What will the homes of the future look like?

The Government wants new homes to not only be energy efficient but suitable for people of all ages

What will the homes of the future look like? Housing Minister Christopher Pincher today launched a competition to find out, by asking small businesses, designers and manufacturers to come forward with ideas for new low carbon, age-friendly housing.

The winners will get the chance to design new low carbon homes, delivering low energy bills and independent living for older people, using technology and the latest innovations to improve their quality of life. Three finalists will have the opportunity to partner with developers to deliver homes on a site owned by Homes England.

The Government is asking for outline designs for homes that:

  • Are age-friendly and inclusive: appealing to a variety of age groups and adaptable to people’s changing needs as they get older.
  • Have a low environmental impact: applying technology and construction techniques to deliver net-zero carbon emissions.
  • Promote healthy living: developing better health and wellbeing via access to green spaces and communal areas.
  • Are deliverable & scalable: homes that can be rolled out across the country.

Homes are responsible for 25% of carbon emissions in the United Kingdom, so the new competition puts energy efficiency upfront in housing design.

Today’s announcement follows the government’s recent consultation on a new Future Homes Standard, which will mean all new homes built from 2025 will have 80% fewer carbon emissions. The new Standard will be introduced by 2025.

According to a report by the BBC, also published today, at the moment nearly two-thirds of UK homes fail to meet long-term energy efficiency targets. This means more than 12 million homes currently fall below the C grade on Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) graded from A-G. So there is plenty of room for improvement.

To find out more about the Government’s design competition, visit the Home of 2030 website. The first phase will run until Wednesday 15 April.

Flooding – keeping residents safe

The average cost of the clean-up in a flooded home is £35,000.

Repair reporting software provider Fixflo, helped leaseholders and tenants deal with nearly 5000 small repairs to their homes when Storm Ciara hit the UK earlier this month. This freed up property managers to tackle the major repairs that were needed at blocks across the country.  Winds were at their highest on the night of Sunday 9 February and most damage was reported to fences and windows.

The floods that hit the UK in the wake of first Storm Ciara and then Storm Dennis have been devastating. With 120 severe weather warnings still in place, today we’re being warned that already hard-hit areas could see another’s month’s rainfall in the next 24 hours. This is terrible news for homeowners who are just about managing to keep the floodwaters at bay. And there is little consolation for anyone who has been flooded out and is hoping the water will subside enough to start repairing the damage.

If you live in an area that is susceptible to flooding here’s some helpful advice from the Know Your Flood Risk website:

  • Listen to the local news and emergency services who will advise if evacuation is necessary. Check on elderly relatives and make sure they are ok.
  • Don’t try to walk or drive through floodwater – six inches of fast-flowing water can knock you over and two feet of water will float your car. Manhole covers may have come off and there may be other hazards you can’t see.
  • Never try to swim through fast flowing water – you may get swept away or be struck by an object in the water.
  • Don’t walk on sea defences, riverbanks or cross river bridges. They may collapse or you may be swept off by large waves. Beware of stones and pebbles being thrown up by waves.
  • Be aware of contaminated water as there is potential for sewage to mix with floodwater. This could pose health risks to those who come into contact with it.

For leaseholders, the first port in a storm (literally) is your property manager. There should be an evacuation plan in place in the event of severe flooding. If you don’t know if your block has one, ask.  If your home is at risk, pack an emergency bag for you and your family. Should the worst happen, go to the National Flood Forum website for details of what to take with you.

If your flat is damaged by floodwater, your block manager will deal with insurance claims against the buildings policy which, depending on the cover in place, should also pay for temporary accommodation if you need it.

One insurance expert reported this week that the average cost of the clean-up in a flooded home is around £35,000. So for anyone living in an area at risk of flooding, contents insurance is a must. Your insurer will dry, clean and restore your possessions or replace anything that cannot be cleaned up or repaired.

If you rent your home – you’ll need to contact the property owner, as they are likely to be responsible for insuring the building. Their insurance may also cover your temporary housing needs, so ask your landlord about this too.

Why housing needs continuity at the top

Yet another Housing Minister – but will this one stay the course?

Christopher Pincher was named as the new Housing Minister following yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle. He replaces Esther McVey whose tenure lasted only seven months. The MP for Tamworth is the 19th person to hold the post since 1997 and the tenth in the last decade. Robert Jenrick who last year replaced James Brokenshire as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government retains his position at the ministry.

Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and now the party’s housing spokesperson, commented on the appointment saying: “UK housing is in crisis. Levels of homelessness are skyrocketing, there is a complete lack of affordable housing, and the tragedy of Grenfell remains at the forefront of people’s minds…. The new Housing Minister must act urgently to ensure adequate safe and secure accommodation is made available right across the country”.

We agree wholeheartedly. What Tim Farron describes as “The revolving door at the Ministry of Housing” is deeply unhelpful for the property industry and the public. Small wonder we continue to face huge problems of supply and demand – we all deserve housing issues to be taken seriously. For this to happen we need continuity: strong policy-making and a minister with a full understanding of the issues that impact the housing and rental markets – and both freehold and leasehold tenures – are vital. The latter, in particular, appears to be frequently misunderstood by the government.

Here’s our take on the new appointment from Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director of Ringley. 

“Christopher Pincher needs to bring with him a sense of real energy and commitment and Boris Johnson would do well to keep him on for the long-term. Without stability at the top, the government risks sleepwalking into multiple crises, as issues around fire safety and leasehold reform remain unresolved, while the continued squeeze on buy-to-let landlords threatens to make renting even more unaffordable for many.

And it’s not all about housebuilding. The Housing Minister is not only a custodian of our current housing stock, but must be brave enough to think what future living is going to be as the lines between work and our home lives continue to blur.  Homes must provide shelter, but happy homes make for better mental health. So if trends continue and housing is increasingly to be inhabited rather than owned, then the way we work, live and have fun must all be taken into account

The new minister tweeted yesterday, that: ”This Government will deliver on our commitment to build the housing that people need…” Let’s hope he is as good as his word and stays in post long enough to make it happen.

Why ignoring fire safety is dangerous – and costly!

The vast majority of professional property managers take fire safety in the blocks they manage extremely seriously. And rightly so. A case just heard in Leeds Crown Court is a valuable lesson for anyone who is responsible for the safety of residents – and shows what can happen when fire regulations are flouted.

Property manager Niche Homes Ltd is one of three firms, including building owner Trinity Developments Ltd and contractor APP Construction Ltd, to be heavily fined for breaches of fire safety legislation at a student accommodation block in Leeds. A total of £670,000 in fines was settled on the three companies by the court, with the property manager paying a hefty £60,000.

A father who was dropping off his daughter spotted some serious fire safety issues at the Trinity Halls building and contacted West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. Inspectors found a range of safety breaches that were so dangerous they temporarily closed the block down.

Here’s what they found:

  • A locked fire escape, leaving only one escape route for the whole block.
  • No fire escape signage.
  • No self-closing devices on fire doors, which could have led to fire spreading through the building.
  • Students living on the ground floor of the building while construction was still in progress, with exposed timbers and storage of other combustible building materials posing a potential fire risk.

Prosecutor Cassie Williams said the lack of safety measures on the upper floors could have resulted in the building collapsing should a fire have broken out in the block. And Judge Mairs commented that the breaches were so obvious, even someone with no technical fire safety background could spot them immediately.

The safety failures at Trinity Halls were described as having the “potential for catastrophe”. Post-Grenfell it is astounding and completely unacceptable for residents in any block to be left so exposed to fire risks. At Ringley, resident safety is always uppermost in our property managers’ minds. So if you or any of your neighbours spot something you think is potentially dangerous, please don’t ignore it. Report it to your block manager straight away and we will resolve the problem. Your safety is our priority.

New building safety regulator takes shape

Property managers are about to face a whole new building safety regime…

More details are now emerging about the Government’s new building safety regulator. Last week housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that the new body is expected to be up and running “in shadow form” within weeks. Dame Judith Hackitt who chaired the 2018 building safety review launched in response to the Grenfell Tower fire, will now oversee the set -up and transition to the new regulator once the necessary legislation is in place.

The Hackitt Report called for a building safety regulator to be established in the form of a “joint competency authority” made up of the HSE, local authority building control, and local fire and rescue services. However, a spokesman for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has now announced that the new body will be run solely by the HSE. It will use HSE staff but with additional personnel as required. He said the regulator would use “the infrastructure that HSE has and existing expertise to begin with”. But he added that the new body wouldn’t simply be an extension of the HSE. Instead, “There will be some re-prioritisation at first, but this will be a strong new regulator,” he said.

The new regime will still operate “through existing local regulators, notably local authority building control teams and fire and rescue authorities” which are expected to carry out building inspections as part of the new safety system that is now being developed.

Legislation to give the new regulator its formal powers is expected to be put to Parliament later in 2020 but the exact timing is yet to be confirmed. So watch this space for future updates.

