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Building Safety Update

Volume 686: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020

I have today announced the next set of measures as part of our ongoing support to the thousands of leaseholders who have found themselves living in unsafe buildings through no fault of their own.

These measures support our unwavering commitment to improve the safety of buildings across the country, which will be enshrined in law next year through the Building Safety Bill.

£30 million waking watch relief fund

Research undertaken and published by my Department has illustrated clearly the excessive costs some leaseholders are facing to fund interim safety measures such as waking watches. Such excessive costs are a national scandal, and it is right that we step in to support leaseholders in this position.

That is why today I have announced a new £30 million fund for leaseholders in England to pay for the installation of fire alarm systems in high-rise buildings with cladding, removing or reducing the need for costly interim safety measures such as waking watches. Our research suggests that this will save individual leaseholders an average of £137 per month and collectively over £3 million per month.

This step is supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council, who have been clear in their updated October guidance that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible to reduce or remove dependence on waking watch.

The fund will open in January, but importantly, will also provide immediate, emergency support to Wicker Riverside apartments in Sheffield to ensure that the 35 evacuated families should be able to return to their homes before Christmas. They were told to evacuate after the building failed fire safety tests.

This intervention will help worried leaseholders by providing financial support and delivering a better, long-term fire safety system in their buildings.

Building safety fund

In May we launched the £1 billion building safety fund to accelerate the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings, taking the Government’s total funding for cladding remediation to £1.6 billion.

Demand for this fund has been significant, receiving over 2,700 registrations since opening. My Department has been working at pace and with building owners to process these registrations and ensure that as many buildings as possible can access the fund—a task that has been made challenging by the failure of many buildings to provide basic eligibility information.

It has become clear that many building owners will be unable to complete applications by our intended deadline of 31 December 2020, adding to the concerns of many leaseholders. To address this, I have announced that building owners will now have until 30 June 2021 to complete their applications.

This means that hundreds more buildings will be remediated and thousands of residents will be protected from costs. We are also making good progress on applications already received and expect many more to be agreed before Christmas.

ACM cladding remediation

Today we have also published the latest data setting out our progress in removing the most dangerous “Grenfell-type” ACM cladding.

We have continued to prioritise this vital safety work throughout the pandemic, seeing a 50% increase in buildings where workers have started on site this year compared to December 2019 and an increase of 58% in fully remediated buildings. This work is particularly challenging due to the complex construction issues affecting many buildings which must be overcome to ensure they are remediated safely.

Final figures for the year will be published in January, and we expect this to show that around 95% of high-rise buildings with ACM cladding identified last year will have started remediation works by the end of 2020. This is significant progress that we will continue to drive forward to meet our commitment that these buildings should be fully remediated by 2022.

Ongoing work to support leaseholders

Today’s measures are another important step in our ongoing work to support leaseholders, and they build on progress we have already made. This includes securing agreement that owners of flats in buildings without cladding do not need an EWS1 form to sell or re-mortgage their property—benefiting nearly 450,000 homeowners. Real progress has been made in an incredibly challenging and complex area.

We have been clear that the building industry must contribute towards the costs of making homes safe and set right decades of unsafe practices. Work continues at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders. I look forward to announcing further details in the new year.