FAQs about cladding and fire safety remediation costs

Last updated: 5 July 2022

 

Will you charge leaseholders for fire safety works related to historic defects? What about work related to interim measures? 

We’ve long called for clarity from the Government around who should pay for fire remediation costs. We welcome the Government announcement that leaseholders shouldn’t have to pay, along with further detail about recovering costs from developers. And we’re glad these commitments carry the full force of law, following the passage of the Building Safety Act 2022 on 28 April. 

We’re pleased to confirm we’ve updated our policy to reflect the new Government position. We will not pass on costs to leaseholders for: 

  • any fire safety remediation works we undertake related to historic defects as defined by the Building Safety Act 2022 
  • work carried out relating to interim measures - this includes temporary alarm installations and evacuation management costs (such as Waking Watch).

This applies to all leaseholders*, irrespective of the height of the building you’re living in.

*This may not apply if you’re a buy to let investor or if you own more than three properties.

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Will you still be charging leaseholders for anything? 

Leaseholder recharging for day-to-day costs and maintenance works will continue as normal. This will include day-to-day fire safety costs, which have always been charged to leaseholders, such as the maintenance of safety equipment and regular inspections.

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Will I be able to sell my flat now? 

We hope the measures the Government have introduced will mean leaseholders will be able to sell their homes again without difficulty. However, we have no control over a lender’s decision around lending against your home. 

We’re reliant on the Government putting pressure on lenders to lend against these buildings. Although we have no direct control over this, we’ll continue to lobby Government on your behalf. In the meantime, we’ll do all we can to support you and would encourage you to speak to us about your options. We’re happy to discuss things on a case-by-case basis.

As we’ve explained, the national shortage of qualified assessors means we’re unable to give a firm date at the moment for the start of works in particular blocks. We’ll let leaseholders know when their building has been reassessed and discuss the details of any works that are needed on a case-by-case basis. We can reassure you we’re doing everything we can to keep this process moving. We’ll continue to maintain interim fire safety measures, where necessary, to ensure your safety.

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Does my building still require works? 

We want to make sure you’re safe in the building you live in. This has always been our number one priority.

Since the Grenfell tragedy in June 2017, we’ve complied with the Government’s changing advice and guidance around building safety.

To assess which buildings required works, we’d previously followed the MHCLG’s (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) “Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings” [January 2020], and the subsequent ‘Supplementary note to building safety advice for building owners’ [November 2020]. 

This guidance was officially withdrawn in January 2022 and replaced with PAS 9980. PAS 9980 is a new code of practice for the fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing multistorey and multi-occupied residential buildings. We’re now using this new guidance to determine whether works are needed. 

We’ve undertaken some pilot ‘PAS 9980’ assessments on our blocks, in accordance with new government guidance issued in January 2022.

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When will you be assessing my building?

We’re keen to ensure we have up-to-date fire safety assessments, using the new PAS 9980 code of practice. 

The national shortage of qualified assessors makes this incredibly challenging, but we’ll conduct PAS 9980 assessments as quickly as we’re able. Once we’ve completed the assessment we’ll share the findings with you and explain what this means for your building. 

We’ll be following the requirements set out in the Government’s PAS 9980 guidance. This may mean the same work is still required at your building, some work is needed or work is no longer required at all. We’re hoping to have reviewed all of our blocks with the highest risk by 31 March 2023 and will let you know as soon as we have an update.

While assessments are ongoing, we’ll continue to maintain interim fire safety measures, where necessary, to ensure your safety. We’ll cover the cost of these arrangements. Our approach to fire safety will remain proportionate and we’ll only carry out works where they’re reasonably required.

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Are you planning to freeze our rent and service charge while you undertake any remediation works?

No, we will not be freezing your rent or service charge.

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Are you engaging with the national leaseholder campaigns?

We’re an active member of the National Housing Federation, which is meeting regularly with UK Cladding Action and other leaseholder groups on behalf of all housing associations.

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What’s the difference between a Waking Watch, Evacuation Steward and Evacuation Marshal?

Waking Watch:

A Waking Watch is a short-term measure for buildings which are referred to as ‘high risk’. It’s a service where operatives regularly patrol the building within set periods of time.