Changes to fire safety law in the pipeline

Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations are now coming through in new building safety laws

Last week, Kim Taylor-Smith, deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea borough council, called on the Government to allow councils to carry out building checks in line with recommendations from phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. “We want to see more comprehensive legislation to increase the standards in all buildings owned publicly or privately, and additional powers to enforce against this,” he said.

Someone was listening. On Monday, the Government set out details of the upcoming Fire Safety Bill that is being introduced to Parliament. Using the findings from last year’s consultation, the new legislation will clarify the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, requiring residential building owners to fully assess and mitigate the risks to residents posed by external wall systems on their blocks or the front doors to individual flats.

The changes are designed to complement the powers already enshrined in the Housing Act. What this means in practice is to make it easier to enforce works where building owners have not acted to tackle safety issues such as unsafe cladding or failing fire doors.

As we blogged yesterday, the Government’s expert advisory panel has now clarified and updated the advice to building owners on actions they should take to ensure their buildings are safe. Their advice makes clear the actions that should be taken in relation to fire doors, ie ensuring they are fit for purpose and, where they need technical input, the  Association of Composite Door Manufacturers is to work with building owners to replace those doors which have failed tests,.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has said it has “sought to become early adopters” of the proposals made by Dame Judith Hackitt in her review of fire safety and building regulations. Valuable lessons have already been learned from Grenfell but they must now be put into practice.

We hope the Government’s most recent announcement around fire safety will help roll out effective and enforceable fire safety standards in blocks across the country – regardless of whether they provide social housing or are privately owned.

Government announces new measures to boost building safety in high-rise blocks

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick appears to be following through with promises made before December’s General Election.

It is less than six weeks since the General election and the Government appears to be making good on its promise in the Queen’s speech to make building safety a priority. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a range of measures to improve building safety standards and keep people living in high rise blocks safe in their homes.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Jenrick set out a package of measures that includes:

  • A building safety regulator – to raise building safety and performance standards, including overseeing a new, more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings. 
  • Safety advice for owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings from the Government’s independent expert advisory panel, with a strong focus on cladding.
  • A call for evidence seeking views on the assessment of risks within existing buildings. This will provide a firm evidence base to guide decisions for both existing buildings and future regulatory regimes.
  • Continuing emphasisis on the safety of fire doors – the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers is to work with building owners to replace doors which fail tests.
  • Remediation of buildings with ACM cladding – To speed up work, a construction expert will be appointed to review timescales and identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector. To ensure cost is not a barrier to replacing dangerous materials, the government is considering different options to support the remediation of buildings, examining options to mitigate costs for individuals or provide alternative financing routes.
  • Consultation on the combustible cladding ban – this includes proposals to lower the 18-metre height threshold to at least 11 metres.
  • Sprinklers – The Government aims to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings.
  • Detailed proposals on how the government will deliver the technical review of fire guidance will be published in February.
  • A Fire Safety Bill is to be introduced to Parliament.

The Housing Secretary made it clear that building owners are responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe. Where blocks have no plan in place to remove and replace dangerous cladding, the government will work with local authorities to support them in enforcing the works necessary to bring buildings back up to safe standards. However, from February, building owners who have not started to remove unsafe cladding from their buildings will be named and shamed.

The next steps are for the government to consult on extending the ban on combustible materials to buildings below 18 metres and the MHCLG will be seeking views from the property sector on how risks are assessed within existing buildings to inform future policy. In the meantime, we will keep you posted on the changes as they come into effect.

Click here to read yesterday’s building safety announcement in full.

More red tape for besieged agents

New money laundering legislation comes into force today. Regardless of Brexit, property agents must abide by the Fifth EU Money Laundering Directive, ensuring they risk-assess their business processes and carry out thorough ID checks on customers.

Agents will need to carefully consider how they might find themselves exposed to money laundering and to the risk of financing terrorism and ensure they have measures in place to manage and eliminate any risks.

Letting Agent Today explains that agents must carry out customer due diligence on landlords and tenants where renting is “for a period of a month or more, and at a rent which during at least part of that period is, or is equivalent to, a monthly rent of 10,000 euros or more”.

 If a third party is acting on behalf of another person in a particular transaction, that person is described in the legislation as the ‘beneficial owner’, ie the person on whose behalf a transaction is carried out. Beneficial owners must in future be identified and any potential risks they pose be assessed. It will also be important to assess the risk of money laundering that could result from:

  • Sending money to customers to or through high-risk third countries which don’t have effective systems in place to prevent money laundering or terrorist financing;
  • Company services or transactions;
  • The financing methods used to support the business; and
  • Other transaction-based activities such as non-face-to-face services.

