THE REMOVAL OF dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from high-rise residential buildings has been too slow says the National Audit Office (NAO).
After the Grenfell Tower fire, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (HCLG) set up the Building Safety Programme fund – which now stands at £1.6 billion – to oversee and pay for replacing unsafe ACM and non-ACM cladding on buildings over 18 metres tall.
In a report published today, the NAO says 149 of the total 456 high-rise homes with unsafe ACM cladding have had it replaced by April this year. That leaves 140 where work isn’t finished and 167 where work hasn’t even started.
The June 2020 deadline set by the Government for replacing dangerous cladding has been missed and HCLG estimates that it will take until mid-2022 for the work to be finished.
The NAO warns that even this two-year delay does not take account of the impacts of Covid-19.
Re-cladding work has been fastest in student accommodation and social housing, but slowest in the private residential sector.
While most student accommodation blocks (66.7%) have replaced ACM cladding less than half of social housing buildings have (46.8%), and only 13.5% of private sector residential buildings have been made safe.
The NAO says progress in the private sector has been slower because those legally responsible for private buildings have been difficult to identify and have required more funding than expected.
By the end of April the HCLG 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.
Not all buildings with dangerous ACM cladding can get funding to replace it. High-rise hotels, some student accommodation, and build-to-let blocks, as well as buildings below 18 metres are not eligible.
The HCLG is aware of 7 build-to-let properties over 18 metres with unsafe ACM cladding which don’t qualify for funding, because the Government expects the buildings’ owners to pay for the work themselves.
Some ACM cladding unsafe on all buildings
The Department’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel says 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’s estimated there are 85,000 buildings in England between 11 and 18 metres, but HCLG does not know what cladding systems they have, nor whether there are any care homes under 18 metres with unsafe cladding. It will begin collecting data on buildings between 11 and 18 metres this summer.
Years to get cladding funding
To access funding, building owners must demonstrate they have made a reasonable attempt to meet or recover costs without having to charge leaseholders – such as paying from their own resources, or through insurance, warranty claims or legal proceedings.
But the HCLG admits it could take building owners years to recover costs in legal proceedings. By February 2020, the government had recouped £0.8m from the private sector, and £6.4m from the social sector where building owners had successfully reclaimed costs from original contractors.
The HCLG expects to pay for 94 projects (out of 208) in the private sector, where the developer or building owner has not agreed to fund replacement work themselves. The owners of 84 private residential buildings have committed to fund work, with a further 23 self-funded through warranty claims. Seven buildings have not agreed a funding route.
In the social sector, the Department has committed to fund 139 out of 154 residential buildings.
In March a further £1 billion of funding was announced to replace unsafe non-ACM cladding on an estimated 1,700 high-rise buildings.
The NAO says 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.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO said, “MHCLG 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.”