Frequently asked questions
This page was last updated 13 April 2022
What steps have we taken at Wellend Villas?
1. Completed preliminary investigations
Our experts have completed preliminary investigations into the building materials used at Wellend Villas and we have received the architect and engineer’s draft preliminary findings.
2. Reviewed the preliminary findings
We have reviewed the initial findings. These have unfortunately revealed that we need to carry out some remedial work to the buildings to ensure that they comply with the Government’s guidelines. The exact extent of these has yet to be determined.
3. The preliminary investigation showed that:
We need to install some horizontal and vertical firebreaks behind areas of the cedarwood timber wall covering.
We need to carry out remedial work to the cavity barriers around windows surrounded by the cedarwood because at least some of these have not been installed as recommended.
The cedarwood timber and insulation beneath will likely need to be replaced but we need to do some more surveys to understand the extent of that work.
4. In April 2021, we held open meetings to allow residents the opportunity to meet with the team working at Wellend Villas, and ask any questions that they may have regarding the work taking place.
5. In June 2021, our consultants undertook the further intrusive investigation into the wall structure at Wellend Villas. We presented these findings to residents in September 2021, and are now in a phase of planning the next project steps.
6. We have engaged a contractor to reassess the buildings under the government's new PAS 9980 Guidance.
In the meantime, what are you doing to ensure residents are safe?
While we carry out the more detailed investigations into the remedial work and get on with the work itself, we have taken advice from the fire brigade and our fire safety engineers to make sure that your homes have the right additional precautions in place to ensure your safety in the event of a need to evacuate the buildings.
This advice is that we should:
1. Install additional smoke detection and alarms to supplement the existing system.
2. Change the fire evacuation policy to simultaneously evacuate.
Whilst we complete any remedial works needed, we have changed the evacuation policy today from “stay put” to “evacuate” in the event of a fire. We have changed the fire safety advice notices in your buildings to reflect this. Please read this information.
Timing of the work
We are beginning to scope and plan the work right now, so it is not possible to give an exact time for when the work will start. We will share the exact details of the works with you as soon as we can.
We are currently beginning a reassessment of the Wellend Villas buildings under new PAS9980 guidance. Once we have completed this work, we will be able to give residents a full and final idea of the work that is needed, and the proposed timeline for work to take place.
Can I stay in my home during the work?
Yes we think so. Due to the nature of the work needed, it is likely that we will be able to carry out the work without the need to move anyone out of their homes. However, sometimes during the scoping and planning process, that we may need access to the interiors of some homes. If that is necessary, we will discuss this with you beforehand.
What should I do if there’s a fire?
If a there is a fire in the building, please evacuate the building immediately. The fire safety strategy has recently changed - please see the Fire Safety Procedure for more information.
Will leaseholders be charged for the costs of the remedial work?
Residents may be aware of statements made by the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP on 9 January 2022 regarding his proposed plans to enforce “polluter pays” legislation to ensure that developers pay for the removal of cladding material and fixing of defects on buildings of 11-18 metres in height.
Once details of any available funding for lower-rise buildings are confirmed, we will ensure that all appropriate applications are made to any funds that become available, and will update residents in individual buildings in due course.
Your safety is our first priority. Questions about how building safety remedial work is funded never stand in the way of us getting the necessary work done, however the costs of work do need to be funded from somewhere.
We will do all we can to protect leaseholders from these costs by seeking to recover them from those responsible for any building defects or from the government if at all possible.
We are investigating the potential to claim these costs from a third party, where this is available, and are progressing claims against the building's developers via our solicitors.
As a charitable housing association, the way we are run and how we spend our money is regulated by the Government. What this means is that if we cannot find an alternative source of reimbursement for the costs of the remedial work then we have no choice but to seek to recover costs under the terms of your leases. This is because the way we spend our money is subject to strict rules and we are not permitted to write off these costs if there is an alternative option.
This is never our preferred way forward and we understand that this may be concerning for leaseholders. We hope that this will not be necessary, but it would be wrong not to be clear about the possibility at this stage.
We do not know how much the work is likely to cost at this stage. We are working on getting that information as soon as possible. We do not know how much the work is likely to cost at this stage but we are working on getting that information as quickly as possible.
Who will be covering the cost of work on rented properties at Wellend Villas?
Southern Housing Group is responsible for covering the cost of work on homes that are classed as "General Needs" properties. In the case of Wellend Villas, these are all apartments that are not owned on a full leasehold or shared ownership basis.
When major works are carried out on blocks owned by social landlords there is no additional cost to be met by secure and assured tenants, therefore Southern Housing Group will be covering the cost of work being undertaken on apartments that house social rented tenants. Some social landlords have sought to recover the proportion of the cost of associated fire safety works for rented properties from their leaseholders – Southern Housing Group is not one of those landlords.
I’m trying to sell or remortgage my home – how will this impact on that?
We know that some residents are very concerned about the inevitable impact the need for building safety work will have on the sale or remortgage of homes.
