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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announces £30 million ‘Waking Watch’ Relief Fund

11 January 2021

ROBERT JENRICK, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has unveiled a new £30 million fund for leaseholders in England to pay for the installation of fire alarm systems in high-rise buildings with cladding. Jenrick has asserted that this move will either remove or reduce the need for costly interim safety measures such as ‘Waking Watch’.

Jenrick’s written statement to Parliament observed: “This step is supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council. The latter was clear in its updated October guidance that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible in order to reduce or remove dependence on ‘Waking Watch’.”

The ‘Waking Watch’ Relief Fund opens this month. A six-month extension to the deadline for building owners to complete their applications to the £1 billion Building Safety Fund has also been announced with a new deadline for submissions now set at 30 June 2021.

Jenrick said: “I’ve heard first-hand from leaseholders the misery that rip-off ‘Waking Watch’ costs have been bringing to residents of high-rise buildings with cladding. The ‘Waking Watch’ Relief Fund is designed to help relieve the financial pressure on those residents and to ensure they’re safe. I’m confident that this will make a real difference to worried leaseholders up and down the country. We have continued to prioritise the removal of unsafe ACM cladding throughout the pandemic.”

National Fire Chiefs Council chair Roy Wilsher responded: “We welcome this new ‘Waking Watch’ Relief Fund which will help to reduce the financial burden for some leaseholders having to fund the costs of ‘Waking Watches’. It has been our firm and long-held expectation that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible. Undoubtedly, this funding is a positive step.”

Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh explained: “Our priority is making sure people are safer in their homes and we’re working tirelessly to make this happen. The new measures build on our commitment, which will be enshrined in law through the Building Safety Bill, to improve the safety of buildings across the country. Building owners are responsible for making sure that their buildings, and the people who live within them, are safe. We continue to actively pursue them to encourage swift action and have supported this with £1.6 billion in Government funding.”

This latest news builds on steps the Government has already made to support leaseholders, including securing an agreement that owners of flats in buildings without cladding do not need an EWS-1 Form to sell or re-mortgage their property. This benefits nearly 450,000 homeowners.

Support from BAFE

BAFE supports this decision by Government, but also highlights inconsistencies and confusion with legislation and guidance available for high-rise accommodation. Common areas should have appropriate and regularly maintained fire detection and fire alarm/evacuation alert systems in place to notify residents of any danger as early as possible.

Further, BAFE continues to be adamant that only UKAS-accredited third party certificated organisations should be used to deliver competent fire safety works and that this should be mandated by Government. This would sit well with gas engineering competency work being delivered in line with Gas Safe. The fire safety industry is already in place to assist Government when it comes to matters of regulation.

For fire detection and fire alarm systems, it’s noted in the relevant British Standard (BS 5839-1) that: “Periodic inspection and servicing needs to be carried out by a competent person with specialist knowledge of fire detection and fire alarm systems, including knowledge of the causes of false alarms, sufficient information regarding the system and adequate access to spares.”

The British Standard continues by outlining that: “The competence of a fire alarm servicing organisation can be assured by the use of organisations that are third party certificated by a UKAS-accredited certification body to carry out inspection and servicing of fire alarm systems.”

Stephen Adams, CEO of BAFE, commented: “Premises managers require clearer definition of who’s suitably competent to fulfil specific fire safety work. Stipulating appropriate UKAS-accredited third party certification (as BS 5839-1 notes) offers independent evidence of competency which, if mandated, would create a more robust and competent fire safety industry.”

The Government is clear that the building industry must contribute towards the costs of making high-rise homes safe once more in order to set right “decades” of unsafe practices. Work continues at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders.

Responding to the announcement from the Government, RIBA Fire Safety Expert Panel chair Jane Duncan said: “This is a small step in the right direction. The RIBA has long been calling on the Government to extend the mandate of fire alarms and this funding will provide some reassurance. However, it still doesn't go far enough – only applying to those residential buildings above 18 metres in height that have been identified at risk – leaving many people in unsafe homes. We need a much more thorough and detailed approach alongside a Building Safety Bill that comprehensively and urgently overhauls and clarifies our sub-standard building safety regulations.”