high rise task force

New £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund welcomed, but all residents must benefit

The Government announced today a new £30 million fund to support residents in high rise buildings with fire safety issues with the cost of installing fire alarms to replace the use of expensive waking watch services.

The Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force – set-up in 2017 to ensure the safety of high rise residents across Greater Manchester – welcomed the announcement, but is urging Government to ensure this fund is made available to all affected buildings, to relieve the financial burden imposed on residents caught up in the industrial scale cladding and regulatory crisis.

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, Chair of the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force, said: “We welcome the announcement of this additional financial support. But it is crucial that the Government commits to supporting all affected buildings. The Waking Watch Relief Fund must not create another ‘lottery’ in which many residents lose out. Support must be made available to all residents affected irrespective of the height of their building or the fire safety failings which put them at risk.

“The Government should also take urgent steps to waive VAT on all fire safety works. VAT was not paid by building developers when properties were built and so should not be paid by residents either. What’s good for developers is surely good for innocent residents caught up in this scandalous cladding and regulatory crisis. In Greater Manchester we have asked the Government to do this for more than two years with no effective response – the Treasury must not gain from residents facing financial ruin as a consequence of the cladding and regulatory crisis.

“The process for accessing funds for fire alarms needs to be simple and quick – to ensure housing providers and managing agents can take steps to install fire alarms now, secure in the knowledge that Government will meet the cost.

“Thanks to the work of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and the co-operation of housing providers and managing agents, very few buildings in Greater Manchester rely on a waking watch long term. However, we must relieve all our residents of the financial burden associated with the waking watch service, and make sure the most reliable means are in place to keep them safe.”

The Government also announced today a six-month extension to the deadline for building owners to complete their applications to the £1 billion Building Safety Fund (link opens in new tab), with a new deadline for submissions of 30 June 2021.

Paul Dennett said: “It is good to see Government is beginning to recognise the scale of what is undoubtedly a national regulatory crisis by extending the timescales for the Building Safety Fund. 

“But the extension of the deadline does not address the serious concerns that we have repeatedly raised over the adequacy of this fund to assist residents. It was estimated in July that Greater Manchester alone would need 25 percent of the Building Safety Fund – and five months on there are now even more buildings affected. The safety and well-being of our residents cannot be dealt with on a ‘first come first served’ basis and the Government must commit to making all homes safe.

“It’s also unacceptable that no government funding has been made available for remediation work on buildings below 18m despite their own advice that action should be taken in all blocks of flats.”

Recently the High Rise Task Force called on the Government to listen to evidence from Greater Manchester and act on the recommendations of the Homes, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (link opens in new tab), which said in a recent report that leaseholders should not be held responsible in any way for remediation costs: “It would be unacceptable and an abdication of responsibility to make them contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible.”

Paul Dennett said: “We will continue to work with residents in affected buildings and with campaign groups like the Manchester Cladiators to ensure that residents are not crippled with exorbitant costs that they should not be responsible for, just to keep themselves safe in their own homes.”

Article Published: 18/12/2020 17:03 PM