Housing associations are being locked out of the government’s Building Safety Fund. They need more robust support to keep their residents safe, writes Emma Richman of Peaks & Plains Housing Trust.
In its first two weeks alone, the government received 458 registrations for its £1 billion Building Safety Fund to finance the removal of combustible non-ACM cladding from buildings above 18 metres.
The latest report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) select committee, published in June, found there’s still 2,000 high-risk residential buildings with dangerous cladding in England alone.
Looking at these figures, and in detail at the Fund itself, it’s abundantly clear that it’s nowhere near sufficient. In fact, the HCLG Committee’s report suggests that the £1 billion Fund would cover only a third of the 1,700 residential buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding measuring 18 metres and above, with no consideration for lower-rise residential accommodation.
It also suggests that it is unlikely that housing associations will qualify for funding as the threshold set to demonstrate that paying for remediation works would make an organisation financially unviable.
In many cases, registered providers have already progressed with remediation works to ensure the safety of residents and to meet ongoing compliance regulation, without any certainty on funding they would receive from the government, let alone their eligibility.
The Fund’s prospectus makes clear that it is not available to any residential building where remediation work has been committed to, or where work had started on site, prior to the announcement of the fund.
This comes as a further blow to housing providers, many of which are facing huge strains on resources in response to COVID-19. Registered providers are being pushed to the brink to prioritise limited resource where it’s needed in order to meet the scale of remediation work required to address all safety concerns – not just cladding – and in the timeframe that’s needed to to do this effectively.
These ongoing constraints on resource, coupled with the fact that a vast majority of housing associations may not qualify for any funding at all, will further impact the delivery of new affordable homes and other essential services. These include support for vulnerable residents or those facing financial challenges due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
Another recent report published by the UK Cladding Action Group found that of 550 leaseholders and tenants surveyed, nine out of 10 of said their mental health had deteriorated as a direct result of the discovery of fire safety problems at their building. Nearly a quarter reported suicidal feelings or had considered self-harm as a result of their situation.
These are extremely alarming figures which cannot be ignored. Especially in the current climate where people are facing further mental health and wellbeing challenges as they come to terms with how COVID-19 has changed their lives.
As housing providers we must uphold our responsibility for the wellbeing of our residents, and engage with customers to understand their needs, keep them informed of progress with repairs and safety works, and address any concerns, so we can continue to provide safe homes for them to live in and for some to now work from.
However, we cannot do this without a more robust package of support from the government when the resources within housing associations are being stretched so thinly. Many are dealing with increasing concerns around rent arrears, along with an increase in UC claimants, and other tenant welfare concerns – not to mention the backlog of normal repairs services that has built up throughout lockdown.
The government must recognise that there is finite resource available. By making it almost impossible for housing providers to qualify for the Building Safety Fund, organisations will have no choice but to look at reallocation of funds. This will be to the detriment of the essential services that we provide to residents, as well as slowing the progress on building new, affordable homes to address the housing shortage in the UK.
Emma Richman is Executive Director of Operations at Peaks & Plains Housing Trust and a member of the National Housing Federation’s Building Safety Group.