Britain’s Cladding Crisis: What You Need to Know - 4 Cladding Services

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Britain’s Cladding Crisis: What You Need to Know

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What Exactly Is Britain’s Cladding Crisis?

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, the British government implemented many changes regarding the cladding used in multi-story buildings. It has come to light that many high-rise structures were built with unregulated and highly dangerous cladding that poses an extremely high risk to those using or living in these buildings. 


The government issued a new Fire Safety act in 2021 that seeks to remedy the situation. They have created Building Safety and Waking Watch Relief Funds to pay for any needed renovations. This does not, however, cover all buildings that are deemed dangerous. In fact, there are approximately 88,000 buildings between 11 and 18 meters in the UK that require urgent construction work but don’t qualify for the funding. This has led to a huge crisis for leaseholders, as they have to pay for their remedial work, which MUST legally be completed if they live in one of these structures.


The crisis has become a national scandal, as thousands of people now face covering the cost to put right something which the building developers should never have let happen initially. It is estimated that this fee could be anywhere between £80,000 and £100,000. They are left with no option as they are now required to disclose the insecurity of their property if they try to sell. Either this or they must find the funds somewhere to pay for the issue to be remedied. MP Caroline Lucas of Brighton Pavillion states that the issue reaches further than a cladding crisis and is a “building safety crisis” as building investors are “making money out of shoddy […] unsafe housing and holding leaseholders to ransom when something goes wrong”. 



What Is Cladding?

Cladding is a term that refers to the outer surface of a building installed to improve its energy efficiency by acting as an extra layer of insulation. It also has secondary functions, including weather-proofing and improving the overall look of a building. It can either be fitted onto the exterior of an existing structure or is often installed during the construction process. 


Properties that use cladding are typically new high-rise properties and any older buildings being renovated. It is a great way to update the exterior of a property and help protect the building structure from further deterioration. Cladding is also an excellent way to decrease the maintenance of a property. There are many different types of cladding available, and each has slightly different functions. There is an ideal cladding type out there for almost any building. 


The different types of cladding include:


  • Stone – Thin layers of natural stone, non-porous, protects the exterior of a building from water
  • Brick – Universal, sturdy & secure, low maintenance
  • Timber – Varying types & colours, good insulator, decorative, environmentally friendly
  • Metal – Affordable, sturdy, fire-resistant, various textures & designs
  • UPVC – Free maintenance, weatherproof, fire-resistant, adapts to temperature
  • Glass – lightweight & strong, eco-friendly installation, luxury finish
  • Weatherboard – good alternative to timber & UPVC cladding, various colours & textures


Cladding can be a great way to completely transform the exterior of a building without altering the structure. It will also help protect the outer structure from adverse weather or temperatures, preventing cracking and water permeation. It is essential that when installing cladding, you choose high-quality products and seek out an experienced cladding fitter to carry out the work. 



The Grenfell Inquiry


What Happened?

The Grenfell Tower disaster is one of the UK’s biggest tragedies and examples of neglect in the past decade. The fire led to the death of 72 residents, leaving many more with serious injuries. A lot has come to light after the extensive police inquiries. The event was entirely preventable, but there are also many other people whose lives are potentially at risk because they have the same type of cladding on their building. 


In the early hours of Wednesday 14 June 2017, the fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth floor apartment. The fire spread within a matter of minutes, and soon, 24 storeys of the building were alight. The fire spread rapidly due to the cladding installed on the tower’s exterior. Firefighters were able to arrive on the scene within 6 minutes, but the fire was already out of control. Grenfell Tower was refurbished in 2015 with an aim to improve the building. These renovations are what would later be determined as the cause of the tragedy. 


What Cladding Was Used?

To make Grenfell Tower warmer and drier, it was determined that exterior cladding would be installed to achieve this. The apartment block was completed in 1974 and needed renovations to make it more energy efficient and to update the appearance of the building. The upgrades were part of a project to make the surrounding area of Lancaster Green more widely used and bring it up to date with modern day architecture. 


The main body of cladding used in the renovations was Celotex RS5000. It is comprised of the highly combustible material polyisocyanurate. When burning, this type of plastic releases toxic gases such as cyanide, making it potentially fatal to people’s health. This type of cladding was fire-tested back in 2001 and failed. Plastic insulation was, in fact, banned for use on high-rise buildings, and it wasn’t approved for use on Grenfell Tower. Aluglaze window panels were also used to fill the gaps between the tower’s windows. These were made up of thin aluminium sheets covering highly combustible polystyrene insulation. 


So, Why Was This Cladding Used?

To achieve the thermo-efficiency they were aiming for, the construction company determined that Celotex was the only product capable of this and be thin enough to fit in the planned design for the building. At the time of the Grenfell renovations, the fire performance of building materials was not as strictly tested as they now have to be. This led to architects and builders using a range of materials that were not fit for use on multi-storey structures. However, they installed them anyway because they would never be checked. 


What Have We Learned From the Grenfell Tower Disaster?

Ultimately, a lot can be taken away from this unfortunate event. After an extensive ongoing inquiry, over four hundred hours of evidence have been gathered to determine who was ultimately to blame for the fire. Seventeen companies worked on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project, including all contractors and subcontractors involved. All managed to overlook or ignore the potential risks of the materials and design. Cheaper cladding materials were chosen to cut construction costs by Chelsea’s Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). 


The scale of the issue spreads much further than Grenfell alone. There are tens of thousands of buildings that are equally at risk of combustion and now under 24/7 fire watch to prevent another disaster as we saw in 2017. The inquiry is still ongoing, and ultimately, someone will be found guilty and have to compensate those affected by the fire and pay for corrective renovations to any other unsafe cladding. 


grenfell tower


Who Is Responsible For Replacing Cladding?