You may find that your chosen mortgage lender is requesting an EWS1 form. This is not a government form but was created by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors at the time the government guidance came in, as a way for owners of buildings over 18m to provide proof that their buildings complied with the new safety guidance.
If you are finding that a lender is requesting an EWS1 form we would encourage you to speak to your mortgage broker or financial advisor as not all lenders are taking the same approach and you may find another lender takes a different view.
Does the new Government guidance mean that we need an EWS1 form for our building?
For buildings under 18m the EWS1 form is only appropriate if specific concerns exist. It is important to note that there is a requirement to assess the external wall systems of all our relevant buildings but this is different from the EWS1 form itself which is simply a form used to evidence the outcome of that assessment.
Our Building Safety Programme is how we are systematically carrying out the required external wall system assessments. Once a building has been through our building safety programme we will ask our experts to provide assurance in an appropriate form that the building complies with Government safety guidelines. This assurance can be produced to lenders and valuers.
Once the PAS9980 reassessment and required remedial works are complete, we will be able to provide an EWS1 at a B1 rating.
Why is this taking so long?
Feedback from residents at Wellend Villas has been that they want to be absolutely certain that any work carried out is necessary, and that everything possible has been done to reduce any potential costs to residents. This has been particularly important given that there have been a number of potential legislation changes announced by the government over recent months.
With this in mind, we have waited until the government has finalised its new PAS9980 guidance, which gives a more flexible way for fire assessors to make decisions on what work is required at a building.
By reassessing the buildings under this guidance, we can be certain that the EWS1 rating awarded by the assessor, and any remedial work that we are instructed to carry out is necessary, and will not change.
This reassessment, and the process of understanding the new guidance has added some time onto the schedule, but we, like residents, want to be sure that we are following the new guidance, and not exposing residents to unnecessary works or potential costs.
Why have we suddenly changed from a “stay put” to a full evacuation strategy? The previous alarm system was deemed as not necessary 18 months ago and was removed. What has changed?
The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted multiple issues with fire safety residential blocks, with one of them being combustible cladding. When combustible materials are present in the cladding, it increases risk and is no longer safe for the occupants to follow the “Stay Put” policy, which relies on each flat to contain any fire for at least one hour and ensures the residents are secure in their own apartments.
In these circumstances, “Stay Put” must be temporarily replaced by a simultaneous evacuation strategy until the cladding issue is resolved. Interim fire safety measures must be put in place to change the fire strategy, with either a waking watch, the installation of a Fire Detection & Alarm system or a combination of both.
The Group investigated the possibility of re-connecting your existing fire alarm, but unfortunately the system configuration prevented us from using the existing alarm structure. To reduce ongoing costs and avoid costly service charges using the waking watch approach the Group installed a temporary fire alarm system to suit your buildings specific needs.
Why is it a heat detection system and not smoke activated?
We know that residents have raised concerns that if the new alarm system needs to wait for heat to reach a detector, then there may be a delay in notifying residents. Please be assured that this is not the case.
The heat detectors in your home are there to alert you, your neighbours, and the Fire Brigade to the presence of extreme heat, particularly in the external walls of the building, which would not be picked up by a regular smoke alarm. The previous alarm system at Wellend did not give this coverage.
Each flat also has a separate / stand alone fire alarm system that is not linked to other flats in the building. If a fire occurs in your flat the smoke detector would activate and sound the alarm for the individual flat. The communal alarm would sound if there is a risk of fire spreading to a neighbouring flat.
When it comes to protecting people, it is critical to warn building occupants of a fire before smoke accumulates. Some types of fires smoulder, or burn very slowly without flames. Burning slowly causes incomplete combustion, which in turn generates more smoke, carbon monoxide, and other poisonous gases. Although there is no immediate risk of fire, the advice of fire engineers is that a heat detection system will alert people more quickly to a fire.
If we have a fire in our own flat that we cannot put out, how do we alert neighbours in a timely manner?
If you do experience a fire in your home, and cannot put it out safely, please ensure everyone in your home leaves the property and close the front door behind you. Do not stop to collect any belongings. Leave the building completely.
The alarm system is interlinked to a central system which will alert your neighbours to the fire via the sounders, and they should follow the agreed evacuation procedure.
Could the existing recently disabled system not be reutilised in any way? The sounders were removed, but was all the wiring and the detectors not able to be used?
The advice from Fire Risk Assessors , the local Fire Service and the maintenance contractor was that the infrastructure left behind by the previous system could not be used to install the new system.
Why do different flats have different numbers of alarms? Is this to do with detection of heat from different rooms, rather than needing to make more noise?
The number of detectors, and the position of these detectors is dictated by the size and layout of a property, and where the flat is situated in relation to key areas of the building’s infrastructure, such as the external wall. The need for detectors and alarms in each home has been assessed by qualified experts, and we have acted on the advice they have given.
Each flat will have a smoke detector in the hallway by the front door and any room that has external timber cladding surrounding the window.
How is the cost of the alarms being recouped? You state at no cost to residents, but how are you recovering the cost of removing one system and then reinstating it a year later? How will this affect us further down the line?
