The story of fire safety since Grenfell has been one of inaction in many areas, coupled with insufficient or poorly thought through regulation and legislation. It’s hard to believe that over three years after that tragic fire we still have over 2,000 buildings with flammable and dangerous cladding in London.
I recently wrote to the housing minister, setting out my concerns about some of the process and regulation around fire and building safety and the impact this is having on leaseholders in London and across the country.
Fire safety is essential, yet the current system in place to identify and remediate such issues is not only perilously slow but also leaving thousands of leaseholders facing the prospect of financial ruin.
Many freeholders are dragging their feet when it comes to replacing cladding, leaving leaseholders to cover the exorbitant costs of temporary safety measures. Thousands of leaseholders are also being left at the peril of the External Wall Fire Review (EWS1) form.
The EWS1 form reviews the safety of a building’s external walls and was introduced to assist in the assessment and valuation of flats in multi-storey buildings, or where specific fire safety concerns exist. Yet, the botched way in which the process is being handled has made it a disaster.
I’ve heard from leaseholders in London who live in buildings less than 18 metres tall, which the government has stated do not require an EWS1, that lenders are nonetheless requiring one before leaseholders can sell or re-mortgage, leaving thousands trapped in their homes.
Many leaseholders are also finding that conditions in their lease mean they need to foot the bill for the EWS1 process, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds.
And as if that wasn’t enough, some Londoners in touch with me have been told an EWS1 will take anywhere between 18 months to a decade to be completed. This is largely due to a significant shortage of qualified professionals with the appropriate professional indemnity cover to undertake the necessary surveying work. This in turn has led to some leaseholders in the capital being scammed by fraudulent individuals providing fake EWS1 reports.
None of this is good enough.
There’s the couple who’ve reached the end of their fixed-rate mortgage and cannot re-mortgage, leaving them paying hundreds of pounds more each month on the standard variable rate; the single mother needing a bigger property but unable to sell her flat; the family looking to move closer to relatives but unable to.
Thousands of individuals are worrying about their safety, trapped in buildings with potentially dangerous cladding and other fire safety issues, unable to sell their homes or move and facing the prospect of thousands in EWS1 and remediation costs, which they may not actually see completed for a decade or more.
I agree with the housing, communities and local government select committee, which said the EWS1 should be reformed by looking again at the requirements on who can undertake the surveys, clarifying exactly which buildings need to be tested and which blocks should be prioritised.
If the EWS1 is about safety, people should not be waiting so long for them to be completed. I also believe the costs of such works should not fall on leaseholders.
This is by no means the full story. But if we have learnt anything from Grenfell, we must get this right. A few simple measures from government would help return the focus to fire safety, while at the same time saving thousands from financial ruin.
Caroline Pidgeon is a Londonwide Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member.
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