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Free Safety Assessments for Homeowners.

Published on 23/03/2021

Following on from our series of stories following the issues affecting many residing in high rise flats, we were pleased to hear the announcement coming from Scottish Government confirming that homeowners, whose flats have external cladding, will be offered free safety assessments to determine whether their properties have material needing to be removed.

The proposal, which paves the way for public funding for remediation, is a key recommendation in a report published on 19th March by the Ministerial Working Group on Mortgage Lending and Cladding. All of the recommendations made have been accepted by the Scottish Government, which has committed to invest all the funding received in consequentials from the UK Government so far to address cladding problems. Future consequentials which are yet to be clarified will also be used to support the work.

Scottish Government advise that, subject to the outcome of the election, a Single Building Assessment programme will be launched to carry out the safety assessments. It is expected that the majority of inspections will show that the building is safe, giving peace of mind to homeowners. Where problems are identified, this will help to identify the scale of funding needed to take necessary remedial work.

A Single Building Assessment is undertaken on a whole building rather than by an individual flat owner. This will release affected buyers and sellers from difficulties in accessing mortgages without them having to pay for the current External Wall System (EWS1) Report on their individual property.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said:

“This is an important milestone for people who are living in buildings with cladding. I have heard personally from homeowners who have had to change their life plans or are living with real concern about safety – no one wants that uncertainty and anxiety to continue. As part of this proposal, agreed unanimously by representatives of homeowners, surveyors, property managers, lenders and developers in our Ministerial Working Group, we will start assessments in June with remediation funding confirmed as soon as possible afterwards, possibly as early as August. By funding the Single Building Assessments we will have a clear picture of the scale of the issue. This will enable us to provide support for the remediation work required – I do not want people left facing unfair remediation costs. This approach will also save homeowners hundreds of pounds that they may otherwise have faced through paying for an EWS1. We are committing every penny of the £97.1 million consequentials we have received so far towards this ambitious programme of work. We cannot guarantee that there will be enough public funds to support all the work that is needed, and other parties such as developers must continue to play their part where construction is not as it should have been. We have not yet been given clarity about how much or when we will receive the further funding promised from the UK Government and we continue to urgently press for this. When we do receive this, we will commit to ensuring it goes towards this major programme of work.”

Chris Ashurst, High Rise Scotland Action Group founder, said:

“Owners and residents have been living in a state of uncertainty and fear over the safety and saleability of their homes. I believe these recommendations can bring a ‘Door of Hope’ to all affected, while recognising that there can be no silver bullet to tackle this issue. I believe there are many reasons to welcome these recommendations. It is important that costs for assessments are borne by the Scottish Government and not homeowners. I also welcome the fact that assessments will be undertaken by suitably qualified professionals working to a common standard, and will encourage collaboration between individual owners and residents, and factors. This pilot scheme for expression of interest starts within a fortnight.”

All buildings within the scope of expert guidance on buildings with cladding will be included in the programme – this is around 700 high rise properties and many more at lower heights. The full report can be read here: Ministerial Working Group on Mortgage Lending and Cladding. And a Q&A on the Single Building Assessment programme has also been published.

These proposals build on guidance published last week by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The guidance, effective from April 2021, clarifies types of properties which will, and those which will not, require additional inspections as a result of concerns about fire safety.

A Single Building Assessment is one assessment undertaken on a whole building rather than secured by an individual homeowner of a flat. It will be undertaken against robust criteria and used for multiple purposes, including to provide a route to public funding for remediation. While these assessments will not be compulsory, the Scottish Government will make it easy for affected people to access them when the programme starts.

An EWS1 Report is the current process introduced by the RICS, UK Finance and the Building Societies Association in December 2019 to enable mortgage valuations of flats in blocks affected by potentially unsafe cladding. It provides a way for those selling property with external wall systems such as cladding to show that these have been assessed by an expert.

The Scottish Government will seek expressions of interest from property homeowners and factors starting at the end of this month for eight weeks, to identify those buildings which have already had a cladding or fire risk assessment that highlights a risk to life as a result of a cladding system, materials used and/or poor construction. These will be considered as part of the pilot phase of the Single Building Assessment Programme in June 2021. The first decisions on remediation within the funding available will be taken over the summer, prioritising the buildings deemed most likely to be at risk.

Having campaigned since 2017 for matters to be dealt with on the basis of safety, as opposed to the difficulties being experienced, we are pleased that our customers, and all other homeowners residing in such buildings will soon have the safety assurances they need, with those affected given a clear picture of what lies ahead for them, supported by the Scottish Government.

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