Proof, if any were needed, of the financial burden being shouldered by leaseholders living in buildings with unsafe cladding was published on Friday by the MHCLG. The Government consulted a range of industry bodies to collect data on waking watch costs across a wide range of different buildings and has now revealed the findings.
Waking watch is a system whereby residential blocks are patrolled to ensure that, in the event of fire, the residents are given sufficient warning to evacuate the building. They're not a new idea. They have been used for years for the temporary management of fire risk in buildings. However, since the Grenfell Tower fire and the realisation that hundreds of buildings around the country have insufficient fire safety features, waking watches have been set up in hundreds of buildings – with leaseholders footing the bill.
The ongoing costs are mind boggling. The MHCLG data shows that the hourly rate per person undertaking waking watch duties ranges from £12- £30 per hour, with an average monthly bill per building of £11,361. This translates to a cost per individual flat of around £137 a month. Of course some flat owners are paying less and some considerably more but it puts into perspective the financial obligation that leaseholders around the country are under, simply to sleep safely in their beds at night.
To reduce these costs, some blocks have installed communal fire alarms, making a waking watch unnecessary. The cost of employing one person to carry out waking watch exceeds the average cost of installing an alarm system in 3 to 6 months, depending on the hourly rate charged. So an alarm system looks like better value, although some buildings need more than one waking watch individual to cover the block effectively so their payback period may be longer. Of course residents are being asked to cover the cost of alarm systems but at least installation is a one-off payment, plus regular servicing, rather than the daily cost associated with waking watches. Whichever option they choose, leaseholders are still facing an unexpected and unfair financial commitment. They are also living with uncertainty around replacing the cladding on their buildings and, in many cases, finding it impossible to re-mortgage or sell their home.
The Government is coming under increasing pressure to deal with the cladding crisis once and for all. Inside Housing has re-booted its End our cladding Crisis campaign and now has The Sunday Times on board to help compel ministers to take action. The issue is now frequently aired on TV and national radio. But with the eye-watering costs of Covid-19 thrown into the mix, it is uncertain when, or indeed if, leaseholders will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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