Progress in remediating dangerous cladding Contents


Three years after the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people lost their lives, only a third (155 out of 455) of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-style flammable cladding had had their cladding replaced with a safe alternative. Progress has been unacceptably slow, a conclusion accepted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department). The Department has missed its target badly for Grenfell-style cladding to be removed from all high-rise blocks by June 2020, other than in a few exceptional cases. The Department’s new target is for works on the remaining high-rise blocks to be completed by the end of 2021. It is imperative that the new deadline be met.

Most residents in blocks with dangerous cladding face exorbitant costs of funding interim safety measures (such as ‘waking watches’) while waiting for the cladding to be removed. Leaseholders have been trapped in this situation, unable to sell their flats which are worth nothing. This accentuates the urgent need for the replacement of dangerous cladding to be accelerated. Many residents have reported worsening mental health as a result of worries about their safety, and the life-changing bills they face for remediation works.

While the Department has made £600 million available to fund the replacement of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding (as used on Grenfell) on buildings above 18 metres, by April 2020 it had only paid out £134 million, due in part to difficulties in working with private building owners. By April 2020, cladding had been replaced on two-thirds of student accommodation blocks and nearly half of the social housing buildings, compared to only 13.5% of private sector residential buildings.

In March 2020 the Department announced that a further £1 billion would be made available to fund the replacement of other forms of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings, although it estimates this would meet only around a third of the total costs. It has no plans to support residents or social landlords to meet the costs of replacing dangerous cladding in buildings below 18 metres, of providing ‘waking watches’, or of fixing other serious defects brought to light by post-Grenfell inspections. Although the Department recognises that care homes would be at additional risk due to the difficulties in evacuating residents in the event of a fire, it has no knowledge of whether any of the 40,000 care homes, sheltered housing and hospitals below 18 metres in height are clad with unsafe material.

The Grenfell disaster has exposed serious shortcomings in the construction industry. But while the Department is clear that building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings, it is the Department which is responsible for the building regulation system, which it accepts has been “not fit for purpose” for many years. These failings have left a legacy of problems for the Department to address which extend beyond the immediate need to remove dangerous cladding. A lack of skills, capacity, and access to insurance is hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks, and thereby to restore the confidence of buyers and mortgage lenders in sales of flats across the country. Leaseholders are in limbo and facing huge bills because of a system-wide failure to protect purchasers.

Published: 16 September 2020