On 31 January 2021 the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government published guidance on a new relief fund to protect leaseholders from the enormous cost of employing a Waking Watch (“the Fund”).
A Waking Watch is a surveillance system carried out by trained fire wardens whose responsibilities include detecting signs of fires within the building and the facades, ensuring residents are alerted and summoning the fire service in the event of a fire. These services can be put in place much quicker than undertaking full cladding remedial works or installing alarm systems, but their costs can mount up quickly with the median cost per building being £11,361 per month (according to the Government’s figures revised on 31 January 2021). They were designed as a temporary fire safety measure following the Grenfell tragedy; however, some blocks have spent over £250,000 on these services since 2017.
What does the fund cover?
This £30 million Fund is designed to pay for the costs of installing an alarm system, to support leaseholders who are paying for a Waking Watch in buildings that are awaiting the removal of unsafe cladding.
The Fund will cover the reasonable upfront capital cost of the installation of an approved fire alarm system. It will not cover management fees, the cost of a Waking Watch, maintenance or repair of the alarm system or the costs of residual fire wardens should they still be deemed necessary.
Who is responsible?
Every block will have a party called the ‘Responsible Person’ who has control of the premises in connection with their business or through an undertaking. This may be the freeholder or landlord, but in the majority of cases it will be the block’s management company. It is the Responsible Person’s duty to ensure the safety of the residents in their building and they will need to make the application.
Who will be eligible?
For a building to be eligible, it must be:
- A private sector property;
- Be over 18 metres in height;
- Have a cladding system that is unsafe; and
- Have a Waking Watch system in place where the costs are passed on to the leaseholders.
Unfortunately, the fund will not be retrospective. Buildings that installed an alarm to replace a Waking Watch before 17 December 2020 will not be eligible for the fund. Christopher Pincher (the Housing Minister) said that this is to “incentivise the purchase of alarm systems in buildings where there is currently a waking watch in place and there is no common alarm system”.
The Government statistics show that the average cost of an alarm system is £55,911. This is the equivalent approximate cost of between 3-6 months of a Waking Watch (depending on the hourly rate). Over the course of the first year, this represents an approximate £50,000 to £150,000 saving per building. This is obviously a more attractive option for many leaseholders and relevant Responsible Persons will be jumping at the chance to apply to the fund.
That being said, £30 million divided by £55,911 only provides enough funding for around 535 buildings. Since Grenfell, the Government has identified around 457 buildings with similar aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. However, this does not take into account buildings with other kinds of combustible materials such as high-pressure laminate which are also unsafe. By some estimates, there are a further 1,678 high-rise buildings in the country with non-ACM (but still unsafe) cladding. We cannot know how many of these may qualify for the Fund, but it seems likely that there will be buildings that miss out if they do not act quickly.
In addition, the funding has been allocated to specific areas of the country, with £22 million of the £30 million fund being divided between 8 main metropolitan areas such as Greater London (£16.1m), Greater Manchester (£2.1m) and Birmingham (£1.1m). Buildings outside the main 8 areas may miss out on funding even if they apply early.
The Fund is not designed to be an alternative to the remediation of unsafe cladding. These remedial works still need to be undertaken. The Government has provided a separate £1.6 billion fund to support these remediation costs (which we have discussed previously here). This Fund is just another part of the Government’s commitment to improve the safety of high-rise buildings ahead of the anticipated passing of the Building Safety Bill.