All customers and beneficial owners are now subject to identity checks via an official identification document such as a passport or driving licence. Photo ID, as well as verification of the current address, will be needed for both new customers and existing clients if their circumstances change.  Due diligence also applies should agents have any doubts about the authenticity of an existing customer’s ID information or suspect that money laundering or financing terrorism may be taking place.

Under the new rules, risk assessments must be recorded, kept on file and regularly reviewed. Any changes to a business, it’s financing or the environment in which it operates will trigger an updated assessment, which must be made available to HMRC on request.

Of course the property sector should not provide an easy route for money laundering. But at a time when the industry is steeling itself for yet more reforms, this new legislation is yet another hoop for agents to jump through. And this is being piled on top of the 125-plus other rules and regulations that agents are faced with on a daily basis. That said, it is hard to argue against legislation that should go some way at least to safeguarding the sector from criminal activity.

Don’t forget to test your smoke alarm!

This could save your life – so make sure it’s working properly

In the same week that the fire service reported that a worrying number of smoke alarms in rental properties don’t work, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has told the government that sprinklers shouldn’t be seen as the answer to all fire safety problems in blocks of flats.

The architects’ body supports the use of sprinklers in high-rise flats, describing them as a “highly effective means of life protection”. But they also point out that installing sprinklers “should not be used as a means to compensate for other essential life safety measures or to justify reducing minimum standards.”

As well as sprinklers, RIBA say centrally addressable fire alarm systems should be required in new and converted multiple occupancy residential buildings.

We wholeheartedly agree with Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group for Fire Safety, when she says “It is over two years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, yet far too little has changed”.

The English fire regulations are not fit for purpose, she says. It’s not right that we should lag behind both Scotland (where sprinklers will soon be required in all multiple occupancy residential buildings) and Wales, where sprinklers have been required in all new and converted residential buildings since 2013.  

So we join RIBA in calling on the next government to maintain a strong focus on fire safety and give absolute priority to the radical overhaul of the building regulations that is so badly needed.

To that we would add a plea to all landlords, property managers and residents to check their smoke and fire alarms regularly. This is as important for BTL landlords and their tenants as it is for leaseholders.

And it’s especially important at this time of year when we are all plugging in our Christmas lights and using more candles and open fires. So if you have battery-operated alarms, check and change the batteries regularly. No matter how annoying it is when they go off by mistake when you’re making toast, don’t ever be tempted to remove the batteries – that alarm could save your life.

Emergency evacuation – we can help

If you need help leaving your home in an emergency, let us know.

Last week, the BBC carried a story about the problems faced by disabled residents living in flats if they need to evacuate their homes in a fire.  One council tenant commented that she had received no communication from her local authority explaining what their evacuation policy is, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.

This lady has sensibly spoken to her neighbours and asked a group of them to help carry her out of the building if they need to escape the building in an emergency. The BBC investigated around 700 London blocks, speaking to residents about the arrangements for their buildings. They didn’t find a single evacuation lift.

At Ringley, since the Grenfell Tower fire, we have been following the work being done by the government on building safety and closely monitoring the leading industry analysis. We recently took part in RICS CPD events on the changes that are coming through as a result of the 2017 tragedy.

The challenge for the property sector is that rarely are regulations retrospective; as the BBC pointed out, there are few buildings with special fire evacuation lifts.  The advice is always that standard lifts should not be used for evacuation in case of fire because, unless suitably adapted and protected, lift shafts act as a funnel, enabling smoke to spread through the building. Generally, electrics automatically shut down during a fire and fire fighting lifts run off of emergency generators, not from mains electricity.

There is now work going on in this area to identify whether adaptations to buildings could be made to incorporate purpose-built evacuation lifts, so the regulations around lift use may change in future. In 2018 the government instructed a review of the approved building regulations document relating to fire and we await the outcome with interest.

In the meantime, what we do at Ringley to look after our disabled residents as best we can, is to write to owners and residents asking them to let us know if they or their neighbours need ‘special assistance’ in case of an emergency evacuation. We database this information so that should such an emergency arise we can liaise with the fire department to enable them to help those that need it most.

So if you or one of your neighbours is worried about how they would escape the building in the worst case scenario, please call or email us to let us know. Our most important job is to keep residents safe.