Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Cladding: Waking Watch Relief Fund

The problems faced by leaseholders living in flats with cladding following the Grenfell Tower tragedy have been attracting more publicity, such as last night’s BBC Newsnight report and Labour’s opposition day motion in Parliament yesterday.

Pressure is mounting on the government to provide urgent funding both to replace the unsafe cladding without further delays and to absolve leaseholders from service charge demands they cannot realistically be expected to repay.

Previous funding has dried up.

Some interim relief to address part of the ongoing costs of simply keeping residents safe (not the cost of remediating the buildings themselves) is now available from a “waking watch” fund.

As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, many landlords are including in their service charges a sum for a waking watch, where a building is continually patrolled in case of fire.

In December 2020, the government announced a new £30 million waking watch relief fund, limited to England, to pay for the installation of alarms to relieve residents of waking watch costs.

On 31 January 2021, the government confirmed that the fund is now open for applications (except for private sector buildings in Greater London), and it will be distributed through councils, regional authorities and directly through MHCLG, depending on location.

The government has published guidance and application forms, one for the private sector and one for the social sector.

To be eligible, buildings must be in the private sector; be over 18 metres in height; have an unsafe cladding system and have a waking watch in place where these costs are being passed on to leaseholders.

Social sector buildings where the Registered Provider can provide evidence that waking watch costs have been passed to leaseholders and that the costs of installing an alarm will fall on leaseholders will also be eligible.

Responsibility for applying to the fund will rest with the Responsible Person (RP).

Under the Fire Safety Order, the RP is the entity responsible for ensuring the safety of residents in their building from fire and assessing the risk and identifying suitable mitigating measures where they are needed.

The fund will retrospectively cover the cost of alarms installed on or after 17 December 2020.

Applications for funding must be received by close of business on 14 March 2021

Applications received after that will not be considered, save for Greater London where a date has not yet been confirmed. 

Applications cannot yet be made for private sector buildings in Greater London and we don't yet have a date for when those applications can be made or a deadline for those applications. Registered Providers of buildings in the social sector in Greater London can apply now and are subject to the 14 March 2021 deadline.

The funding is available throughout England, with £22 million targeted to the cities with most high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding, including Sheffield, Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, and Newcastle.

Greater London is also mentioned in the general statement, although the detailed guidance states simply that “we are working to ensure that the fund is available to private sector buildings in Greater London as quickly as possible”. Further communication is to be published “in due course”.

The guidance doesn't explain why Greater London is being treated differently. You would have thought that the city where the Grenfell tragedy occurred would have been dealt with at the same time as the others.

Whilst any help is of course welcome, the fact remains that a great many leaseholders have been placed in an intolerable position through no fault of their own.

The immediate concern is that so many are still living in buildings that are not safe and their lives are at risk.

That these buildings have not been put right some three and a half years after Grenfell is a scandal.

It is simply not practical for landlords to expect leaseholders to be able to contribute tens of thousands of pounds towards the necessary remedial works. Put simply, most of them don’t have the money, and you can’t remediate a building in part only.

There’s also no point in freeholders threatening leaseholders with legal action to recover the costs, leading to bankruptcy, or forfeiting their leases – all they will be left with are empty and unsafe buildings that no one wants to live in.

For the works to be delayed whilst there is haggling over funding is endangering the lives of residents.

Surely the only realistic way through this is for government immediately and comprehensively to fund the remedial work out of public money (at an estimated total cost of at least £18 billion), and for leaseholders to be released from liability.

Labour has suggested a legally enforceable deadline of 2022 to make homes safe and legislation protecting residents from costs.

Where there are claims that can be brought against the developers, architects etc involved in the construction of unsafe buildings, these could then be pursued by government at a later stage.

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