Our building safety programme
We’ve developed our building safety programme to make sure we comply with the government guidance on building safety and that the materials used in and the construction of our buildings are safe.
Following the merger between Southern Housing Group and Optivo, to become Southern Housing, the two former organisations are currently still managing their building safety commitments as separate projects, and planned and progressing work will continue in the same way as pre-merger.
We currently have Fire Risk Assessments in place for all our buildings and we have been systematically rolling out more intensive building safety inspections to all our blocks regardless of their height.
The outcomes from this programme are either an EWS1 form for buildings over 18m (or six storeys, whichever is reached first) which is a form used to demonstrate that a building complies with government guidelines or for buildings under 18m, an expert report which lenders can rely on to demonstrate compliance with the government’s guidance.
We have over 1400 buildings so we have to prioritise the order in which we carry out the work. To assess priority we look at a range of factors including (in no particular order) what we know about any materials used in external wall systems, height, number of vulnerable residents and what the existing evacuation policy and fire safety measures are.
On this page, where we refer to the 18m height demarcation, it is important to note that we are referring to the government's definition of "high-rise residential multi-occupied buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than 6 storeys (whichever is reached first)."
Phase 1 - prioritising our tall buildings over 18m
The surveys of all our tall buildings are complete. We surveyed all our buildings over 18m and there are EWS1 forms for each of them where possible. Where remedial work has been identified we are moving forwards with this in a planned programme.
Now that that Phase 1 survey work is complete, we have been risk assessing all the other buildings we own, to establish our focus for the next part of the programme based on the risk profile of each. This risk assessment has highlighted nearly 230 buildings which we need to prioritise in this next phase of work - this is Phase 2.
How have we chosen these buildings?
We have identified which buildings should fall into Phase 2 of the programme by carrying out a risk analysis based on what we already know about our buildings and our residents living in them. This is called a desktop review and we have looked at a number of factors to determine the priority of each building which falls into this phase. These factors include its height, known construction type and materials, the number of vulnerable residents living there and what the existing evacuation policy and fire safety measures are.
What stage are we at in Phase 2?
We have begun the intrusive survey work for this phase in 2021 and the inspection programme is well underway. We will contact residents individually as their building enters the programme to tell them what to expect, and advise them of any relevant information such as dates for site visits.
Why can’t you just do all the buildings at one go?
Using our risk based analysis is the right thing to do to make sure we work our way through all of our buildings in the safest and fairest way. Due to the limited number of qualified people in the country who can carry out this work, and the high demand for their services at the moment, it is likely to take some time before we have completed all the detailed and intrusive surveys needed for this purpose on all the buildings in our building safety programme.
What happens in the programme?
We have a systematic approach:
1. We identify which buildings to prioritise in the current stage of our programme using a risk based analysis. We are currently in the second phase of the programme which comprises around 230 buildings.
2. We commission specialist architects and engineers to come to each building in order of priority and carry out an inspection. This involves identifying the materials used in the construction and the construction systems and methods used at the time the building was developed. This can be a straightforward exercise but is often quite complex. This is because it involves looking inside the construction of each building and for some buildings this can be difficult and at times mean working at height.
3. Your safety is our first priority. Following the inspection, the experts produce an initial report for us which details the materials and the construction of the building. This report may also make recommendations for further detailed inspections if it looks likely that remedial work will be needed or that changes to the fire safety precautions already in place are required. In this situation, we work with the fire brigade (our Primary Authority) to agree what changes are needed to the existing fire safety precautions in place. This can include putting in a 24-hour patrol ("waking watch"), upgrading or installing smoke or heat detection systems or changing the evacuation or stay put policies. These are usually referred to as "mitigations" because the additional precautions are designed to ensure that that any additional risk is off-set by the precautions while the remedial work is carried out.
4. If remedial work is recommended what happens then?
- Usually we have to carry out further detailed investigations to get the full picture of what is needed at a building and then produce a specification and plan for these works. We will make any necessary changes to the fire safety precautions at the building so that these additional mitigations are in place whilst we plan and carry out the work. We agree any changes we make with the fire safety experts.
- We typically aim to communicate the nature of the remedial work and the mitigations with residents at this stage to let everyone know what the plan is and what to expect. We will be as detailed as we can be but at this stage but it would be wrong to speculate about the length of time or cost of the work without sufficient information - although we do understand that this will be a question that everyone will want to know the answer to. We will give residents these answers as soon as we can.
5. If remedial work is required we must also consider how the work is funded. As a matter of principle however we are always clear that we never let questions of funding prevent us from getting on with work that needs to be done.
Phases 3 onwards
The subsequent phases of the programme will follow each year with buildings being assessed on a priority needs basis.
How will I know when my building will be included?
We understand and sympathise that if you are trying to move, re-mortgage or staircase, waiting for your building to go through the building safety programme is a frustrating and stressful time. We are doing everything we can to keep the programme moving at pace but we need to be realistic about timings. There is a huge amount of work to do and prioritising buildings based on a risk analysis is the right thing to do.
What this does mean is that some people are going to be waiting for a long time (in some cases years) before we get to their buildings. Experts in the field have described this as an emerging national building safety crisis, and recent activity in the media and in Parliament is showing just how serious the issue is. We are just one of thousands of building owners across the country, faced with the need to check all our buildings and there are a limited pool of experts and contractors who are qualified to do the work.
What we can say is that we are committed to completing this work so that all our buildings have reliable evidence of compliance with the government guidance. For buildings over 18m this means providing an EWS1 form. For buildings under 18m for which an EWS1 form is not appropriate, we will be providing an expert report as soon as possible. We will be communicating with residents who live in the buildings covered by Phase 2 of our programme with information about timings as soon as we are able.
Quite understandably, we receive lots of enquiries from residents who want to have a firm date and some certainty. As soon as we can give you confirmed information, we will communicate with all of our residents. All of our active projects (were we are undertaking remedial work) have their own dedicated microsite which have the latest information for each building.
More FAQs are included here.
If we haven't answered your question here or in the FAQs please let us know and we will update the information.