£30m fund for flats with dangerous cladding

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image captionWicker Riverside development in Sheffield

The government has announced a new £30m fund to help pay for the installation of fire alarms in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding.

The money will reduce the need for round-the-clock fire patrols known as 'waking watch'.

Three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, hundreds of buildings across the UK still have 24-hour safety patrols.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the money will "help relieve financial pressure on residents".

Waking watches were introduced by the National Fire Chiefs Council as a temporary measure to keep residents safe but some buildings have had wardens in place for years costing leaseholders tens of thousands of pounds every month.

Recent guidance from the Council advised building owners should move to install common fire alarm systems as quickly as possible to reduce or remove the need for the 24-hour warden patrols.

Mr Jenrick said "rip-off waking watch costs" were bringing misery to leaseholders in tower blocks with cladding problems and the new fund will "make a real difference to worried leaseholders" and "ensure they are safe".

It comes as residents told the BBC they were paying thousands of pounds for fire wardens to patrol their blocks.

Ritu Saha, who lives in Bromley, south-east London, said patrols had cost her more than £300 a month for the last three years, totalling £11,700, and she couldn't bear the cost much longer.

'Safety Lottery'

Campaigners representing residents said the fund was "a glimmer of light in the ongoing uncertainty and dark times that our residents face".

But in a statement welcoming the announcement, the Manchester and Liverpool Cladiators said: "After months of waiting for a full and fair solution, we hoped for more detail and more funding."

The group said it had calculated that the fund would cover up to 300 buildings, adding: "Given there are up to 1,000 buildings in the country, where a Waking Watch is in place, we remain concerned that this new funding will help less than a third of the residents affected.

"Many will be left unable to benefit from this announcement. In effect, another safety lottery has been created."

The government says leaseholders have on average been paying £137 per month for the patrols, and will collectively save over £3m per month, when the fund will opens in January.

Immediate emergency support will also be provided to Wicker Riverside Apartments in Sheffield.

Thirty five families, who were recently evacuated from the building because of fire safely faults, should be able to return to their homes before Christmas.

A six-month extension to the deadline for building owners to complete their applications to the government's £1bn Building Safety Fund (BSF) has also been announced, with a new deadline for submissions of 30 June 2021.

The BSF was set up to pay for the removal of unsafe combustible cladding on buildings that are 18 metres or higher.

Mr Jenrick also said he will be writing to Trading Standards to ask them to use their powers to investigate evidence of disproportionate charges for waking watch.

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