Will Fire Safety Bill leave leaseholders out of pocket – again?

Does the new Fire Safety Bill go far enough or will it leave leaseholders in the lurch?

There are far too few fire safety inspectors planned under proposals set out in the Fire Safety Bill and too little funding being put forward by the Government. This is the view of the Fire Brigades Union, which has slammed the government for what it says is a “gross underestimate” of the resources that are needed to tackle building safety in England. The Union estimates that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, more than 50,000 homeowners are still living in unsafe blocks and the new legislation, now going through parliament, will do little to help.

The Fire Safety Bill announced in March, gives additional responsibilities to the fire service to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of residential blocks. This includes the building structure and external walls, stairwells, and doors between individual flats. The government’s maximum estimated spend to cover the cost of these inspections is £2.1m. But the FBU told Landlord Today that this would pay for just 35 inspectors – less than one per brigade in England.

Clearly, these numbers are woefully inadequate. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring points out, the Hackitt Review did suggest that the Joint Competent Authority to be set up to oversee safety in new and existing buildings over 10 stories should be self-funding; no government money would be required. However, the more likely scenario is a little different.

What we fear is that ultimately, as with the EWS1 form compliance and fire risk assessment and remediation works on blocks below 18 metres, as well as the compartmentation testing that is now becoming standard – the cost will be an additional burden on leaseholders, who will yet again be left to foot the bill.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Cladding crisis: light at the end of the tunnel?

Clive Betts: Homeowners caught up in the cladding crisis should no longer have to face stress and financial hardship.

At last some good news on the cladding crisis for homeowners trapped in high rise blocks clad in dangerous materials. We hope. Today, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee is calling for an absolute commitment to ensure that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding should be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. And buildings with other forms of dangerous cladding should have all fire safety defects removed by June 2022.

The select committee’s report, Cladding: progress of remediation, criticises the government’s handling of the cladding crisis. It says government must accept that the £1 billion pledged so far will be insufficient. It must be prepared to meet the cost of making sure buildings are safe, and that includes tackling other fire safety issues, such as inadequate fire doors and missing fire breaks.

As we have highlighted in this blog before, flat owners around the country are living in homes that they can’t sell. And many people are paying huge bills every month for waking fire watches as well as being hit by costs that run into tens of thousands of pounds for the remedial work that is needed on their blocks.

Not only is the financial impact of the cladding crisis on flat owners unacceptable but the mental health of those affected is also at risk. A recent survey carried out by Inside Housing reveals that the mental health of nine out of 10 residents facing cladding issues has deteriorated as a direct result. More than a quarter of those polled have been given a formal diagnosis of a new mental health condition, while 35% have experienced a worsening of existing conditions. Most shocking of all, 124 people surveyed have considered self-harm or suicide.

Today’s report concludes that residents cannot be expected to go on meeting the exorbitant costs of temporary fire safety measures while they wait for work to be completed. The Government should provide funding support for ongoing ‘waking watch’ fire patrols and fire alarms.

Chairman of the select committee, Labour MP Clive Betts says: “It is time for the Government to commit to end the scourge of dangerous cladding once and for all. A piecemeal approach that will see homeowners facing many more years of stress and financial hardship… is not an option.”

We wholeheartedly agree. And, just a few days before the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the penny has finally dropped that residents should not have to pay for others’ mistakes. The report is clear that leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill for remediation and that the government needs to step in with more money This conclusion has taken some time but it is very welcome. Let’s hope action will now be taken to solve a problem that has gone on for far too long.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

What makes a great business leader?

You can listen to Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring talking about leadership in the property industry in a new podcast

What makes a great business leader? This is one of the topics of conversation between Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring and host Matthew O’Neill in a new podcast from the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The network champions the hard work and achievements of British leaders across the political and business spheres and is currently in the process of talking to leading figures in an attempt to understand what leadership means in Britain and Northern Ireland today. The Council invited Mary-Anne onto the podcast to discuss tips and advice on how to be a great business leader and to take a closer look at the challenges faced by businesses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Lord Blunkett, chairman of The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland said: “I think the most informative element of each episode is the first part, where Matthew O’Neill is able to sit down with someone who really gets how their industry works and knows how to make their organisation tick. Someone who is there day in day out working hard and inspiring others. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Mary-Anne, who set up the business 20 years ago, is a regular media commentator and is frequently quoted on issues such as leasehold reform, building safety regulations and the UK housing market.

