COVID-19: updating the guidance

New guidance is being issued daily to help keep the public safe

This week, both ARMA and the Government have issued formal coronavirus guidance. Ringley will be circulating this information to our clients and to directors of management companies. Below is a summary of the most important points.

Payment of service charges and ground rent

While private and social renters will be protected from eviction for three months under upcoming legislation, and homeowners have the offer of mortgage repayment holidays, we are already being faced with leaseholders unwilling to consider service charges an essential payment.  Ringley cannot agree to service charge payment holidays. This is because to keep your building running, we would need client or directors loans to cover shortfalls. 

However, we want to share with you that ARMA is in discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) about any current or future plans to introduce support for leaseholders so that service charges can still be paid to keep essential services going.  Credit control and management of cash flow are vital in these challenging times.  It is just possible that the suspension of all forfeiture cases could mean that lenders become more reluctant to pay arrears and protect their security, as it’s not at risk for three months, so this could have an impact on your accounts and cash flow.

Major works, maintenance, and inspections

Essential works, for example, repairs to leaking roofs, will continue for the time being.
Plant Inspections – most suppliers are continuing plant inspection, testing and maintenance. We are monitoring this.
Statutory fire testing  – is still permitted and is arguably even more important at a time when most people are at home.
Lifts – The government and HSE have both taken a more hard-line standpoint on the requirement for LOLER inspections, as a number of insurance companies have already stated that they will NOT be carrying out inspections (at least until lift engineers are designated as key workers).  Unfortunately, the Government’s latest guidance is that if we are unable to get an inspection, the lift should be isolated from further use.  Our Support Teams are now analysing this and will report any problems.

Supply chain issues

We are beginning to have some trouble in sourcing parts for repairs on-site as, for example, Jewsons and Travis Perkins have taken the view that Government advice requires them to close their outlets. Again Government is being approached for clarification on this.

EWS1 forms, building safety and remediation works

As we reported in this blog yesterday, making buildings safe, including progressing the remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding – and particularly those with unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding – remains a priority for the Government. The view is that this work is critical to public safety additional project management support has been put in place together with construction expertise to help oversee remediation.  Read more here.

Key workers and essential services 
The full list of key workers can be found on the Government’s website here and continues to evolve. ARMA/BPF/IRPM/UKAA are working with the BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to update the list of key personnel to take account of roles needed in high density residential dwellings.  James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, has extended key worker status to all security and fire safety personnel who are actively working to improve public safety.
Waking watches must be maintained as usual, but Competent Persons and Fire Safety Officers must observe social distancing guidance. Should we be notified of sickness or people isolating in any of our buildings that affects a waking watch we will liaise with the local Fire & Rescue Service accordingly.

ARMA are awaiting an answer to their question regarding Key Workers for the Block Management industry. This was raised with the Secretary of State and Housing minister on 26 March.

Common areas and onsite facilities

Given the Government’s enforcement that we practice social distancing, ordering the closure of cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars, pubs, health clubs, and gyms, and other social venues to try and slow down the spread of COVID-19, we have had to severely restrict or close all your communal facilities and amenities with immediate effect. This includes gyms, residents lounges etc.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in your building

Please do report to us if you are aware of a positive confirmed case of COVID-19 in your block.  If a case is reported, we will be following the guidance from Public Health England on the cleaning required, the appropriate disposal of waste and cleaning materials, the disinfection of equipment and hard surfaces, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn.   You can read this here.

Please note that a deep clean of the communal areas may be required in accordance with guidance from PHE. This may result in an unbudgeted expenditure item to achieve this – but is not a choice – please consider it a requirement. 


Grenfell: changing the way we manage property

Major building safety reform has been announced in response to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, has made a series of updates this week concerning the Building Safety Programme, including the Government’s response to the Building a Safer Future consultation. The Government’s view is that the work to remove unsafe cladding from buildings is critical to public safety and so must remain a top priority.

Therefore, this week the Government has announced that:

• Dr David Hancock, the Government’s construction expert has been appointed to review ACM remediation,

• Faithful & Gould, expert construction consultants, have been appointed to provide additional programme management capability. This is to identify blockers and work with those responsible for remediation to support individual projects.

Last month, the Government announced a £1 billion fund through 2020/21 to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding materials on high rise buildings. It is working to make this funding available as quickly as possible and aims to publish the prospectus in May, opening for registrations soon after.

