Q&A: What is the ‘cladding scandal’ and who is affected?

Cladding being removed from Hanover tower block in Sheffield (PA Wire)
16:54pm, Wed 10 Feb 2021
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Three and a half years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK is still battling with the repercussions.

The “cladding crisis”, sparked by the identification of fire safety defects in other buildings, has left many people living in unsafe and unsellable homes.

Following the announcement of further funding from the Government, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key questions.

– What is the “cladding scandal”?

The Government has faced growing criticism over how it has handled the presence of unsafe cladding on buildings across the country.

Tower block fire in London (PA Archive)

The Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017, which claimed 72 lives, triggered calls for changes to UK building regulations and the strengthening of fire safety measures.

When the tower was refurbished in 2015/16, a cladding system made up of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels was installed.

In 2019, the chairman of the Grenfell Inquiry panel, Sir Martin Moore Bick, concluded that the “principal reason” the flames shot up the building at such speed was the combustible cladding with polyethylene cores which acted as a “source of fuel”.

The decorative crown at the top of the building then further helped the spread, he added.

Following the fire, buildings across the country with similar materials were examined and those needing materials removed were identified.

But aside from cladding, inspections have uncovered other fire defects in buildings, with properties needing fire alarms, missing fire breaks, and issues with balconies and compartmentation.

For many residents the issues are yet to be resolved, with fears over who will foot costs expected to extend into billions of pounds.

– What has the Government done since Grenfell?

There has been a national ban on using combustible cladding on new buildings and mandatory sprinklers on new-builds over 11 metres.

On Wednesday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said that at the end of last year 95% of buildings over 18 metres with ACM cladding had been remediated or had workers on site.

In May last year a £1 billion Building Safety Fund was established to help pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.

– How is this affecting residents?

Labour says “hundreds of thousands” of people are still “trapped” in unsafe homes.

The identification of dangerous materials has left many homes unsellable, with residents facing bills running into the thousands to fix the issues.

Some lenders are refusing to offer mortgages on properties that contain similar materials.

Tenants and leaseholders living in buildings that have failed safety inspections have forked out to cover the costs of interim safety measures such as installing “waking watch” services in the absence of fire alarm systems.

Insurance premiums have also soared, and some homeowners fear they face potential bankruptcy.

– What is in the Government’s latest announcement?

Mr Jenrick has outlined a new £3.5 billion package that he said meant no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England will face charges for the removal of unsafe cladding.

The plans will see the Government fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on tower blocks more than 18 metres, or six storeys.

A long-term loan scheme will be developed to ensure people living in low to middle-rise blocks never have to pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal.

To meet costs, the Government also aims to impose a new levy on developers of certain high buildings in England and a £2 billion UK-wide tax on the residential development sector.

– What has the reaction been to the new measures?

Furious critics described them as a “betrayal” of leaseholders.

Grenfell United, which represents bereaved families and survivors of the disaster, said the measures were “still a long way from what is needed to fix this scandal”.

It argued that “residents should not be forced into loans and new debt just because of the height of their building”.

Campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal questioned where the funding was for fire safety defects and cladding for buildings under 18 metres.

It said the measures may lead to the prices of affected properties being “depressed”, adding that the effect in the north of England would be “more dramatic due to lower flat prices and will push thousands into negative equity”.

Tory MP Stephen McPartland dismissed the plans as “all smoke and mirrors”.

He claimed the Government ignored the continuing need for “waking watches” and “excessive” insurance premiums for many leaseholders.

Residents have argued that the Government should pay the upfront costs of remediation work for all affected buildings and then recoup these from builders and developers.

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