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Progress too slow and challenges with regards to administration of funds and skills for unsafe cladding removal

by Jennie Ward

National Audit office report points to slow progress with regards to removal of dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from high-rise residential buildings post-Grenfell.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has been too slow in replacing dangerous cladding on buildings – particularly in the private residential sector.

This is just one of the findings from a report by the National Audit Office released today (19th June) which shows that following the release of £400m to fund remediation in the social housing sector in England in May 2018, and the announcement of a further £200m in May 2019 for remediation of equivalent buildings in the private housing sector, by April 2020, only 149 of the total 456 buildings which are 18m and above and have unsafe ACM cladding systems installed had been fully remediated, leaving 307 where remediation was not finished, of which work had not begun on 167.

The statement explains that the pace of remediation has been fastest in the student accommodation and social housing sectors, but slowest in the private residential sector. 

By April 2020, it is reported that 66.7% of student accommodation blocks and 46.8% of social housing buildings had been fully remediated, compared to 13.5% of private sector residential buildings. 

Progress in the private sector is said to have been slower because those legally responsible for private buildings have been difficult to identify and have required more support than expected. By the end of April 2020, the Department had paid out £1.42 million (0.7%) from the £200 million private sector fund and £133 million (33.3%) from the £400 million social sector fund.

Deadline missed and moved
Whilst the June deadline set by the then secretary of state has been missed, MHCLG estimates that all buildings within scope of its funding will be remediated by mid-2020, with over 95% completed by the end of 2021. The statement warns this does not take into account the impacts of Covid-19 and says there are early signs that the epidemic has slowed the pace of remediation, with up to 60% of projects that were under way paused by April 2020.

The statement points out that not all buildings with dangerous ACM cladding fall within the scope of the government’s existing funding schemes for the social and private housing sectors. 

This includes high-rise hotels, student accommodation, and build-to-let blocks, as well as buildings below 18 metres. The MHCLG says it is aware of seven build-to-let properties over 18 metres with unsafe ACM cladding which are not eligible for funding, because the private sector funding scheme is designed to avoid the costs of remediation being passed on to leaseholders. In the case of build-to-let properties, the MHCLG believes that building owners have a clear legal and financial obligation to pay for remediation themselves.

The MHCLG’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel has advised that the most dangerous forms of ACM cladding are unsafe on buildings of any height, and that risks are increased in buildings with elderly and vulnerable residents. It estimates there to be around 85,000 buildings in England between 11 and 18 metres, but does not know what cladding systems they have, nor whether there are any care homes under 18 metres with unsafe cladding. It says it will begin collecting data on buildings between 11 and 18 metres in summer 2020.  

Further £1bn – but issues with administration
The MHCLG announced a further £1 billion funding in March 2020 for the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on high-rise buildings in the social and private residential sectors. It says it has not yet established how many buildings over 18 metres have unsafe non-ACM cladding, but has used a rough initial estimate of around 1,700 such buildings as a working assumption. The Department intends to commit the £1 billion in full by the end of March 2021, but has cautioned the administration of this new scheme may present significant challenges given how demanding it has been to manage the existing ACM funding schemes, which are just over half the size of the new fund.

In conclusion, Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:“MHCLG has made progress in overseeing the removal of dangerous cladding from many buildings, particularly in the social housing sector. However, the pace of progress has lagged behind its own expectations, particularly in the private residential sector. It has a long way to go to make all high-rise buildings safe for residents.

“Going forward, it is important that the Department successfully manages the administrative challenges of funding building owners to carry out remediation work, particularly given its intention to commit a further £1 billion in full by the end of March 2021.”

Unrealistic deadlines and issues around skills
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts explained: “Three years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster, two thirds of high rise buildings with the same sort of cladding haven’t replaced it. This work should have finished already.  

“The deadlines for removing other dangerous cladding are unrealistic, and there may not be enough people with the right skills to do everything that needs to be done. 

“Developers should be footing the bill for this work, not taxpayers.”

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