The Government is still working on 5 areas:

New legislation is coming – The Government’s response to the Building a Safer Future consultation and a new, national Building Safety Regulator are coming. The Government will legislate for these reforms through the Building Safety Bill, which puts residents safety at its heart and aims to deliver the biggest change in building safety for a generation

Building Regulations will change – Updates to Approved Document B and the increased fire safety measures for high-rise flats are complete. Sprinkler systems and clear wayfinding signage will be compulsory in all new high-rise flats over 11 metres (that is four storeys and, depending on design, some three-storey buildings too).

The latest results of tests into non-ACM cladding are published –The tests have improved understanding of how materials react when burnt. Different types of high-pressure laminate (HPL) and timber cladding were tested; the results confirmed the non-ACM materials all showed greater resistance to heat than their ACM counterparts.

EWS1 forms (EWS means ‘External Wall System’). It is now impossible to get a mortgage on a building over 18 metres (around five to six floors) without an EWS1 form. The government is asking lenders to agree a rational approach to lending on building less than 18 metres, which means depending on your lender it may be impossible to get a mortgage on a building without an EWS1 form too. The Government is now supporting an online industry-led portal through the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to database these EWS1 forms making conveyancing simpler in future. The online portal will hold completed EWS1 forms and both lenders and leaseholders will be able to access this information in due course.

Lender roundtable – The Secretary of State intends to host a lender roundtable to further explain its new focus on high-rise residential buildings above 18 metres and to agree on a rational lending approach to buildings under 18 metres.

At Ringley we have been arranging EWS1 forms on all our buildings over the winter months and are coming to the end of the buildings that either we believe needed them, or where an owner trying to sell needed help. We have prioritised these inspections based on buildings with owners trying to sell. We are continuing this critical fire safety work as government guidelines state that building safety remains a priority and this type of work should continue.

To get an EWS1 form is a team effort: first, samples for testing of materials (cladding, insulation, glue, fixings and compartmentation) have to be arranged, often incorporating access at high level. Second, we have to await samples coming back from the test laboratory. Third, to get the EWS1 form signed, a suitably qualified Level 4 Fire Inspector has to interpret the test results and decree that the building is either safe or any adverse impact of the external wall system is tolerable, or that the building is not safe and full remediation needs to take place. Often we also have to gather product datasheets on new build developments, from the developer, Construction Design & Management Manuals and/or 3rd parties such as Fire Design Companies or Building Control where available, design drawings and photos of wall systems being fitted. So it is not an easy feat.

The good news is that while expensive, this is not an annual exercise. The new information on how the wall system is made up then has to be fed back into routine Fire Risk Assessments which continue annually. The good news is that the cost of obtaining the EWS1 form is a service charge expense.

For those who want to read more…. the full government update is HERE

IF you are having trouble selling because you need an EWS1 form please email fm-helpdesk@ringley.co.uk

What’s included in the new Fire Safety Bill?

The Fire Safety Bill has been introduced to Parliament

While the property industry focuses its attention on business continuity in the face of COVID-19, work is still going on to improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales.

In March, the Fire Safety Bill began its passage through Parliament, amending the Fire Safety Order 2005: it was introduced to the House of Commons and given its First Reading on Thursday 19 March.  The proposed legislation makes it clear that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows and the entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.

The aim is to empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they don’t comply with the new rules.

The Bill takes forward recommendations that came out of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report. It stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for:

  • regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services;
  • ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised;
  • ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand; and
  • ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.

The Bill will also give the Government the ability to amend the list of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order by way of secondary legislation. The idea is to enable the Government to respond quickly to new developments in the design and construction of buildings.

Click here to track the Bill’s progress through Parliament.

Coronavirus Act 2020 comes into force

New legislation to tackle the impact of COVID-19 has been fast-tracked through Parliament

The government has now confirmed that rather than enforcing a complete ban on evictions during the Coronavirus outbreak – as everyone in the industry thought – instead, the notice period for evictions is to change. The Coronavirus Act 2020– given Royal Assent on 25 March – simply extends the notice required.

Paperwork released overnight as the Act came into force, appears to confirm this, saying: “The prescribed forms that apply to secure tenancies have been changed to reflect the changes to possession procedures in the Coronavirus Act 2020. The amended forms now make it clear that court proceedings cannot begin earlier than three months from the date the notice is served.” Go to the Government website to see the updated Assured Tenancy forms and the Secured Tenancy forms.

