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High Rise Properties Update

Published on 28/10/2019

Our homeowner customers may be aware of the recent press surrounding problems homeowners, living in properties with external cladding,  may be facing when trying to sell or re-mortgage.  The recent story, viewable here, in the Scotsman Newspaper reflecting the problem faced.

To further assist any of our affected customers, we thought it would be beneficial to provide you some detail of our involvement in this area, a little history of the cladding problem since the tragic events of Grenfell and how this issue has developed since 2017.

In June 2017, in line with the approach being taken by the Scottish Government, we considered all high-rise properties factored by us, undertaking the following:

  1. Contacted each local authority, where a high-rise property is factored by us, and enquired what action they are taking. We already knew that Scottish Government had written to them in relation to council owned stock but believed it prudent to enquire if they planned to extend their investigation into privately-owned high-rise blocks.
  2. Contacted Scottish Government Communities, Social Security and Equality Secretary, who was the appointed chair of the ministerial working group, convened on 20 June 2017 to examine building and fire safety regulatory frameworks, and enquired what action the Scottish government was taking in relation to privately-owned high-rise blocks.
  3. Contacted each Fire and Rescue Service department, where a high-rise property is factored by us, and enquired what action they were taking in relation to high rise blocks, particularly where we were aware that they carried out periodic inspections of communal areas and provide written reports. We understood visits had already taken place at properties factored by us.
  4. Contacted each housebuilder of HPMS factored high rise blocks and enquired what action if any, they were taking. Several housebuilders were already in contact with us.

In August 2017, in reference to Glasgow, the fourth meeting of the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety took place on 10th August 2017 and the following information appears on the Government’s website, having been extracted from the notes of this meeting:

“30 of 32 local authorities have reported that ACM cladding has not been used on any privately-owned high-rise domestic buildings. Edinburgh and Glasgow are completing their investigations and it was acknowledged that this would take time due to the numbers involved. Scottish Government officials are in close contact with both local authorities and have offered additional assistance.”

“Detailed intelligence continues to be gathered on the use of ACM in the cladding systems of buildings in Scotland. This remains focussed on any high-rise properties where people sleep overnight that have not already been captured by local authorities’ initial investigations and any other types of property where there are expected to be vulnerable people living.”

“Was updated that 5 surveyors have been recruited to assist Edinburgh and Glasgow in the remaining checks they have still to complete on privately-owned high-rise buildings.”

In September 2017, the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety met again on 8th September 2017 with the following points of interest arising:

“31 local authorities had reported that no private high-rise housing had ACM. Following discussion on information submitted by Glasgow City Council MWG expressed concern at the detail and quality of information provided particularly in relation to type and extent of ACM identified, and requested that further analysis was undertaken”

“UK fire tests were complete, and results confirmed that the requirements of Scottish building regulations would not allow for use the same combustible materials as those found at Grenfell. UK Government would consolidate and publish information regarding UK fire testing results to fully inform building owners.”

It is our understanding that Edinburgh City Council were one of the 31 Local Authorities confirming this position.  This is further identified by way of the FOI response dated 15th March 2019, which can be viewed here.

With specific reference to privately-owned High-Rise properties in Glasgow, the fifth meeting of the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety took place on 5th October 2017 with the following points of interest arising:

“Glasgow City Council (GCC) officials gave an oral update on their work to establish whether high rise privately owned domestic buildings used Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) in their cladding systems. GCC confirmed they had conducted further scrutiny of the information given to the Ministerial Working Group (MWG) at the meeting on the 8th September 2017.  GCC officials gave details of the ongoing work to communicate and engage with private high-rise building owners, residents and factors. The MWG was given assurance by GCC and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) that there had been full engagement between them and that all buildings identified with ACM in their cladding systems had received an operational fire safety visit.   GCC stated that they will prioritise any required actions in relation to any buildings with ACM in their cladding systems, working collaboratively with owners and factors and the SFRS, to ensure any required testing of materials is done and that a satisfactory conclusion is reached. GCC was clear that the safety of residents in these buildings is a priority and gave assurance that they will continue to liaise proactively with residents, owners and factors to offer advice and assistance.”

