BUILDING MANAGEMENT company Ringleys believes the new legislation is in ‘danger of worsening’ the cladding crisis nationwide, with managing agents ‘simply unprepared’ for the law changes.

Property Industry Eye reported on the views of Ringleys in relation to the Fire Safety Bill, with the company believing that while the new bill is ‘designed to prevent another Grenfell-type tragedy’, it is ‘at danger of worsening the cladding crisis’ which has ‘paralysed’ the housing market. The company’s group managing director Mary-Anne Bowring shared fears that the bill ‘will see mortgage providers demand additional information on a building’s fire safety provisions’.

On this, she was concerned that ‘most managing agents are simply unprepared to deal’ with the new laws, which ‘require them to liaise with a number of parties to help source correct information’. While there is currently work being undertaken by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to create a risk matrix for leaseholders unable to sell flats, the ‘key issue’ is that buildings below 18m ‘will become unaccounted for’.

In turn, she added, the controversies around the external wall fire review (EWS1) process and forms ‘demonstrated that the information regarding the materials used in a building’s construction is not always reliable’, so ‘costly invasive tests will be required’, leaving residents and managing agents ‘who are ill equipped to carry out such technical tasks, at risk of footing the bill’.

Having sat on the RICS residential working group and advised the Federation of Private Residents Associations, Ms Bowring said she wanted ‘greater clarity for the property industry’ regarding the Fire Safety Bill, and for the government to ‘commit further funding for cladding remediation works’. Of Ringley’s 12,000 home management portfolio across the UK, it estimates ‘nearly a fifth’ or 18% ‘is affected by cladding issues’.

It recently hired Jon Curtis, an adviser to ministers on issues relating to the EWS1 process, as head of building engineering and to coordinate its response to the issue. Ms Bowring stated: ‘Once law, the Fire Safety Bill will see mortgage lenders demand more information regarding the building’s fire safety provisions that many homeowners will simply not be in a position to provide but may have no choice by 2022-2023 when all this is expected to be phased in.

‘It is not clear whether the Hackitt Review which was limited to HRRBs (buildings of 10 or more stories, but recommended a regime that applied to all buildings) will apply to so much of the UK’s converted and smaller blocks where the cost of compliance per leaseholder will be huge. Residents have learned the hard way that Building Control, NHBC and Premier Guarantees cannot be relied upon.

‘The next tier is installers certifications, but installers can go bust or do a bad job on a Friday afternoon and substitute materials. Some developers are still disregarding the importance of the process and treating it as a desk based assessment exercise. Additionally, most only have limited photographic evidence during the time of building to prove sub-contractors didn’t depart from specified products.

‘In line with the Hackitt Review, the government is moving to a test based regime meaning the only real way of knowing a buildings true fire safety is through costly invasive tests, which will be needed not only on new developments, but to retrospectively document all existing stock too. Given the industry is already struggling with the impact of EWS1 forms, this risks further paralysing huge swathes of the housing market, with leaseholders and flat-owners worse affected.’

She mentioned three things that the government could do to ‘avoid the cladding crisis spiralling further out of control’, explaining: ‘First is to commit further resources to expand testing capacity. Two, to start managing owners’ expectations that ultimately living in a leasehold property is going to get more complex for those managing buildings, who have to gather extensive fire safety information and more expensive for leaseholders, who have to pay for that process.

‘Three, pledge additional funding for cladding remediation works on low rise buildings so innocent homeowners aren’t forced to foot the bill. While proposed amendments to the Fire Safety Bill amendments intend to ban leaseholders from paying, this won’t help leaseholders in buildings under 18m who have a real problem now.

‘Without these three actions, we risk putting huge swathes of the housing market in paralysis and trapping thousands of people in homes that are potentially dangerous or worthless.’

In December last year, the government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with both setting out to ‘learn the lessons’ from Grenfell. The Fire Safety Bill ‘hint[ed]’ at supporting the findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase, including ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’.

In January, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

The government is also set to work alongside local authorities and support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. In late March, the bill was officially introduced, and was said to amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements.

In May, the bill received its second reading in parliament, before St Albans MP Daisy Cooper later tabled amendments in July ‘to help protect leaseholders living in homes with dangerous cladding’. In September, the bill passed the first stage before becoming law, but Labour saw an amendment defeated that had aimed to ensure that the inquiry’s first phase recommendations were implemented.

The bill ‘cleared the Commons’, with Mr Brokenshire adding that reforms will be introduced in the ‘fastest possible time’, and that the bill ‘must be brought into law first before other changes can be made’. The amendment was defeated by 118 votes to 318, and Mr Brokenshire ‘insisted the government is taking action’, and that the amendment would ‘not hasten any more than what the government is intending and proposing’.

Last month, it was reported that Labour was again putting the amendment forward in the House of Lords, and this was then it was reported that it had been passed by 269 votes to 250, alongside two other amendments including ‘banning leaseholders from being forced to pay fire safety remediation costs’, and the creation of a public register for fire safety.