At Ringley Group we manage more than 12,000 homes across the country and have advised major residential investors such as Patrizia, Curlew and Moda Living. Most recently, we have invested over £2m in creating a suite of tech products for the property industry, and have just launched our automated lettings platform PlanetRent.

Mary-Anne was delighted to be invited to appear on The Leaders Council podcast in such a challenging time for the property sector. “Speaking with Matthew about the challenges I currently face in my day-to-day role and providing advice to the younger generation was brilliant,” she says. “We’re currently in a very challenging time for the UK’s economy and it was fantastic to give Matthew an insight into my career and where I am now.”

The episode also features an exclusive interview with England’s footballing legend, Sir Geoff Hurst, who remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. So if property, leadership – or football – are topics you are interested in, you can listen to the podcast in full on YouTube.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Introducing Busy Living – our new co-working platform

Co-working space at Camden Gateway

Co-working could be the next big trend in our towns and cities. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means workers from different companies sharing office space and generating cost savings on equipment, utilities, and receptionist services.

We’re so confident in a shift to this new way of working that Ringley is launching its own cloud-based operational management platform for commercial and residential buildings. The platform, named Busy Living, is aimed at the growth of mixed-use space, allowing buildings to function 24/7 without needing increased staff. It features cashless payments, facial recognition, and MoD biometric security.

We are testing the software on one of our own buildings, Camden Gateway, which comprises 10,00 sq. ft. of co-working space. Our new platform can also be white-labelled, which means building operators can brand it themselves and offer a customer-facing app alongside the digital back-end.

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director of Ringley, explains: “Our new platform aims to improve transparency, reduce cost, drive revenue and above all de-risk operations.

“The next-generation of buildings will merge multiple uses under one roof and what we are looking to do through our latest tech offering is to help better commercialise ‘live-work-play’ developments.

“There has been a shift towards operationalised real estate and the boundaries between different asset classes are blurring. Both residential and commercial property look to the hospitality and leisure industries for inspiration and learning, which is why our new tech is adaptable and sector-agnostic.”

Busy Living has been featured in Property Week. Click here to read the article in full. h

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Will we be repurposing property in the post-pandemic world?

Could we be about to see a post-pandemic trend for repurposing property in a really positive way?

Repurposing property could be a major post-pandemic trend. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted on estate and lettings agents in May, we are already seeing a growing trend for both renters and buyers to show more interest in out-of-town homes with gardens. And, with more of us likey to be working remotely for some time, properties with space for home-working are likely to become more desirable.

Offices too could be transformed as commercial tenants re-think their space requirements and rely more on technology than on face-to-face interactions, both with colleagues and clients. Research from vertical transportation consultancy, reported by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) reveals that lasting change could be on the cards for the office sector in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Fairweather, managing director of D2E, thinks we could see a paradigm shift in the workplace, working practices, and commuting habits,  with almost half (44%) of workers polled by the company in a recent survey saying they will be asking their employers if they can work for at least some days of the week from home. 

The post-pandemic period may also signal the end of trying to cram more people into less space.   D2E expects the typical space allocation of 8 sq m per person to go up to something like 12 sq m per person on main floors, as more social distancing is needed at work. Lobby and reception areas are likely to expand too, and there could be a greater focus on stairwells and walking where possible, to help workers avoid crowded lifts and escalators.  With fewer people keen to use public transport, there may be more need for bike storage and shower facilities, and D2E also predicts changed canteen layouts for social distancing and increased natural ventilation, as well as a swing towards touchless technology in lifts and lobbies.

