Cladding — Fire prevention and bringing our buildings up to standard

The Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017 has been the unfortunate catalyst which has rightly brought fire safety to the forefront. For years building regulations have been inadequate and unclear and their enforcement lax. As a result of the tragedy, local authorities and private landlords who have properties with cladding are necessarily spending significant sums of money on fire wardens and are investigating how to go about replacing and upgrading their cladding, with the cost expected to run into the millions in the case of many properties.

The Government’s response has led to much criticism. On 22 January 2018 The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Sajid Javid), said in relation to privately owned blocks that: “I have made it clear in the House and since our last oral questions that, just as social landlords are picking up the tab for those changes, and whatever the legal case might be in the event of a private relationship, the moral case is clear: the tab should be picked up by the freeholders of those properties.” The position is far more nuanced than the housing secretary suggests and it might be that insurers, or those who installed the cladding, are, in fact, ultimately responsible.

The questions which arise now are:

  1. What can be done to ensure fire safety for residents?
  2. How quickly can the cladding be replaced?
  3. Who is responsible for arranging and paying for the upgrading?

Both landlords and leaseholders should investigate whether they have any insurance which might cover the costs, but, in the short term, landlords are likely to have to foot the bill and then recover the costs via leaseholders’ service charges (by following the correct consultation procedures), with claims being made simultaneously to any insurers. Thought should also be given to any potential claims against the supplier and installer of the cladding, any previous owners of the property and to claims for professional negligence against conveyancing solicitors for any failure to ensure that building regulations had been complied with.

Investigations are almost certainly going to be required into the types of cladding and whether, despite apparent compliance, they do in fact comply with building regulations. If they do not, that will assist in claims against the original installer/supplier.

We are able to advise freeholders and leaseholders regarding their rights and/or obligations and how best to proceed.

For further information regarding this topic or any other insurance litigation matters please contact Oliver Pannell, Associate or any member of the Edwin Coe Insurance Litigation team.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

About the author

Oliver joined Edwin Coe in September 2011, having graduated from the University of Kent with a First and having completed the LPC, with Distinction. Oliver qualified into the Insurance Litigation department in 2013, where he acts for SMEs, national and international corporations, shareholders and individuals in a variety of industries including:

  • Waste management and recycling
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Hotels
  • Litigation funding
  • Pharmaceutical services
  • Restaurant and catering services

As an insurance claims specialist, Oliver is experienced in acting for policyholders in claims against insurers, as well as in claims for professional negligence against insurance brokers and other professionals. He regularly acts in claims involving a breach of contract, allegations of negligence, breach of warranty, breach of condition precedent, misrepresentation, material non-disclosure and fraud.

Oliver also has experience in general commercial litigation, shareholder disputes, obtaining injunctions, commercial fraud, enforcing judgments in overseas jurisdictions and in defending claims.

Oliver is a member of the Professional Negligence Litigation Association.

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