In addition, a Section 21 (no fault) end of tenancy notice can still be served by landlords but cannot be progressed further and the Section 8 (breach) notice period has been extended from two weeks to two months.

The Courts

All courts and tribunals are closed until at least 29 May 2020, with that date to be extended if necessary. However, some hearings are having telephone meetings to avoid any personal contact.

Housing

For anyone buying or selling their house, the current advice is that buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving while emergency measures are in place. People who have already exchanged contracts should try to write a delay into their contract. However, the Conveyancing Association is seeking ‘urgent guidance’ from the government as to whether moving house is deemed ‘essential’ under the new regulations now in force. Removal services have been deemed non-essential, so if people really have to move they are likely to be doing it themselves – and should use social distancing at all times.

Finally, one positive is that hotel apartment lets are coming back onto the market to be let as tenancies.


It’s official. Building maintenance must continue

Blocks need to be kept clean, now more than ever.

For property managers who are wondering whether or not routine maintenance should still go ahead in their blocks, the government has provided some clarity today. Secretary of State at the MHCLG Robert Jenrick, speaking to the BBC today, has confirmed the importance of ensuring that the maintenance of buildings for safety and sanitation continues – and that important works such as cladding remediation should still be carried out.

Amid the row over whether or not construction work should still continue on sites around the country, he emphasised the importance of ensuring all work is done in accordance with Public Health England guidance, which means abiding by the two-metre distancing rule at all times.

Following the announcement, the Institute of Residential Property Managers (IRPM) circulated a Newsflash to all its members this morning, saying the message from Mr Jenrick “would strongly suggest that other safety-critical work such as lift maintenance should continue”. The professional body also takes the fact that the Secretary of State specifically mentioned sanitation, to mean that appropriate cleaning regimes can continue in blocks too. The IRPM says it is now waiting for an approved list from MHCLG of which contractors may attend site and for what purpose. We will share this information with you when we know more.

Here’s what the Minister had to say. “There are settings in for example the construction industry where it is extremely important that we try to help people to continue to go to work. For example, ensuring that buildings are maintained properly for fire safety, for sanitation reasons. For example, ensuring that important programmes like the removal of dangerous ACM cladding on high-rise buildings continues, so there is essential work going on in the housing and construction industry that we want to encourage as long as it is safe to do so.”

In the meantime, trade bodies are advising maintenance contractors not only to abide by the distancing rules, but to ensure very high levels of hygiene while they are carrying out work. If an engineer is due to visit your building, they should be checking if anyone in the building has been diagnosed with Coronavirus or is self-isolating to ensure their safety as well as that of the people in your block. As we blogged on Monday, its vital to provide handwashing facilities for engineers and technicians; to keep plant rooms and other areas where they may be working clean and accessible; and to ensure residents are kept clear of any work areas.

This is all good practice anyway and may even encourage better standards of communication and hygiene in our blocks when this is over. We would like to assure all our clients and residents that routine servicing schedules are continuing in your blocks, as is our 24/7 emergency response.

AGMs and service charges: your questions answered

Virtual AGMS are coming to a screen near you!

Our business continuity planning is paying off. We have now switched to virtual AGMs – the first of which was held for residents at Union Park. This is easy to do and we would like to suggest that if you consider doing the same, you may get more people to attend your AGM – which we can facilitate for you using Zoom.

So how does it work? Well, we can simply invite all residents to the virtual AGM and they can then either download the app, or double click on the weblink we send out. This takes the invitee to a ‘virtual room’ (with or without video) where other participants will be waiting along with the moderator (Ringley). Participants join the meeting in ‘muted mode’ and invitees can participate at any time by ‘raising their virtual hand’ enabling us to unmute them while they speak.  It’s that easy.

For small meetings all Ringley people can set up conference calls. So let your property manager know if this is something you  would like us to arrange for your block

Deferring service charge payments

We’ve had a number of enquiries about deferring service charge payments. This is to be expected with so many residents worried about their income as the country goes into lockdown. Regrettably, deferment is not possible because we only collect the exact amount specified in the budget and this is desperately needed.  Insurance, electricity, cleaning and all other bills still need to be paid.

