IN LIGHT of the coronavirus pandemic leaseholders who live in buildings clad in the same flammable material which rapidly spread the Grenfell Tower Fire are demanding the government take immediate action to make their buildings safe.
The Grenfell fire which killed 72 men, women and children was spread by a combination of flammable insulation and Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding.
The statement, issued jointly by a variety of cladding action groups around the UK, called on ministers to assist with the costs of waking watches, which can reach £1,000 per month for every flat.
The service, which sees wardens patrol the building at all hours to check for fire, is a mandatory requirement of many fire authorities to keep buildings occupied.
But the cost of keeping it in place is met by leaseholders in many private sector buildings, and as people self-isolate and give up work due to the pandemic, the costs will become even less bearable.
In a joint statement the Birmingham Leasehold Action Group, Leeds Cladding Scandal, Manchester Cladiators and the UK Cladding Action Group said: ‘The Covid-19 outbreak is the biggest public health challenge for a generation.
‘We acknowledge the huge strain this rapidly changing crisis will place on government and the number of people who will require support as a result of it.
‘Nonetheless, the situation is particularly critical for many leaseholders in buildings with dangerous cladding.
‘The huge additional and ongoing costs that many leaseholders have to pay as a result of living in dangerous cladding blocks means they face an impossible decision about work and self-isolation.
‘No income means no ability to pay for the waking watch the building needs for them to stay in that building
‘As these costs are not currently within the scope of the £1 billion fund announced in last week’s Budget, additional help is urgently required.
‘For us, self-isolating means returning to a building which is a potential death trap. With many more people working at home or not able to work at all, they will be spending much more time in buildings where there are grave concerns about safety.’
The waking watch costs are in addition to soaring insurance premiums at many buildings, neither of which are covered.
The £1 billion announced at last week’s Budget is limited to cladding removal only.
There are hundreds of buildings across the country with waking watches in places – more than 300 have aluminium composite material cladding and hundreds of others have dangerous materials of other kinds.
Meanwhile, the bill, introduced to Parliament by the Home Office last Thursday amended the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to ‘clarify’ that the duty holder for blocks of flats must ‘manage and reduce the risk of fire’ posed by building structure, external wall systems and entrance doors.
Fire services would therefore be able to take enforcement action against building owners failing to tackle unsafe cladding, balconies, windows and flat front doors.
Ministers had promised these measures in response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s phase one report, published in October.
The new bill – which will apply in England and Wales if passed – provides the foundation for implementing recommendations from the inquiry, the Home Office said.
However, it does not include provisions for any of the measures called for by inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick, including evacuation plans for all high rises and three-monthly fire door inspections.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick promised in January that a Fire Safety Bill implementing the inquiry’s recommendations would come forward ‘very swiftly’.
Security minister and former housing secretary James Brokenshire said: ‘We remain committed to implementing the recommendations made following phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and the government has already made major reforms to building safety.
‘The bill will help bring about meaningful change to improving building safety.’
The bill will also give the housing secretary powers to amend the list of building types subject to the Fire Safety Order.
It will be debated by MPs at a later date not yet determined.
Ministers have also promised to publish a larger Building Safety Bill before the summer recess, which will include legislation for a new building safety regulator.
Gary Porter, building safety spokesperson for the Local Government Association and leader of South Holland District Council, said: ‘This bill is an important step in the right direction.
‘While councils are leading local efforts to support communities through the coronavirus crisis, the risk to residents in buildings with dangerous cladding systems remains.
“This bill is a positive step but needs to be backed up by further effective powers and sanctions, which we have been promised in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, and sufficient funding to carry out the necessary inspections and enforcement activity.’
Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said the proposed changes ‘should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes’.
Gary Strong, global building standards director at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, said: ‘RICS have said for some time the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 needed clarifying, and building owners and their agents will now have the information needed – specifically in relation to external walls, balconies and front doors which open onto internal common areas – to better safeguard the people living in their buildings.’
- London boroughs have warned that additional measures must be put in place to avoid a spike in homelessness in the capital as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement released today, London Councils, which represents local authorities in the capital, called for ministers to implement a series of actions, including raising Local Housing Allowance rates to ensure housing benefit claimants can continue to pay their rent.
London Councils is also calling on the government to provide a rent guarantee for all residents losing jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, which enables rent to still be paid to councils and housing associations.
On Wednesday, the government announced a three-month ban on evictions for social and private tenants because of the virus, while homeowners have been offered a three-month break from mortgage payments if they experience financial difficulties.
In addition to the above measures, London Councils is asking the government to remove the five-week wait for new Universal Credit claimants to start receiving their benefits and increase council budgets for Local Welfare Assistance and Discretionary Housing Payments.
- A winter night shelter for rough sleepers in Glasgow has been forced to close its doors after one staff member and one guest tested positive for coronavirus.
In a statement posted on the organisation’s Facebook page, Glasgow City Mission (GCM) said it had been instructed by the Scottish government to close after it was revealed that the individuals had contracted the virus.
The statement read: ‘The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced to us at GCM that shelters are not an appropriate accommodation solution during a pandemic.
‘We are grateful for the response of the first minister this afternoon and now await confirmation from our partners at the Glasgow City Council Health and Social Care Partnership (GCCHSCP) what alternative appropriate accommodation will be made available and how to direct our guests to access it.
‘There are a significant number of highly vulnerable persons in our city whose status provides no recourse to public funds who will also require immediate attention and accommodation.
‘To wilfully continue to house people in shelter-style environments is, for us, to demonstrate contempt not compassion.
‘To continue to allow mass sleeping in the face of advice to the contrary is to put vulnerable people at significant intentional risk, while on the face of it keeps many onlookers satisfied that ‘at least they are not out in the cold’.
‘It is, in our mind, a case of out of sight is out of mind. We cannot do that in good conscience.’