government could quickly alleviate the problem

The government has available some simple (partial) solutions to the problem of the combustible cladding scandal

Homes became unsaleable

More than a million flat owners in this country find themselves to be living in blocks of flats with flammable cladding and other fire safety defects.
Most of their flats are now unsaleable, which means that they are valued at zero, a problem which especially affects first time owners who can now not think of moving on.

Huge additional costs

This is a nightmare situation but to add to this disaster flat owners are faced with crippling costs which are already causing bankruptcies and huge distress. A survey of 1,342 leaseholders by Inside Housing in February 2021 found that around 90% of respondents expected to pay over £10,000, with 62.5% facing a total bill of above £30,000 to bring their flats up to the legal fire safety standard.

Two problems and their partial remedies

Two issues need immediate attention and could save flat owners millions of pounds in unjustified extra charges which have been placed on them.

  1. Fire seekers

Because more than a million flat owners are considered to be living in high fire-risk homes they have been required to employ 24-hour fire safety wardens to patrol the outside and inside of blocks of flats. It’s a ludicrous idea that a man walking round a building or walking up and down corridors, no doubt utterly numbed by the mindless boredom of the task, is going to be the first to spot a fire. Honestly, what are the chances? Almost all flat fires start inside flats themselves. The Grenfell Tower fire started inside a flat. Nevertheless these fire wardens are required by law to operate round the clock, seven days a week, and the cost to each individual flat owner amounts to over £5,000 per year.

What the government could do about fire wardens

It’s simple. Remove the requirement to employ them.

2. Insurance

Although major, all-consuming fires in tower blocks like Grenfell are extremely rare, insurance premiums have been raised to as much as five times their previous level. This is pure exploitation. It cannot be that external fires in blocks of flats have increased five fold since the Grenfell disaster in June 2017. Premiums for building insurance per flat are now as much as £3,500 a year. To add to the scandal of these huge premium rises the excesses demanded are typically £250,000. This means that insurance payouts if a home were to be totally destroyed would be only a fraction of what could reasonably be expected.

What the government could do now about the insurance companies

At nil or negligible cost to the tax payer the government could bring in controls to

  • reduce the premiums unjustified by the actual risk

  • reduce the sums required as excesses

  • make buildings awaiting the remediation of unsafe cladding exempt from insurance tax

LONGER TERM SOLUTION

Who is responsible for the scandal of Britain’s unsafe flats?

Several organisations can be identified as responsible for the widespread use of potentially dangerous cladding and lack of fire safety within buildings.

  1. The manufacturers must have been aware of the characteristics of the material they were using in their product. They are morally responsible for selling a highly flammable product that was far worse than “not fit for purpose”.

  2. The inspecting organisation responsible for testing a product to be installed on thousands of buildings failed in their duty to properly test the product.

  3. Past governments, in placing the task of building materials inspection in private hands, including firms connected to the building trade, removed the independence which a government body would have had.

  4. Building firms which have failed to install legally required safety features.

  5. Building inspectors who failed to ensure that buildings met the required standards, and builders who “self certified” that their work complied with building regulations when it didn’t.

Who should pay the bill for replacing cladding which is highly combustible and making safe defectively built flats?

Some of the above made huge profits from their shameful work – sums amounting to million or even billions of pounds. They should be the ones to pay to put matters right and the government (i.e. the taxpayer) should contribute too (and is already making a contribution).

Who should NOT pay to put matters right?

In this tragic scandal only one party is wholly innocent and that is the flat buyer who purchased a home in the reasonable belief that it was safe to live in. Currently it is the flat buyer who is being asked to pay for the wrongs and crimes of others.

The guilty
The government needs to act to ensure that those responsible for the damage are the ones who pay for the remedy. The cladding scandal is not just a scandal it is also a crime and people most responsible should be identified and punished.

More information at

Government article https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/the-external-wall-fire-review-process-ews/

Excellent wikipedia article https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_cladding_crisis?fbclid=IwAR3lOaIZT9c03sFvlzaybQ72R2IS2KzwfOlRqJ2-Jkttn-cwlA98njbtMH0

Inside Housing https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/the-forgotten-victims-the-leaseholders-the-governments-cladding-proposals-do-not-help-69501

Daily Mail article https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9142183/Plans-make-leaseholders-pay-40-000-cost-replacing-Grenfell-style-cladding.html

David Roberts 17 February 2021

Please consider writing to your MP or Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and share this post.

The contact link for a short comment to Robert Jenrick is https://forms.communities.gov.uk/

If you have insights or experience in this area please take advantage of the opportunity to comment below. 

Photo is courtesy of photoeverywhere.co.uk

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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

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