Waking watch

THE FUND will ‘help end the scandal of excessive waking watch costs’, the government said, ‘as part of a further move to support thousands of residents’ in high rises with fire safety issues.

In a press release, the government said that the new waking watch relief fund would also provide funding ‘for fire alarms’ and ‘reduce costs for leaseholders forced to have a waking watch’ in their buildings, while the deadline for the £1bn building safety fund has been extended ‘to ensure more eligible buildings can remove unsafe cladding’, and ‘around’ 95% of buildings with aluminium composite material cladding are expected to complete works or ‘have workers on site’ this year.

On the waking watch fund, the government said that the £30m has been allocated to pay for fire alarm installations in combustibly clad high rises, ‘removing and reducing the need for costly interim safety measures’ such as waking watches. The government cited the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) view in guidance that building owners ‘should move to install common fire alarm systems as quickly as possible to reduce or remove dependence’ on waking watches.

It noted that the funding will ‘help worried leaseholders who may have faced high costs for interim safety measures by providing financial support and delivering a better, long term fire safety system in their buildings’. Some buildings have already installed alarms ‘due to the significant savings this offers’, leaseholders expected to – as a result – ‘collectively’ save over £3m per month who had been paying, on average, £137 per month for waking watches.

Research had found a ‘wide range’ in costs faced by leaseholders as well as ‘evidence of disproportionate charges’, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick writing to Trading Standards to ask them to ‘use their powers to investigate’. This new fund will open in January but ‘also provide immediate emergency support’ to the North Bank building in Sheffield, so that 35 recently evacuated families can return to homes before Christmas.

On the building safety fund extension, this will be for six months, and allow building owners to complete applications ahead of 30 June 2021, so that ‘hundreds more buildings will be remediated and thousands of leasehold residents will be protected from costs’. The government added that ‘progress is being made on current applications with many more expected to be agreed before Christmas’.

Mr Jenrick commented: ‘I’ve heard first-hand from leaseholders the misery that rip-off waking watch costs have been bringing to residents of high-rise buildings with cladding. I’m announcing today a £30m waking watch relief fund to help relieve the financial pressure on those residents and to ensure they are safe. I’m confident that this will make a real difference to worried leaseholders up and down the country this Christmas.

‘We have continued to prioritise the removal of unsafe ACM cladding throughout the pandemic and expect around 95% of remediation work will have been completed or be underway by the end of this year.’

NFCC chair Roy Wilsher stated: ‘We welcome this new waking watch relief fund, which will help to reduce the financial burden for some leaseholders having to fund the costs of waking watches. It has been our firm and long held expectation that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible and this funding is a positive step.’

Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh added: ‘Our priority is making sure people are safer in their homes and we are working tirelessly to make this happen. The measures announced today build on our commitment, which will be enshrined in law through our Building Safety Bill, to improve the safety of buildings across the country.

‘Building owners are responsible for making sure that their buildings, and the people who live in them, are safe. We continue to actively pursue them to encourage swift action and have supported this with £1.6 billion in government funding.’

The government added that its new funding ‘builds on steps’ it has ‘already made to support leaseholders’, such as securing an agreement that residents in buildings without cladding do not require an external wall fire review (EWS1) certificate ‘to sell or re-mortgage’ properties. It concluded by noting it was ‘clear the building industry must contribute towards the costs of making these homes safe once more, to set right decades of unsafe practices.

‘Work continues at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders with details to be announced in the new year’. Politics Home reported on a joint statement from UK Finance and the Building Societies Association in response to the news, which read: ‘It’s important that the cost of remediation works does not fall on leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith and the government’s confirmation today that the building industry must contribute towards these costs brings much-needed clarity and relief to homeowners.

‘The additional funding for fire alarms and the extension of the building safety fund deadline announced by the government today will provide welcome support for those affected by issues relating to fire safety, however, there is still more to be done. Borrowers and lenders have a common interest in ensuring that fire safety concerns are resolved and properties can be valued accurately.

‘However, it’s important that the cost of remediation works does not fall on leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith and the government’s confirmation today that the building industry must contribute towards these costs brings much-needed clarity and relief to homeowners. The industry will continue to work with the government, RICS and others to find the best solutions for those affected.’