Service charges are not like a commercial business.  If owners do not pay for the upkeep of their block – who will? And worse, not paying would put not only the security of your home but the health and safety of you and all your neighbours at risk. As the government has announced that you can claim a 3-month mortgage repayment holiday we recommend you claim this quickly – before the rush – and use some of this money to pay your service charge.

Community halls

For sites with community halls that pay business rates, unless you tell us otherwise we will be instructing Alistair McGill of Ringley Survey & Valuation Limited to make a business rates claim for you.  Alistair’s contact details are Alistair.mcgill@ringley.co.uk  Likewise if you need help with business rates rebates on your business premises Alistair can assist.

Should you have any questions or concerns about the impact of coronavirus on your block, please do contact us direct. We will share your questions (anonymously) and answers in the next client update and via this blog.

Coronavirus: working safely with contractors and on-site staff

Anyone visiting your building to carry out maintenance must be able to wash their hands. Landlords can help.

Our clients and RMC directors may be wondering what they should do about people visiting their sites while we are all coping with the impact of COVID-19. So here‘s our latest update on working with on-site staff and contractors.

The current advice from the HSE is that: “All drivers attending site must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work.  Preventing access is against the law and, equally, it is not the sensible thing to do.  Failure to allow access to welfare facilities may increase the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading.”

It is not clear whether contractors are classed in the same category as drivers – however, we are beginning to receive requests for confirmation from maintenance engineers that there are hand washing facilities on site.  Where there are not, landlords should think about either nominating a home where contractors can wash up – and putting a notice up in the hallway to say so, or purchasing and installing something like this 

Site Staff will remain on site until the Government declares lockdown – at which point a further review will be carried out.  Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees, so far as reasonably practicable, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with.  So we have sent out specific advice to site staff. 

Should your site staff get sick, then by virtue of The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 13 March 2020 ( for a period of 8 months) anyone who self-isolates to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus and is unable to work will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.  A medical certificate is no longer required and SSP now starts from day one, rather than day four.

Should the Government prevent staff from working on-site, this would be treated as a period of lay-off during which your employee would be entitled to a statutory guaranteed payment of £25 a day (pro-rata for part-time workers).  Unless the Government changes the law, your employees can claim a redundancy payment if the lay-off or short-time working runs for either 4+ weeks in a row, or 6+ weeks in a 13 week period.  This does not get paid if staff return to normal working hours within 4 months.  Click here for more on this.

Depending on other measures likely to be introduced, it may be kinder to ascertain the person’s rent or mortgage payments and pay them rent and a food allowance as a gesture for their service to the site.  If you need help or advice on this, emergency HR planning and payment enquiries are being dealt with by Leana leana@ringley.co.uk

In the meantime, all routine servicing schedules are continuing, as is our 24/7 emergency response.

Coronavirus: keeping our customers informed

We are doing all we can to ensure the safety of all our customers and employees

As the spread of Covid-19 continues, we are keen to reassure all our customers that the wellbeing of our clients and employees is at the forefront of everything we do. We will, of course, continue to adhere strictly to Government advice, while switching to our business continuity protocols.  We are all dealing with difficult times and we hope you are managing to stay safe.

Today we are setting out details of our business continuity plan so you can see that Ringley continues to operate as usual and that steps are being taken to protect the wellbeing of everyone involved with our organisation.  Our IT suite includes cloud data/web portals, cloud phones, chat groups and conferencing with encrypted data-sharing platforms.  Reporting protocols for off-site working are also now in place.

First, the stuff you should already know. With Coronavirus now spreading fast, in addition to an increased focus on personal hygiene, washing your hands for 20 seconds, we recommend that you also go beyond just a simple vacuum and wipe down at home focusing on metal and non-porous surfaces: doors, cutlery and crockery being passed by others are particular risks.

And some stuff you might not have heard. Some countries are suggesting when you come home you should remove your outer clothes for washing and go shower – especially if you have a person in a high-risk category in your house.

The biggest issue for apartment blocks is door handles. They have the largest transmission risk as everybody touches them.  Contract cleaning is often done at best weekly, so it might be time to think about community-led initiatives to wipe down door handles regularly with anti-bacterial wipes or spray and clean other parts of the building that are touched regularly, like building exit buttons. 

