Building surveyors who want to carry out EWS1 surveys of cladding sites are being discouraged from doing so by their insurers, Sir Bob Neill told the Commons on Monday.
“The advice [from insurers] is: continue to resist signing forms such as this,” said the former fire safety minister.
Sir Bob, who is the co-chair for cladding matters of the APPG on leasehold and commonhold reform, was contributing to the debate on the Fire Safety Bill.
He cited the example of build safety consultants Frankham, whose owner is a constituent in Bromley and Chislehurst, south east London.
Full debate here:
“There is considerable experience across the House, and we will continue to listen to views from all interested colleagues, as well as working with the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue.”-[ Official Report, 29 April 2020; Vol. 675, c. 345.]
“Although the [EWS1] scheme involved the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, local authorities, the housing sector and UK Finance, often on behalf of the mortgage lenders, in drawing it up, it did not involve the insurers.
“The difficulty is that many firms, such as Frankham and many other reputable firms, are being advised by their insurers not to complete, carry out and sign off the EWS forms because if they do, they will be accepting liability for the safety of a cladding system that they did not have a part in the original design and installation of.
“In other words, they are being asked to take responsibility for what was ultimately somebody else’s work.
“… If Frankham concluded and explicitly stated that an external wall was unlikely to support combustion, but the system actually turned out to be combustible resulting in third party loss, on the basis of this declaration Frankham would more than likely be found to have been negligent in the conduct of its professional services, and therefore liable for the ensuing damages.”
“The advice, therefore, is: to continue to resist signing forms such as this.”
“…Ministers really need to get the insurers round the table on this and bang heads together. We all have the same objective, but because not all the parties have been sufficiently brought together and their objectives aligned, we do not have an overarching forum to deal with this and we have not yet resolved the stand-off between the professional fire risk assessors who want to do their job and the insurers who are having to warn them of legal risks.”
Sir Bob also raised the issue of identifying the “responsible person” in a block of flats for fire safety, “particularly of owners where the freehold has been sold on”.
The MP referenced a site (Northpoint) “where the freehold has been sold on to what is simply an offshore investment trust. In my constituents’ case, the freehold is owned by a vehicle for the Tchenguiz Family Trust.
“One can imagine the degree of altruism likely to be found in that quarter without a greater legal means of holding their feet to the fire.”
Monday’s debate had other notable contributions, with several praising former MP Jim Fitzpatrick, himself an ex-fireman and patron of LKP.
Sarah Jones, Labour MP for Croydon Central, referenced “hundreds of thousands of people across the country are now being failed by a system that does not listen to them”.
“The system as a whole is fundamentally broken, and it is the developers as well as the Government who need to look to their own actions and correct them.
“The Government have made many promises to bring justice to the [Grenfell] survivors and their families, to change building and fire safety regulations and to do this quickly, but the Government are yet to make their promises a reality. At every stage, we have had to drag them into action.”
Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, decried the “failure of companies such as Redrow, Laing O’Rourke and Taylor Wimpey to hold to their responsibilities for fire safety and other building defects”.
Sir Bob Neill raised the issue of crippling waking watch costs and its inconsistency around the country.
“In London — in the case of my constituents — the requirement for an on-site permanent waking watch is insisted on by the London Fire Brigade, whereas West Yorkshire and certain other fire brigades are not insisting on the same approach.
“The rigidity that has been adopted — maybe for good professional reasons — in London has led to my constituents being advised that, even though they are prepared to pay to be trained themselves in fire safety matters so that they can provide their own in-house waking watch on a rota, thereby saving themselves many tens of thousands of pounds, that is apparently not acceptable, although that approach might be acceptable elsewhere.
“We need some standardisation, particularly as at the moment the compensation schemes are not picking up the costs of the waking watch.”
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, has in his constituency “where couples have divorced but are unable to separate properly because they cannot sell their flat. The mental strain, illness and stress that that imposes on many residents is absolutely phenomenal.”
Debate starts at 18:00
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