With all minds focused on the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we are still facing a housing crisis. Property specialist Colliers International points to the possibility of repurposing hotels for residential use, creating much- needed homes as well as opening up redevelopment opportunities for the hard-hit hospitality sector.

In the beleaguered hospitality sector, rather than take the financial hit of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic operating conditions, looking at redevelopment options may be a more realistic route for some hotel owners. Colliers suggests this would require a relaxation of planning restrictions but it could provide a solution for local authorities, who could then deliver accommodation in Class C categories such as affordable housing, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and care homes.

At Ringley, we have been calling for some time for new and better use to be made of retail developments in our hard-hit high streets. We believe institutionally-led, integrated build-to-rent and co-working space is the answer. Not only should the demise of large swathes of traditional retail drive the institutions to get creative and repurpose their space but, as we are all facing a similar collapse in the value of our pensions, all those who pay into one should demand it!

We are leading the way by launching a white label flexible office management platform called Busy Living at our new co-working space in Camden and will be blogging about this in more detail soon.

We believe that, once the pandemic passes, we may find ourselves facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to genuinely rethink the way we use property to bring genuine benefits for us all. What do you think?

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Dangerous cladding to be tackled by new £1bn fund – but is it enough?

£1bn of new money to fund replacement of dangerous cladding
Good news for leaseholders trapped in dangerous blocks – but what about those who fall outside the new fund?

Dangerous cladding got one step closer to being dealt with yesterday, as the Government announced a new building safety fund worth £1bn. The fund will meet the cost of removing unsafe non-ACM cladding on high rise residential blocks over 18m high that don’t comply with building regulations. So some positive news at last for beleaguered leaseholders trapped in homes they can’t sell.

The new fund, which was included in the Budget in March, is aimed mainly at leaseholders in the private sector who are facing huge bills to replace dangerous cladding on their buildings. Many are also paying extortionate costs for waking watches while they wait for remediation of their blocks.  The fund will also help people living in social housing, where the cost of replacing cladding systems would otherwise have to be paid by residents.

The fund will meet the cost of replacing non-ACM cladding systems where building owners are unable to do so and the Government hopes it will address some of the barriers to remediation being carried out quickly.

Registration for the fund opens in June and building owners can sign up until 31 July.  Full guidance and an application process for buildings that meet the technical criteria will be available by the end of July 2020.    

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at Ringley, welcomes the news but doesn’t believe the fund will be enough to solve the full range of cladding problems that so many people living in residential blocks are facing. “The government needs to support the removal of non-ACM cladding from buildings that are under 18 metres as well, as there is currently no support in place for those living in these types of buildings across the UK,” she says.

 “Recent tests have suggested that some other cladding types may not have been as safe as previously thought, and if proven to be dangerous, the government should step in and help fund the removal of these too.

“Separately, with the government looking to kickstart the housing market post-lockdown, one area of focus should be helping leaseholders and flat owners unable to sell, as they cannot secure an EWS1 form proving their building is safe.”

This means boosting testing capacity – and that again may require additional government funding.

Is the £1bn fund enough? – what do you think?

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Cladding tests – what lies beneath?

Valuers are risk-rating high-rise blocks, leaving many flat owners trapped in their homes

On 5 May Mary-Anne Bowring, Ringley Group MD hosted a UKAA Webinar that looked at the thorny issue of cladding tests. In particular, she focused on EWS1 form compliance and life beyond the Hackitt Review.   EWS stands for ‘external wall system’ and looks at the level of safety displayed by external walls on residential buildings. 

Mortgage valuers are now being asked to declare if there is any cladding is present on a building and lenders will refuse to lend on the building until they are fully aware of what cladding has been used and that the certificate awarded is in accordance with their lending policy.

Valuers are now effectively risk-rating residential blocks. This is causing serious issues for flat owners whose homes are valued at zero making them unsellable while further cladding tests are carried out. Mary-Anne highlighted that the journey from applying for an EWS1 form to receiving it could take around two months.