To view these minutes in full you can visit the Scottish Government website.  Further to these meetings, on the 10th October the Minister for Local Government and Housing wrote to the Local Government and Communities Committee confirming the following:

“On Thursday 5 October officials from Glasgow City Council (GCC) attended the Ministerial Working Group on building and fire safety and gave an oral update on the current situation and the further scrutiny that had been carried out. GCC officials confirmed that 24 private high-rise domestic buildings in Glasgow have ACM in their cladding systems. The position in respect of 1 further building remains to be stablished and GCC have written to the factor asking for further information as quickly as possible. GCC have decided that 22 of these buildings are low risk as the extent of ACM is limited. All have received a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) operational assurance visit and have not identified any cause for concern in terms of the fire safety of the buildings. The remaining 2, with extensive coverage required further testing to establish the type of ACM.”

Thereafter, on the 16th October 2017 Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, wrote to the Local Government and Communities Committee confirming, in relation to their investigations, the following:

“We have completed the review of the information we hold and have subsequently received in relation to private dwellings above 18m and have shared this with colleagues in Scottish Government”

“We have informed all residents and owners of the available information about the type and location of ACM on their property, information about their factor, and steps already taken by their factor of which the Council was aware”

In January 2018, the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety met again on 31st January 2018 with the following points of interest arising:

“Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), SG officials updated the Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on the information returned by Local Authorities (LAs) regarding ACM. No further cases of ACM on high-rise private or social domestic buildings have been reported.

Glasgow City Council (GCC) has reported 6 high-rise non-domestic buildings with sleeping accommodation have ACM present. Aberdeen City Council (ACC) has reported 1 non-domestic building with ACM and 5 further non-domestic buildings which require further investigation. ACC will provide a further update to SG officials when this investigation is complete. The SFRS has carried out fresh fire safety audits and all identified buildings remain safe. The expectation is that the respective local authorities will work with owners to commission a fire engineer’s report and establish whether any additional action needs to be taken to reduce fire risk to the fabric of these buildings.”

The MWG also discussed the Interim Report on the review by Dame Judith Hackitt

“SG officials updated the MWG on the industry summit meeting held in London on the 26 January, held following publication of the interim report. Although Dame Judith’s review is of the English system, SG officials are contributing to her work, helping Dame Judith understand the way the Scottish system operates and also to ensure, where appropriate, lessons for improvement in Scotland are also considered.  MWG was content that that scope of the 3 review groups set up in Scotland, despite the differences between the Scottish and English systems, mirrored the scope of issues being considered by Dame Judith, however this would continue to be kept under review. 

The MWG was asked to note that Dame Judith intends to visit Scotland on the 9th March and SG officials are liaising with UK government to develop a programme.”

In a further development in January 2018, on a similar, but separate topic, the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety at their meeting of 31st January 2018 discussed the Governments current investigations into buildings with External Wall Insulation (EWI).

The action points and summary of the meeting identified the following:

“On 9 November a letter was issued to LAs, housing associations and private sector property factors informing of the need for building owners to check that there had been proper specification and installation of certain EWI systems.

MWG stated that this work remains a priority. SG officials will continue to monitor returns in order to develop a clear picture.  SG officials to identify if there are any patterns emerging which highlight specific installation programmes or contractors where problems have occurred in order that further investigations can be targeted.”

Whilst there was no definitive confirmation on the buildings affected or the EWI’s used, in line with the approach being taken by the Scottish Government, we contacted each local authority, where buildings are factored by us, requesting confirmation of any buildings they believe affected and enquired what action they are taking.

