Construction News, Belfast Telegraph, Mail Online and Housing Today all reported on the latest data release, which showed that remediation work ‘was yet to restart on almost a quarter of buildings’ by the end of July where work ‘had been interrupted’ by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns instituted as a result. In total, 81 blocks of 142 undergoing work ‘had paused at some point’ due to COVID-19, with 19 of these ‘yet to restart’ as of the end of July.

At the end of June, the number paused had been 23, with ‘the bulk’ of suspended remediation works on social housing blocks, where 13 projects had ‘yet to restart’, equating to ‘more than two thirds of the total’. This was also ‘no improvement’ on the June figures, while in private blocks work was still paused on six buildings, ‘down from eight’ in June, and two hotels that had seen works paused at the end of June ‘had restarted by the end of July’.

Construction News pointed out that the pauses have continued ‘despite the government insisting that the remediation of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings remained a priority through the pandemic’. The data also showed that ‘more than half’ of the 458 buildings with combustible cladding ‘are yet to have it removed’, with only 215 having seen work completed or ‘at least’ having had cladding removed, leaving 243 that still have it in place.

This means that 243 buildings still have combustible cladding ‘in place’, with only £53m of £200 in government funding for private sector buildings claimed compared to £270m of £400m for social housing blocks. An extra three blocks were also found to have ACM cladding in the last month, and 90 blocks have remediation plans, while 39 have an ‘intent to remediate and are developing plans’ – another six’s proposals are ‘unclear/awaiting further advice’.

On the positive side, MHCLG stated that 108 buildings have now started remediation, ‘an increase of four since the end of June’. Those buildings that have not seen work started include 10 social housing blocks, 102 private sector blocks, five student accommodation blocks, 13 hotels and five publicly owned buildings. A total of 34% of all ACM clad buildings have now seen works completed, or 158 blocks in total, ‘the same number as last month’.

There ‘remain exactly’ 300 buildings with work ‘unfinished’, including five hotels where remediation plans are ‘still unclear’, and 135 where work ‘has not even started’. Mail Online reported separately that MHCLG figures ‘suggest’ that 274 Help to Buy properties are in blocks with combustible cladding, but campaigners questioned this and believe the figures ‘are likely to be much higher’, with around 700,000 homes in total said to be affected according to ‘figures being circulated’.

The figures had been ‘grossly underestimated’, UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) believes, with the group’s Will Martin commenting: ‘Nearly 38 months on from the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, [MHCLG] do not yet know how many and which high-rise buildings across the country have been built with dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects. They have also not yet identified buildings under 18 metres that are equally dangerous.

‘We therefore doubt the accuracy of MHCLG’s suggestion that 300 homes in these affected buildings have been bought via the Help to Buy scheme. The huge number of distressed people from affected buildings contacting UKCAG every single day also indicates this number to be much larger. It is extremely disappointing to note that innocent people who thought they were being helped onto the first rung of the property ladder now find themselves trapped in dangerous flammable homes, unable to sell or move, their properties devalued to zero.

‘'They face untold financial and mental agony, being forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds to fix fire safety defects that were not of their making; defects that arose as a result of the direct failure of building safety regulations and developers taking full advantage of lax regulations and lack of oversight.

‘We urge the MHCLG to recognise the anguish and mental torture that these innocent people are going through, and increase the size and scope of the building safety fund so that their homes can be made safe without any further delay.’

It also called out MHCLG on Twitter, stating ‘how many Help to Buy properties are covered in combustible cladding, have fire safety defects, and have led to financial ruin and severe mental health strain for the people unfortunate enough to get the keys to these unsafe homes?’. The news outlet questioned the government, which provided a report containing an estimate by its housing agency Homes England.

That report states that it ‘estimates 274 homes are affected by ACM cladding, based on a comparison of Departmental building safety data and the Homes England Help to Buy loan accounts’, but when asked ‘exactly what this meant, along with how and where the statistics were collected’, MHCLG said that ‘we have nothing further to add’.