The challenge is that over time, introducing new materials such as cladding may change the fire performance of the building, if the layers of protection offered by each material are not assessed both independently and in conjunction with each other. It is quite possible that either materials that are now known to be too dangerous to use are present, or that a sub-contractor has substituted the material specified in the design for what they believe is a suitable alternative – thereby unknowingly compromising the safety of the building.

“Lenders used to just be conscious about ACM cladding, but they are now looking at all types of cladding that are used on the building,” Mary-Anne explains. “Now this includes HPL cladding – and the entire wall system which means insulation, fixings, fire stopping around windows, glue, fixings and much more.”

This change in emphasis comes from new government guidance issued in January. Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings sets out that it’s not just all types of cladding that must be considered but any material that will assist the spread of fire – and regardless of the height of the building.

The guidance makes it clear that existing residential buildings that have external walls containing combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety. They could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters; the fire brigade is now taking an active interest in what materials are being put onto these buildings.

However, as Mary-Anne explains: “We’ve got to make sure we are not being fooled by sampling and testing only materials from lower levels. There is the possibility that these materials can change when you move higher up the building. Even before this guidance was issued, the Building Regulations have always applied more stringent requirements for stories over 18 metres”.

The government has set aside a £600m fund to help building owners replace ACM cladding, plus an extra £1bn for non-ACM cladding on high rise residential buildings that are 18 metres or over. But there is no government funding for anyone who owns a multi-storey building that is lower than this. Owners and residents in low-rise buildings have been left behind in potentially dangerous blocks and with no government help yet announced.

One thing is certain – the cladding scandal is far from over. Many people around the country will be effectively trapped in their own homes long after lockdown if nothing is done to help them.

If you are interested in attending any future webinars hosted by Ringley, please get in touch with Anthony.james@ringley.co.uk to register your interest.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Does your home pass the lockdown test?

With the lockdown easing, homes with their own outdoor space and good wif-fi will be in demand

Does your home pass the lockdown test? Not something many of us had considered before 23 March this year – unless you happen to be one of those survivalists with a bunker full of canned food and bottled water! During the last seven weeks, access to food hasn’t been an issue for most of us. Even vulnerable households have been well served by supermarkets delivering to their door. But what has become painfully obvious is that many people are living in very confined spaces with little access to fresh air – let alone outdoor space. With more pandemics predicted, in future homes with gardens and reliable broadband are likely to be in demand.

An article in Inside Housing this week raises some important points about the way many of us live, particularly in urban areas. With thousands of households across the country living in flats, both in the private and social sector, and Parker Morris space standards a thing of the past, much of our housing stock is small. Many households have little or no space for home working – which is now the new normal for many of us – and even less for indoor exercise. Not all flats have a balcony or shared private outdoor space, and not all of us have access to a fast, reliable broadband connection.

As Alison Inman, former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing writes in her article: When people are asked to list the things that have helped them cope with the lockdown, among the most mentioned are gardens, access to outside space, and keeping in touch with family and friends over the internet”.

It’s likely that this won’t be the last pandemic many of us experience in our lifetimes. So Alison makes a good point when she says whether or not the homes we rent and sell would pass a ‘lockdown test’, should be part of the way we think about and design our properties.

In London, more than half of all homes are flats. How do we give tenants and buyers access to fresh air and outdoor space, indoor space that’s big enough for our children to play and exercise without going stir-crazy and enough room for a desk; all supported by wi-fi that’s good enough to support home working, while making developments stack-up financially? It’s a big ask.

Our view at Ringley is that, as the High Street continues to collapse and we prove that working differently is an option, our call to re-purpose the ground floor of buildings for co-working, community and amenity space is as important as ever.  Maybe even more so now that lockdown has helped many of us realise there is a different way to run our businesses.

Grown-up workspaces can be physically but not visually separated from play dens for children and hangout zones for teens, as society learns to come together in new ways.  These spaces should not be subject to tax in the same way as income-generating spaces and subject to business rates, but made part of a new national wellbeing strategy.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Moving House? Now you can push the go button!

Time to get moving – but you must follow the latest guidelines.