It is very important that we know about confirmed cases quickly so please report this to your Relationship Manager. If there is a serious outbreak in your block we have sourced cleaners who can carry out fogging or misting with disinfectant as part of a deep clean.  It is not cheap and costs about £7 per sqft, but could constitute a reserve fund spend if really necessary.  So please do report to us if you or your family actually have coronavirus – so that we can at least discuss the risks with your landlord and make a decision.

An Advice Note has been sent out to all staff employed on-site – as well as an explanation to clients regarding payment arrangements for site staff.

And we haven’t forgotten about protection for visiting contractors. We have sent all clients an advice note and suggestions about providing washing facilities for contractors visiting blocks including gardeners. For those whose sites require a gardening sign-off sheet, we have accepted notification from some contractors that they have advised their staff not to enter buildings where their routine duties do not require it.

And finally, it is important to remember that we are all human and at risk, so our thoughts are very much with those who have been affected and continue to be affected by this virus around the world.

Ringley goes remote – but it’s business as usual

Our people will be working remotely for the foreseeable future – but our service to you will continue as normal

From today, Ringley’s London office has closed its doors in order to safeguard our staff and customers. All our people are set up to work from home – with a skeleton staff coming in to scan post and contractor invoices.

We already have an electronic post system, so staff are used to post being distributed to team members this way.  For outgoing post, all customers are being sent ‘Opt-in to e-post’ daily to ensure they can receive everything they would normally get. And if you are worried about management company post, don’t be. Statute permits electronic post for company matters for all companies established after the Companies Act 1985 – not a lot of people know that!

All budgets are enabled for e-signing already as we have been phasing this in over the last nine months, and service charge accounts have been brought to the top of the e-signing list for final accounts.  In the short term, under the Landlord and Tenant Act customers can email their consent and a Ringley Director can sign on their behalf.

Bank reconciliations and contractor payments will continue off-site and all our contractors have been reminded that Ringley supports e-procurement. So as long as they do too, there should be no hindrance to getting them paid as usual.

To support residents in their homes, guidelines have been given to on-site staff and contractors on precautions, waste handling and cleaning in accordance with government advice, which you can see here.

And finally, we have added an extra stage to our arrears process – which is a draft letter for leaseholders to send to their mortgage company to claim their three-month mortgage repayment holiday, as paying service charges is vital to keep buildings insured and things looked after.

As always we will be keeping you updated via this blog, so watch this space in the coming days and weeks as we all work to keep your blocks running smoothly.

Ringley gives a cautious welcome to Budget

Property industry commentators gave a cautious welcome to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first Budget yesterday as he repeated the Conservative party’s new mantra “We’re getting it done”.

For housing he pledged:

  • a new £12 billion multi-year extension of the Affordable Homes Programme – a £3 billion boost to the current programme which was put in place in 2016 and ends next year.  
  • an extra £650m of funding to help rough sleepers into permanent housing.
  • a new £1bn fund to remove dangerous cladding from high rise buildings. 
  • An additional 2% stamp duty on UK homes bought by foreign investors.

Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring was widely quoted in the press as print and online broadcasters raced to publish reaction to the Budget.

Commenting yesterday, she told  City AM, The Mirror, Mail Online and the Evening Standard, that she was in favour of the Chancellor’s increase in stamp duty, saying: “The stamp duty increase on the falling pound has made housing more affordable to overseas buyers, while domestic buyers have had to contend with stagnant wage growth and ultra-low interest rates pushing up prices and eating away at their ability to save.” However, she added that the increase for overseas buyers will simply put things back to where they were before the Brexit vote and “level the playing field for domestic buyers.”

 Speaking to Building and React News, Maryanne also welcomed the news of a new £1bn fund for cladding removal. The Chancellor said the cash will “go beyond dealing with only ACM cladding” and will help ensure that other types of unsafe cladding can be removed from both social housing and private blocks above 18 metres.

However, the Ringley MD does not believe the government has gone far enough to support residents concerned about the safety of their buildings. “The crisis goes far beyond removing Grenfell-style cladding,” she said. “Even leaseholders who have had their cladding found safe are still unable to re-mortgage or sell their properties due to the challenges of getting a signed EWS1 form. It is not just about dangerous cladding, it is about retrospectively tracing the physical construction of the building, and testing and how all the components and layers of the building act together.”

Residents in buildings less than 18 metres high – which may also be clad in potentially unsafe materials – were ignored by the Chancellor. Maryanne highlighted the fact that there must be an acceptance of the scale of the problem. “Today’s sums are just simply not enough,” she said.