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UK ‘could be breaking international law’ over cladding

29 June 2020

THE UNITED Nations (UN) has warned the British government over its ‘failure’ to remove combustible cladding post Grenfell.

The Guardian reported on the warning by the UN – specifically by outgoing special rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha – that its ‘failure to strip combustible cladding from high-rise buildings containing tens of thousands of homes may be a breach of international law’. It demanded ‘answers’ about the UK’s ‘delayed programme’ of remediation, as well as ‘other fire safety problems’ identified in the same blocks.

Ms Farha wrote to the government and expressed ‘serious concern about allegations of multiple violations of the human right to adequate housing, of which safety is a key component – contrary to international human rights law’. The news outlet pointed out that there are still 300 high rise blocks in England that have ‘similar aluminium composite cladding [to that on Grenfell Tower] yet to be remediated’.

The Guardian also highlighted that ‘many leaseholders have been living in fear’ that ‘Grenfell 2 is in the post’, with many facing large bills for waking watches as freeholders and developers ‘are refusing to pay to fix the problems because legally they are not obliged to’. Ms Farha added: ‘Leaseholders’ flats are unmortgageable and unsellable, with many only discovering this when they were in the process of moving home, therefore heavily impacting their lives and consigning them to remain in homes that are at considerable risk from fire.’

The UN warned that the UK may also ‘have breached the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights’, which include the ‘right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing’. Housing should also be habitable ‘with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health’, while also protecting physical safety.

Global states that ratified this covenant need to show that ‘every effort has made to use a maximum of available resources in an effort to discharge their obligations’, with the UK having ratified it in 1976. UK Cladding Action Group co founder Rituparna Saha ‘welcomed the UN intervention’, and The Guardian added that this was ‘made public only after the UK government failed to respond’.

She added: ‘It is unthinkable that millions of innocent people are still forced to live in dangerous, unsafe homes, while being held financially and legally responsible for fixing catastrophic failings in building safety caused by a failure of the government’s building regulations. The delay in response to this communication further lays bare their reluctance to deal swiftly with this housing crisis which affects human safety. As we are seeing time and time again, fire does not wait, and neither should the government.’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responded: ‘Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government acted quickly to establish a comprehensive building safety programme – the biggest changes to building safety in a generation – to drive up standards and ensure people are safe in their homes.

‘We have given an unprecedented £1.6bn to help fund the removal of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings and we urge building owners, who have a legal responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe, to remove this cladding as quickly as possible.’

UK ‘could be breaking international law’ over cladding