Have your moving house plans been brought to a halt by the lockdown? If so, you can now re-start the process. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that, from today, anyone in England can move home if they follow the new Government guidance.

Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. The government hopes to re-start the market and get buyers, sellers and renters moving again.

Clearly, this announcement doesn’t mean a return to normality – far from it. The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different and that now includes doing more of the process online. Initial viewings will be virtual and vendors will be asked to keep away while potential buyers are shown around. Properties must also be thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. So good news for commercial cleaning companies used by landlords and block managers.

After seven weeks in lockdown, the announcement is welcome news for the property industry as well as for buyers, sellers and renters. Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring said today:  “There’s no reason buyers or renters shouldn’t be able to move home if they are able to do so safely in accordance with social distancing guidelines”. However, she is quick to point to the fact that this doesn’t mean the housing market has returned to its pre-coronavirus state.

 Lockdown is set to continue in some form for an unknown amount of time and the resulting economic disruption is likely to weigh down on activity in the for-sale market. A stamp duty holiday, as proposed by RICS and others (see our 29 April blog for more details) could see a stampede in transactions while an extended Help to Buy will support some sales and in turn housebuilding.

 Maryanne thinks the Government now has an opportunity to think long term and introduce policies to reflect Britain’s changing housing needs. “Private renters are a fast-growing part of the housing market and need catering to,” she says,  “yet politicians seem intent in squeezing buy to let landlords out of the rental market and the build to rent sector – a positive emergence – simply isn’t big enough yet to absorb all rental demand.

 “If the government cuts stamp duty surcharge for landlords it could help stimulate the market by encouraging BTL investors to snap up homes to then rent out. Many landlords also help support housebuilding through off-plan sales,” she adds

The housing market as a whole will also have to get ready for a digital-first approach to transactions as more tasks and jobs are done remotely.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

EWS1 forms – what’s it all about?

Ringley CEO Mary-Anne Bowring will be talking about fire safety reform and EWS1 forms at a UKAA webinar on 5 May

EWS1 (External Wall System) forms are dominating many freeholders’ and property managers’ lives right now – and the requirement to provide them to lenders is having a devastating impact on residents.

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 has completely changed the building safety landscape – and has pushed fire protection right to the top of the property agenda. It is now impossible to get a mortgage on a building higher than 18 metres (around five to six floors) without an EWS1 form to certify that the cladding on residential blocks is safe.

Different mortgage lenders have adopted different approaches but, for most leaseholders living in high-rise blocks, if you can’t produce this form your lender will put your mortgage interest rates up until you can. Some leaseholders are now paying more than £100 extra interest a month while waiting for these forms. And re-mortgaging on high rise residential buildings without a signed EWS1 form is also being denied by high street banks

Getting blocks certified

Ringley Group managing director Mary-Anne Bowring has plenty of experience of working with lenders and building owners to get blocks certified – and it’s far from easy. “The journey from applying for an EWS1 form to getting it probably takes around two and a half months.  This is because the form requires us to understand the full system of the cladding, including the brackets, the fixings, the insulation behind the walls, etc,” explains Mary-Anne.

“It’s about the total combustibility of the system. Immediately post-Grenfell, when the Building Research Establishment (BRE) were testing these buildings for free, it was just about the cladding; now we’ve moved on from that. A lot of us are now having to retest buildings that have already been tested, even though we know the cladding on the outside is fine. Now we have to go back and retest the insulation in these buildings,” she says.

Join the UKAA webinar to boost your knowledge

On 5 May, Mary-Anne is hosting an online webinar for the UKAA, that will look at the requirements of the EWS1 form in detail plus other aspects of the major building safety reforms which have been announced in response to Grenfell. This is your opportunity to make sure you’re completely up-to-date on the latest requirements.

During the webinar, EWS1 – what’s it all about, Mary-Anne will provide an update on funding for removal of combustible cladding and will get you up to speed on the new approach to building safety. You will find out why this form is required, what is needed to get it and how it will affect YOU as a developer/freeholder.

UKAA members can join the webinar free of charge. Click here for more details.