FAQs about cladding and fire safety remediation costs

 22 February 2022: Please note, we’re aware of the latest announcements made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about building safety.

Once our teams have been able to review and receive further details and clarity behind these announcements, we’ll update affected leaseholders about what the new measures mean for their building. This also means some of our FAQs on this page for residents affected by building fire safety issues could be subject to change. 

What's the latest position following the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about building safety on 10 January 2022 and 14 February 2022?

We’re pleased Government are working towards a solution to fund the cost of fire remediation work and give leaseholders the protection they need. We agree that the developers, contractors and manufacturers who contributed to the building safety crisis should be held accountable. We’re continuing to pursue developers and other third parties for costs. 

We’ve also consistently lobbied for a solution which protects all our affected leaseholders from building safety costs. We welcome the Government’s proposed cap on leaseholder costs (£10,000 for homes outside London and £15,000 for homes in the capital). We’re seeking clarity on exactly what this will cover together with timescales for implementation.

Paul Hackett, Optivo’s Chief Executive, met with government officials recently alongside other housing association leaders. At the meeting we emphasised the importance of government releasing further information as soon as possible. Our leaseholders need clarity, reassurance and an end to the uncertainty they’ve faced over recent years.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to review the new advice for assessing building safety, particularly PAS 9980 which government published in January.  We’re also awaiting the related Fire Safety Act Commencement Guidance. Once issued this will coincide with a Commencement Order, bringing the new Fire Safety Act into force. This is also expected to introduce a “building prioritisation tool” which will propose a risk-based assessment which we’ll then carry out on all of our blocks. 

Once our teams have been able to review the details behind these announcements, we’ll update affected leaseholders about what the new measures mean for their building. 

Due to the national shortage of fire engineers it’s difficult to give specific timescales at the moment. This shortage means it’s a challenge for us to reassess our blocks. We’re mindful any delay prevents leaseholders selling or re-mortgaging their homes and prolongs uncertainty and anxiety.

Our approach to fire safety will remain proportionate and we’ll only carry out works where they’re required. Keeping our residents safe in their building remains our number one priority.

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Have you paused your fire safety remediation programme? 

In November 2021, we wrote to leaseholders in blocks where we were proposing to start works, letting them know that Optivo had paused planned remediation to external wall systems whilst we await new fire safety guidance from the Government. 

This followed the announcement by the Secretary of State on 8 November 2021 that the existing advice note would be revoked by government and replaced with new guidance. 

As we explained in our previous answer, we’ll be reviewing our fire risk assessments against the government’s new fire safety guidance advice which was issued in January 2022 and imminent legislation.

We've committed to reassessing all fire inspection reports on these buildings, so that we can reconsider what works (if any) need to be carried out to ensure compliance with the new guidance.

Fire safety works to internal areas where these are required will continue. We’ll continue to do everything we can to keep you safe in your building.

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Will you be charging leaseholders for fire safety remedial works?

We’ve always been clear that recharging leaseholders is a last resort. We want to reassure you, wherever possible, we’re continuing to vigorously explore all options to recover fire safety remediation costs from others.
This includes, where applicable, the Developer/Construction Team, the Warranty Provider and Building Safety Fund. We're aware of the Government's proposed cap on leaseholder costs (click here for further information).

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Why won't you (Optivo) just pay for the works?

We’ve set aside significant funds to spend on fire safety works over the next five years. We’ll be covering the entire cost for all our rented residents, unless we’re able to recoup some from developers or warranty providers.

Unlike private developers, we’re a not-for-profit organisation. We reinvest our income back into providing services for our 90,000+ residents. To cover all remediation costs would greatly impact our ability to provide these services. It’s why we’ve been taking action to push for government funding.

Our huge investment in fire safety, including working on buildings previously certified as safe, is already having a big impact on other areas of our work.

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Can you not lobby the Government for support?

We’ve worked hard to push for more government support for leaseholders and housing associations to get through this funding crisis. We’re dedicating large amounts of senior staff time to raising this issue at the highest levels.

To have the biggest influence, we joined with other housing associations to lobby government. We’re an active member of the G15 Building Safety Group, which has engaging with government on funding and proposed legislation. The G15, of which we’re a member, is the group of London’s largest housing associations.

We’re also working with housing associations from across the country in the National Housing Federation (NHF) Building Safety National Group. This group has also pro-actively lobbied the government.

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What are you saying to government?

We continue to lobby government to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs. We’re doing so by meeting with:

  • Government officials

  • MPs representing constituencies in which we have homes

  • Senior figures at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

We’re also lobbying Government through the G15 and National Housing Federation. You can read more about our lobbying actions here.

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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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Why are you doing this now?

The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 uncovered a huge amount of uncertainty around what buildings are safe.
Since the Grenfell tragedy, the Government has set up investigations into materials and practices used in buildings.

We have to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread in all our buildings and bring buildings into line with new regulations. The investigations and temporary measures to keep residents safe and remedial works come at a huge cost.

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What is the Building Safety Fund?

The Government has set aside £5bn to meet the costs of removing and replacing unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on high-residential buildings (over 18 metres). This only applies to two buildings for us. 