Following on from this, March 2018, we wrote to 27 Local Authorities, where we factor properties, asking them their intentions surrounding the review of their building warrants for any buildings in their area that have been constructed with external wall insulation systems with a rendered (or brick slip) finish at any time, or those that have been retrofitted with these systems within the last 15 years.  We further asked that where any buildings were identified whether they would subsequently notify the relevant building owners of their findings and any intended actions.  We identified that 14 of the 27 Local Authorities written to did not respond. Of the 13 Local Authorities who did respond to us, they confirmed one of the following positions:

  • They had no affected buildings
  • Given the volume of building warrants they were still reviewing their records.
  • Where any affected buildings are identified (following these ongoing checks), they would provide the relevant owners with the appropriate information directly.

In October 2018, Hacking and Paterson Management Services were made aware of the recent guidance note issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government entitled ‘Advice for owners of buildings which are partially clad in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems’, the content of which will be worrying for any homeowners affected by this issue.

The view of the Expert Advisory Panel at point 2 reads:

“The clearest way to ensure the safety of residents is to remove all ACM, including small or partial areas of ACM, and replace it with a safe material. This remains the most appropriate remediation solution.”

While this didn’t affect Scotland, we passed this guidance note to our homeowner customers affected by this issue and wrote to Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and Scottish Fire and Rescue Services seeking their further advice.

In December 2018 the Scottish Government Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety, shared its recommended changes, these being part of a number of actions for improving building and fire safety which were agreed on the 6th December by the Ministerial Working Group, set up following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. These include:

  • An additional key change in building standards will be to reduce the height from 18m to 11m and extend the range of new buildings for the use of non-combustible cladding.
  • Extending mandatory installation of sprinklers in flatted accommodation and in larger multi-occupancy dwellings and those which provide care.
  • Measures to improve evacuation, using sound alerts and two escape stairs in all new high rise residential buildings.
  • Developing a new documented compliance plan for high risk buildings to be prepared and maintained by the owner or developer – from pre-application to completion. This will set out the verifier planned inspection regime.
  • Strengthening enforcement guidance.
  • Development of a database to capture and maintain safety critical information for existing high-rise residential buildings.
  • Specific fire safety guidance to residents of high-rise domestic buildings and the introduction of guidance for fire risk assessments.

These are in addition to the new minimum standard for smoke and fire alarms, extending the existing high standard currently required in private rented housing to all homes. The new standard will come into force from February 2021.

For the full details, please visit here and to read the full findings of the Review Panel on Building Standards (Fire Safety) in Scotland, please visit here.

Moving into 2019, we have received increasing requests from building surveyors and lenders advising that the lender required a written statement from the Building Owner (and/or agent) under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 confirming the safety of any building with cladding.  It is our understanding that this is a position that cannot arise as the legislation referred to is only applicable in England and Wales and does not have any standing in Scotland.  Latterly, lenders have been introducing sections 53 and 54 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 as the legislation their requests rely on, however, again, it is our understanding that these sections of the legislation do not apply to domestic buildings and cladding covering the external façade of a building is not included.

Surveyors are now asking Property factors to sign a “Certificate of Compliance”, as can be viewed here however, as you will note, qualifications for the signatory to this certificate must be aligned to one of the professions listed as acceptable by MHCLG Information Note 1 Annex A, which can be viewed here, page 19 detailing the organisations qualified to sign the document.

As you will note, Property factors are not included within this group of organisations and given this, HPMS wrote to the following:

  • Scottish Government
  • All 32 Local Authorities
  • Each of the Organisations on the MHCLG Information note
  • All member firms of the identified trade bodies

A copy of HPMS’s letter along with the response from the Scottish Government can be viewed here and here.  In terms of the responses from the professional bodies, approximately 20% have responded and of those who have responded, nearly all have confirmed that as the legislation is only applicable in England and Wales, neither they or their member firms can assist.  Of those that did respond, they confirmed they were willing to try and help, but could not sign the certificate as requested, without undertaking an extensive and disruptive survey at considerable cost to homeowners, the matter does seem at an impasse.

Hacking and Paterson Management Services have now had discussions with Scottish Government, RICS, PMAS and multiple solicitor’s, surveyors and Estate Agents and believe that a solution must be reached through discussions between Scottish Government, UK Finance and RICS.

All affected homeowners need a sensible way forward plotted, which, separates the issues in Scotland, from those in England.

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