The cost to decommission your previous alarm system was minimal as the infrastructure what left in place and only disconnected. Unfortunately, the existing fire alarm system could not be used due to the systems configuration. It was an older system that could not be used with newer technology.
Once the remediation works have been completed and the temporary fire alarm has been removed, the temporary fire alarm system can be re-used for other buildings. This will help residents in the future, if we have a similar situation elsewhere, and reduce costs.
After recent faults with this new system, and the failure of any engineer coming round for over 60 hours, can you reassure us that you have looked into this and in the event of alarms sounding inside our flats (or high frequency faults coming from the control box) that the response has been rectified?
We would like to apologise for the disturbance and inconvenience caused to residents during the first weeks following the installation. The contractor responsible for the installation has been called back to site, and has made adjustments to the system, which should minimise “non-urgent” notifications going forward. We have also raised with them the poor response time to resident calls regarding the fault, particularly over evening and weekend periods, and we have been assured that this will not be an issue in the future.
To put residents’ minds at ease regarding the reason for these faults, investigations have shown that these were caused by residents in some apartments attempting to disable or remove the alarms – usually because of fears that smoking or cooking within their home would set off the alarm. This is not the case, and these alarms will not react to cigarette smoke or household activity such as cooking. Residents should not attempt to move or de-activate the alarm.
Have the surveys been completed? If so, what are the details?
We have undertaken investigations into the external wall system at Wellend Villas, and now have preliminary feedback. These investigations have shown that:
- We need to install some horizontal and vertical firebreaks behind areas of the cedarwood timber wall covering
- We need to carry out remedial work to the cavity barriers around windows surrounded by the cedarwood because at least some of these have not been installed as recommended
- The cedarwood timber and insulation beneath will likely need to be replaced but we need to do some more surveys to understand the extent of that work
In assessing the work required at Wellend Villas, we need to undertake a feasibility study. This study will give us an indication of the level and type of work that is needed, and includes highlighting any potential risks, fire strategy outcomes, potential solutions, timeframes and estimated costs. We have engaged the services of The Oakleaf Group to undertake the feasibility study for the remediation works to Wellend Villas and this study is now underway.
Can we be provided with an EWS1 form? If you can’t what can be provided to assure lenders and potential buyers?
We currently do not have an EWS1 form for Wellend Villas. The fire assessor has indicated that if a form were to be issued without reassessment or remedial work taking place, the highest the development could receive would be a B2 rated form. This would be below the standard accepted by mortgage lenders.
Once all of the remedial works are completed, we will be able to issue an EWS1 form for Wellend Villas at a B1 rating.
Before this form is issued, it may be helpful to look at some of the documents that we do have available. Our Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) for the building are available online, and may be useful in these circumstances. Advice for residents looking to sell, mortgage, or staircase during this work is available, but if you do need further information, please contact us.
Are you taking legal action to recover the costs of this work?
Southern Housing Group has instructed solicitors to investigate the possibility of recovering the costs of this work from third parties. The process of doing this is moving forward, and we will advise residents of progress.
Will costs be picked up through the Major Works Reserve/Sinking Fund first?
Our approach is to recover costs from responsible third parties, and where this is not possible it is the Group’s policy to recoup costs from residents in line with the lease agreement.
In this event, the cost of the works will not be charged to the resident until the next annual service charge review. At the annual service charge review, the team will review the costs incurred for the block and review the reserve fund. If a reserve fund is not available then either the service charge will be amended or a bill will be sent to the resident. We do understand that this will be unwelcome, and may be difficult for some residents. We will have options available if this is required.
As part of the project we will be updating you continuously regarding any potential costs.
Can we see the assurances provided to the building regulations that things were done to plan originally?
We do have paper copies of the health and safety file and drawings provided by the contractor upon practical completion. We are looking at ways of making this information available to residents electronically.
How do recent changes to Building Safety legislation affect us?
Residents may be aware of a number of announcements that have been made over recent months regarding changes to the way that buildings are assessed. The Government has withdrawn its previous guidance in favour of an industry standard known as PAS 9980 guidance, which has been developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI). It replaces the previous government guidance that had been in place since January 2020. This new approach has been adopted by RICS and the Government and one reason for its introduction is that it gives an increase in the flexibility allowed when investigating a building for the purpose of gaining an EWS1 form.
PAS9980 requires us to complete an external wall fire risk assessment. This allows the consideration of other building factors such as, compartmentation and fire alarms when assessing the external make-up of the wall. Unfortunately, because of the stringent and firm requirements of the previous EWS1 survey guidance, the assessors were not able to do this.
At present, we cannot say for definite whether there will be a change in EWS1 rating, or if the work currently required will be reduced. However, by undertaking this exercise, residents will be able to have confidence that all work being done is necessary under the more current guidance. This is in line with Michael Gove’s announcement on a proportional approach to cladding remedial works.
This process should not require any further physical investigation work, as all the necessary information will be available to our fire assessors from the original inspections.
How can I find out more?
We'll be updating these pages when there is new information.