A Waking Watch would remain in place whilst temporary measures, such as temporary alarms, are installed. The operatives also manage the evacuation and liaise with the fire service in the event of a fire.

Waking Watch generally only applies to buildings over 18m, though it may be considered necessary for buildings under 18m.

Evacuation Marshal:

Evacuation Marshals provide an ongoing presence in the highest risk buildings (generally only buildings over 18m) following the installation of the interim measures, such as the temporary alarm. They co-ordinate and manage the evacuation of the building and liaise with the fire service in the event of a fire.

Evacuation Steward:

An Evacuation Steward provides evacuation management to a resident who is otherwise unable to self-evacuate. Residents are identified as requiring an Evacuation Steward through a formal person-centred fire risk assessment and personal emergency evacuation plan.

Evacuation Stewards can be required in any building where the evacuation strategy has been changed to self-evacuation and where there is a resident who’s unable to appropriately self-evacuate.

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Are you still pursuing third parties for costs? 

Yes, we’re continuing our efforts to pursue developers, warranty providers and other third parties for costs. This may impact on the speed at which your building will have any required works completed.

As a not-for-profit organisation, we’re under an obligation to protect our charitable aims. We reinvest our income back into providing services for our 90,000+ residents, so it’s vital we do all we can to reduce the financial impact of meeting these fire safety costs on our wider work.

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Why won’t you let me see certain documents? Surely I’m entitled to know about my building?

We want to be as open and transparent as we can be with you. We understand why it might be frustrating not being able to see every document. However, one of the reasons we’re unable to share certain, sensitive, documents at this stage is they could form part of a legal case for recovering costs from others.

If we disclose this information the chances of a successful claim may be lost or significantly damaged.

These reports are also technical and complex and intended for suitably qualified experts. They will consider them in addition to other relevant information for the building and occupants. However, there are occasions where we can provide a summary which we’re happy to share with leaseholders.

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Who will cover the cost of installing, maintaining, testing and removing temporary fire alarms installed as an interim safety measure in our building? 

We will cover this cost and can confirm it will not be recharged to leaseholders.

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Will leaseholders be re-charged for costs relating to PAS9980 re-assessments?

No, leaseholders will not be charged for any PAS9980 re-assessments.

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What compensation will be made available to affected leaseholders who continue to remain trapped in their building, unable to sell or staircase? 

We’ve set aside significant funds to spend on fire safety works over the next five years. Unlike private developers, we’re a not-for-profit organisation and we reinvest our income back into providing services for our 90,000+ residents. While we’re not offering compensation to individual households, we will be protecting our leaseholders from costs as set out on this web page.

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I’m an Optivo leaseholder, but Optivo is not the freeholder of the building I live in. Will you be passing on costs to me?

We won’t charge leaseholders for any fire safety remediation works related to historic defects as defined by the Building Safety Act 2022. This applies to all our shared owners and leaseholders.

To clarify, this applies to all leaseholders*, irrespective of the height of the building you’re living in. We will vigorously continue our efforts to pursue developers, warranty providers and other third parties for costs.

*This may not apply if you’re a buy to let investor or if you own more than three properties.

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We’ve read about Optivo’s proposed merger with Southern Housing Group. Will this affect your position on fire remediation costs being passed to leaseholders?

The full details of our announcement is here (www.optivo.org.uk/firesafety). We can confirm the proposed merger with Southern Housing Group will not change our position on this.

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This is affecting my mental health – how can you support me?

We’re really sorry you’re having to go through this. This is a situation many other residents across the country are facing too.

Our staff are empathetic to the situation you’re in.

You’re not alone. If you’re feeling stressed or are struggling, please talk to us and we can signpost you to support services. The NHS has lots of useful resources, while the Samaritans and Mind may prove helpful too.

We have ‘TogetherAll online’ which is a 24/7 mental health service. This service offers community and professional mental health support, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service is registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and is clinically proven to help those who are struggling with stress, isolation, anxiety, depression and other common mental health issues. Free access is available for all Optivo residents by getting in touch with us via email or by calling 0800 121 60 60 and asking for our Wellbeing Team.

We offer wellbeing one to ones. Speak to one of our Wellbeing Officers to explore resources and techniques to help improve your mental wellbeing. Email us here.

Finally, you’ll find more information on our wellbeing page.

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