Cladding - The official government response
- Published: Tuesday 15 September, 2020
- By: Commercial Trust
The government have responded to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s (HCLG) report on the progress of the cladding remediation, following the devastation of Grenfell Tower.
Although the HCLG welcomed the £1billion Building Safety Fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2020, they continue to call for a fund that applies to high-risk buildings that covers all costs associated with remediation works.
One of the biggest concerns is the issue surrounding the External Fire Wall Review (EWS1), which has been acknowledged by the government in its response to the HCLG.
The EWS1 process was created by RICS to support valuers to make fair judgements and lenders to make informed decisions on high-risk, high-rise blocks. However, due to the lack of qualified and insured Chartered Fire Engineers, building inspections are taking years to be carried out.
The HCLG recommended introducing a much faster process, by relaxing the rules on who is able to undertake the EWS1 surveys. The government however is opposed to this idea, they suggest that a relaxation of the rules would not be the most suitable way to ensure that the work that is done, is completed to an appropriate standard.
Instead, the government has been working closely with RICS and mortgage lenders to address issues. They have recognised the need to prioritise the most urgent cases by introducing an ‘appropriate triage’ into the process at the valuation stage.
Flat owners will welcome this update, as some have been unable to sell or even remortgage their property until a EWS1 has been completed and signed off.
Delays for landlords
Janet Armstrong-Fox, Partner and Head of Private Client Property at Collyer Bristow, explains the impact of the delay, stating that:
“All property owners living in residential blocks above 18 metres have been seriously impacted by the review of external cladding, irrespective of whether that cladding poses a fire risk or not.
“Mortgage lenders require an External Fire Wall Review report, form EWS1, but that can only be completed by a small number of individuals. Delays are leaving flat owners unable to sell their property or remortgage to avoid existing mortgage lending reverting to more expensive standard variable rate products.”
“Flat owners have been left in limbo for far too long, with many in perfectly safe buildings left out of pocket or stuck in a property that is no longer suitable for them.
“Whilst it is encouraging that government has broadly accepted the recommendations of the HCLG report, it must implement them as quickly as is possible. If not, flat owners will remain in further limbo.”
The HCLG have also recommended for the government to make it fairer for social housing providers to access the Building Safety Fund.
In response, the government are providing funding for buildings owned by social sector landlords to cover costs of remediation, which would otherwise have been borne by leaseholders.
Second judge rules “No DSS” as unlawful
A second so called "No DSS" case has been supported and won, after a district judge ruled that an agent had acted in a discriminatory and unlawful manner. ors.
These types of "No DSS" policies have become a controversial element of the rental market, however in July district judge, Victoria Mark, ruled the following in the courts:
“Rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully discriminating on the grounds of sex and disability."
The second "No DSS" case
The case in question was brought against an estate agent, by homelessness and housing charity Shelter, on behalf of a disabled father that is receipts of benefits.
After hearing the evidence surrounding the case, it became apparent that the estate agent was in breach of the Equality Act as they prevented the man from viewing a number of properties, purely on the ground that he was receiving housing benefits.
The solicitor representing the defendant successfully argued that stopping those on housing benefits from viewing properties is in breach of the Equality Act as it ‘disproportionately’ affects disabled people, who are more likely to need support paying their rent.
The defendant’s family lost their home in 2018 after asking their landlord to make some disability adaptations to the property, which led to their landlord serving a Section 21 ‘no fault eviction’ notice.
When searching for a new home, they were told by the estate agent in question that it was ‘company policy’ to refuse to rent to those that are receiving benefits, despite him having a clean rental record.
Following the DSS discrimination, the family made a homeless application to the council, which is when Shelter’s legal team stepped in and helped them secure the social home they live in now.
Speaking of his experience, the defendant in the case said:
“I feel relieved that it’s over.
“It’s been a very stressful time. It is amazing to have won – not just for me but for the tens of thousands of people like me facing this discrimination. Hopefully now it’s clear that the law is on our side, things will change.”
Ruling out "No DSS"
This is the second "No DSS" case that Shelter’s legal team has won. The first case occurred in July 2020 involving a single mum of two.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive at Shelter, commented:
“Shelter has been fighting ‘No DSS’ discrimination for the past two years because we know it pushes people to the brink of homelessness and leaves many feeling worthless.
“This win proves yet again that blanket bans against people on housing benefit are unlawful because they overwhelmingly bar women and disabled people, who are more likely to need help with their rent, from finding a safe home.
“It’s senseless that people who can afford private rents are being forced into homelessness by blind prejudice.
“It’s now time for landlords and letting agents to do better; they must consider tenants fairly based on their ability to afford the rent – not where their income comes from.
“And Shelter will continue campaigning until ‘No DSS’ is fully stamped out.”
New guidance on student rentals
Positive news for landlords, as students move back into rented accommodation, now the academic year begins.
The uncertainty surrounding the re-opening of universities, due to the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many landlords to worry about the occupancy of their student properties.
Although some universities have changed to teaching online, many university students have chosen to continue to move into private rental accommodation, possibly to experience the student lifestyle or to complete online learning with their peers.
With this though, the government have advised for letting agents, universities and accommodation providers to consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies, to ensure that moves adhere to the Covid-19 guidelines.
Adjusting to Covid-19 rules
The Deposit Protection Service (DPS) has provided new guidance to help landlords manage student accommodation check-ins during the pandemic.
Matt Trevett, Managing Director at The DPS, explained:
“Some students may not know what to expect when moving during the pandemic, and many landlords and agents are still adjusting to how public health measures affect setting up new tenancies.
“This guidance, which takes into account latest government advice on moving, will help ensure a safe and efficient move in line with the regulations, as well as help avoid disputes at the end of a tenancy.”
The government recognises that there will be a mass movement of students, creating new households, which adds a degree of risk, which is why the DPS has encouraged landlords and students to read the government’s guidance to understand the restrictions on moving.
In England, members of only two households are permitted to enter a property at any one time. The government have allowed physical check-ins to take place by a landlord or letting agent, as students form a ‘household’ when they move into the property together.
When checking in, the DPS have advised for students to reduce the number of tenants attending the check in, if possible.
However, this is dependent on whether or not tenants are undertaking a joint or single tenancy for the property. If it is a joint tenancy, only one tenant needs to attend the check in, but if each tenant has a separate tenancy for their individual room everyone will be required to attend to receive and sign their own inventory.
If non-physical check-ins are preferred, the DPS suggests for landlords to carry out electronic check-ins, and pass on relevant documents to student tenants via email or post to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
The DPS acknowledges that moving into a new property is sometimes stressful, and encourages tenants to be thorough and descriptive when completing an inventory check. They have encouraged student tenants to take good quality images of any damages to accompany the check-in report to prevent disputes at the end of tenancies.
The DPS has answered a number of FAQ’S from landlords and letting agents on how best to manage accommodation check-ins via its website.
This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.