The government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has stated in 2019 that they will fund any replacements of “unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on high-rise private residential properties where building owners have failed to do so.” This budget currently sits at £1 billion with additional funding of £3.5 billion to remove cladding on apartment blocks of eighteen metres or more in height.


In January, Secretary of State at DLUHC, Michael Gove, promised that no leaseholder in any affected buildings would have to pay any money towards fixing cladding. Instead, the companies responsible for installing the cladding initially will have to pay up. In his letter to the residential property development industry, Gove states that people should not “[…] be landed with bills they cannot afford to fix problems they did not cause”. He goes on to say that the “government has accepted its share of responsibility […], but too many others have failed to live up to their responsibilities.” He has given these companies a deadline of March 2022 to negotiate settlements for the people affected.


All of the businesses held liable have been asked to:

  • Agree to make financial contributions to the fund going forward
  • Fund & undertake all necessary remediations over £11m they had a part in developing
  • Provide comprehensive information on any building over £11m with historic fire-safety defects


Some Landlords affected by these extra costs have decided to ask for payment from renters. The government believes that it is not morally right for Landlords to pass over the cost of these remedial works to their tenants because they are not responsible for the property maintenance. This poses an issue for those Landlords who cannot afford to pay for the work to be done. On top of this, renters are more inclined to want to leave their tenancy agreements if they know their home is a potential fire risk. Landlords of high-rises face unprecedented costs in order to make their buildings safe again. Thankfully, the original developers and producers of the unsafe cladding are now being held responsible for the massive part they played in this crisis.



Is the Government Doing Enough?

The DLUHC aims to make all leaseholders and people affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster central to the discussions at appropriate junctures to keep everyone informed about the processes going forward. They are prepared “to take all steps necessary” to fix the broken system. Despite these measures, there are still gaps in the government’s legislation. Remediation work is slow and there are people who still face costs because they do not qualify for the Building Safety Fund. Additionally, there is a lack of measures regarding other fire safety issues, and the stress of the process is taking its toll on many people’s mental health.


The UK government’s five-point plan to combat the cladding crisis may seem like it is resolving the issue, but many think it leaves a lot to be desired when effectively helping those who need it. 


What is the 5-Point Plan?

  1. UK government will provide £5.1 billion to cover their share of the remedial costs
  2. A loan scheme of £50/ month for leaseholders has been set up to repay cladding removal fees (for buildings 4-6 storeys in height)
  3. Two new developer taxes are to be instated – The Gateway 2 Developer Levy, and a tax on the UK Residential Property Sector
  4. World-class safety regime that promises to prevent another incident like Grenfell Tower
  5. Provision confidence to lenders & surveyors in the high-rise sector of the housing market 


Will This Be Effective In Solving the Cladding Crisis?

Despite this being the biggest ever investment of government funds into building safety, the plan does not do enough to solve the cladding crisis realistically. The sheer scale of the issue will take even more extensive measures to manage and a more considerable investment of money. The government funding only goes out to a limited number of cases. The dangerous cladding is now on so many high-rise blocks that it seems almost impossible to combat the issue. This means that as it stands, there will still be many people out there who must find a way to cover the costs of the remedial works without financial aid. 



What Is An EWS1?

Launched in 2019, an EWS1 or External Wall survey is a form that is now being completed when fire-reviewing a building. It involves checking whether buildings have been constructed using flammable materials and must be completed for any structures of eighteen metres or more in height. This survey is essential for ensuring people’s safety. However, it has begun to pose a mortgage problem. It is not necessary for one to be carried out, only recommended. It is up to the individual mortgage lender to decide whether to survey a building with an EWS1 and if they do, it can delay the home-buying process. It can also result in a mortgage application being denied. 


EWS1s also have the potential to trap leaseholders. Depending on the survey results, they may no longer be able to remortgage their properties. Some mortgage lenders even require an EWS1 for buildings that don’t even have external cladding. Another issue with the process is that only a select few people are qualified to carry out the survey. This slows down the process of house buying even more. It has led to three million people being trapped in their leaseholdings



What the Future Looks Like

The reality of the cladding crisis is much larger than could ever be predicted. Unfortunately, this means that it will be a while before people see any fundamental changes to their homes. Remedial works will take a long time to complete, and before they can be carried out, it needs to be determined who is to pay for the costs. The number of people affected by the cladding crisis is so many that it is now a public duty of care to ensure that they remain safe in their properties. Buildings that pose the greatest risk are monitored 24/7 to ensure that they don’t set alight. This all costs money and has to either be funded by the government or by the building owners. 


Removing the flammable cladding materials is the most significant task to be faced going forward. It may be years before all affected structures are remedied and made safe again. Until then, leaseholders have to face the fact that they may not be able to sell their properties until the issue is resolved. This may seem like a poor outcome, but further investigations still remain to gain a deeper insight into who is ultimately responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy. 


Michael Gove has recently updated the Building Safety Fund to make developers responsible for fixing their buildings instead of being covered by government money. He aims to secure £4 billion from these companies to put towards the cost of remedial works on several unsafe properties. This will make a huge difference to those who fear they may have to pay for this work themselves. Fixing dangerous cladding should not be the leaseholder’s responsibility, as they were not aware of its faults and serious risk to their health. 


Hopefully, this step in the right direction will restore faith in those living in high-rises. As well as additional safety measures, the regulated checks of current building materials and materials for future construction projects will ensure that no event like Grenfell will happen again in this country. The cladding crisis is far from over, but the right steps are being taken to resolve this terrible failure on leaseholders and those who lost their lives. 


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How The Cladding Industry Has Changed Post Grenfell

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