Fire alarm

THE UK’S largest housing associations are expected to spend around £1.2bn on fire safety works in the next five years, after a survey of 14 associations was undertaken.

Inside Housing reported on its survey of the UK’s largest housing associations, which own a combined 762,000 homes, with the survey finding that the companies are projecting fire safety costs between 2020 and 2025 of around £1.19bn. The news outlet said that the results of its survey ‘show the massive impact’ that the Grenfell Tower fire, and its subsequent inquiry’s first phase report recommendations, are having on housing association finances.

This impact is also being caused by ‘subsequent guidance and legislation’ arising from Grenfell, which are ‘leading to tough decisions on future investment’ for the housing associations. The works bracketed under fire safety include cladding remediation, ‘intrusive’ surveys and funding interim measures including waking watches, and London based associations ‘with large proportions of high-rise stock’ are ‘expecting to spend the most in the coming years’.

Of the 30 surveyed, only 17 responded, with 14 of these providing ‘an estimate of future spend’. Eight of these London based associations surveyed said they anticipate spending around £958m by 2025, and own over 456,000 homes between them, though ‘dramatically increased spend’ was also expected by landlords outside the capital, with seven other respondents – owning 306,000 homes between them – predicting a spend of £237.9m.

These expected cost increases have come despite housing associations ‘having already spent’ hundreds of millions of pounds on fire safety since Grenfell, with all 17 respondents calculated to have spent – as a group - £463m. Of those surveyed, the London based companies were ‘the major spenders’ with £385.5m, or £724 ‘for every home they own’; while non London associations spent £77.6m, or ‘the equivalent’ of £285 per home.

In 2019/20, £212.5m or 46% of this spending occurred, and some of the associations who responded said they were ‘unable to provide’ figures due to the ‘shifting landscape’ around building safety legislation, while legislative changes such as the Building Safety Bill ‘could further heap costs’, specifically the proposal of building safety managers and building safety cases for all high rise residential blocks.

Inside Housing added that the increased costs will mean associations ‘will have to make tough decisions about where that spend will come from’, with both housebuilding and ‘the zero-carbon agenda’ the ‘likely casualties’. Campbell Tickell partner Sue Harvey said that the government ‘needs to understand that repairs, fire safety, zero carbon and development come out of one pot of money’, and ‘if one went up the others would go down’.

The association’s executive director of business and performance partnerships, Jamie Ratcliff, said in turn that ‘absorbing these very significant building safety costs means we will build fewer affordable homes without the government’s help’.