An end is in sight for victims of the cladding crisis – providing they live in low rise blocks.
Housing minister Robert Jenrick has announced that, after seeking expert advice, he believes there was no “systemic” fire safety issue in blocks standing less than 18 metres, or around six storeys, tall.
This does not mean these buildings are safe from the risk of fire. But evacuating residents from a low building is easier and quicker than from a high rise meaning the risk of death and injury is therefore less.
Jenrick told the House of Commons that he believes low-rise buildings should therefore be exempt from the controversial “external wall survey” testing system, known as the EWS1, which was introduced in 2019 in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy to assess whether a building’s construction was fire safe.
Ever since mortgage lenders have been refusing to lend on homes in buildings which have either not had an EWS1 carried out, or have been found lacking. The result is that hundreds of thousands of homeowners have been left in limbo with homes which are unsellable.
The U-turn in policy means that those living in low-rise blocks could have an escape route – although it remains to be seen whether all banks and building societies fall into line. Jenrick said three major lenders – Barclays, HSBC, and Lloyds – had already come out in favour of the Government’s new stance and he hoped others would follow suit.
Another key issue – and one which will need to be tested as owners of low rise homes start to try and sell them on - is whether a stigma over the safety of these buildings will have an impact on their value.
The announcement is a rare piece of good news for leaseholders stuck in the cladding fiasco, many of whom have spent the last two years footing hefty bills for emergency fire safety measures and repairs to defective buildings.
Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at property management consultancy Ringley, pointed out that the change of direction has come too late for the thousands of “mortgage prisoners” who have already paid high bills to secure EWS1 certification. “The question now is who will compensate them, and of course, what is to be done about those living in buildings 18 metres or higher,” she said.
“We need to see urgent, decisive action from the government. Flat owners cannot be left to shoulder the financial burden of remediation works.”
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