We've been actively lobbying the Government and working with local MPs to make more funding available and ensure leaseholders and housing associations do not have to bear these costs.

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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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Who is paying for the Waking Watch and Evacuation Marshals?

Any costs we aren’t able to recover from any other party will, as a last resort, be charged to leaseholders through the service charge.

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Who pays for the Evacuation Steward(s)?

We will look to find a resident alternative accommodation if they're unable to self-evacuate. We may charge the resident for an Evacuation Steward if reasonable offers of alternative accommodation aren't accepted.

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Why do you charge 15% of the costs of the works for managing the works?

We spend a huge amount of time putting into place contractors who are able to deliver value for money, quality services and works. In addition to procuring the contracts, we also have to oversee what the contractor is doing and administer/manage the contract. This results in considerable cost to us which we cover by way of a fee of 15% of the cost of the works. The % fee charge is common for oversight of major works to blocks.
We’ve introduced a cap on the amount we charge via this fee. The cap is £2250 maximum per person.

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I feel like you're profiting out of this situation. Is that the case?

No, this is not true. We’ve set aside significant funds to spend on fire safety works over the next five years.
We’ll be covering the entire cost for all our rented residents, unless we’re able to recoup some from developers or warranty providers. Unlike private developers, we’re a not-for-profit organisation. As a not-for-profit organisation we reinvest our income back into providing services for our 90,000+ residents.

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Have you got anybody in place to carry out the works? And when will it start?

We've a partnership with ENGIE - a leading energy, services and regeneration specialist - to deliver the fire remediation work. We will keep you updated around what this means in terms of timescales for work on your building (click here for the latest position).

We’re sorry we’re not able to give specific dates at this stage, but we’re committed to sharing any information as soon as it becomes available.

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How long will works take on my building?

We’re keen to complete the fire safety works as quickly as possible. We ask you to be alert to potential fire risks around your home. We know this is a difficult situation and we’re doing all we can to find a solution. We will continue to keep you regularly updated.

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

We will not be freezing your rent or service charge. Where any demands for payment cause financial hardship we’ll work with you to agree flexible payment options to support you. At this stage, we’re continuing to do all we can to recover fire remediation costs from others. We will keep you updated on how this is progressing. We’ve always been clear we will only pass on costs to leaseholders after exhausting all options.

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What if I’m not able to pay for the cost of works?

We understand the timing of this is far from ideal given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and related financial concerns you may already have. We’re very sorry to add to this, however we’ve a legal obligation to meet fire safety regulations and government advice on cladding safety.

Where any demands for payment cause financial hardship we’ll work with you to agree flexible payment options to support you.

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I only own 25% of my flat, will I only have to pay 25% of the costs of the work attributable to my home?

Your lease will set out how much you may have to contribute towards the cost of works. It’s not related to the equity interest you hold in the home. You should've been provided with a copy of your lease when you bought your home. If not, your solicitor may be able to provide you with a copy.

Alternatively, you may find it's quicker and cheaper to buy a copy via the Land Registry: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/land-registry

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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.
We’ve always been clear Optivo will only pass on costs to leaseholders as a last resort, if all other options have been exhausted.

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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What is an EWS1 form?

Mortgage lenders are increasingly querying the make-up of external walls on buildings. These queries cover all building types and not just those with cladded materials on the exterior. This follows the Grenfell Tower fire and the Government releasing a number of building safety advice notes.

EWS stands for External Wall System. Many mortgage providers are currently asking for additional information about a building’s external wall system in an EWS1 form before they are willing to lend against it.

This issue is affecting leaseholders and building owners across the country. We've been calling for government action to ensure EWS1 forms are only required by lenders on the correct buildings.

The latest Government advice is lenders should not ask for EWS1 forms on buildings below 18 metres. You'll find more information here about the EWS1 form and what we're doing to help.

We’d encourage any homeowner who’s looking to staircase, remortgage, or sell their property to contact us first before incurring any fees for legal or financial advice. If you're unable to sell then please talk to us about what options may be available.

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When will an EWS1 form be ready for my building? Is my home worthless?

We’ve found some mortgage lenders will not lend where blocks require fire remedial works, although this doesn’t mean the homes have no value. Our fire engineers will produce satisfactory sign off documentation for the external wall system, to demonstrate compliance with building regulations, once the remedial works are completed.

We’re sorry this could leave some leaseholders in a difficult position, but please speak to us about your options.

We’re happy to discuss things on a case-by-case basis with homeowners who are currently in the staircasing, remortgaging, or sale process.

We’d strongly encourage any homeowner who’s looking to staircase, remortgage, or sell their property to contact us first before incurring any fees for legal or financial advice.

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Do you not understand how upsetting this is?

We completely understand this is causing concern for affected leaseholders and we’re sorry for any distress caused. But we’re doing all we can to avoid costs being passed to leaseholders.

We want to reassure affected leaseholders we’re continuing to explore all options to recover these costs from others. We will only charge leaseholders as a last resort.

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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: wellbeing2@optivo.org.uk 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: wellbeing2@optivo.org.uk

Finally, you’ll find more information on our wellbeing page here: Optivo - Wellbeing service

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