Social Housing Speed Read – The Concrete ‘Crisis’ and the effect on Social Housing
2nd October, 2023
Following the widely publicised news regarding school closures due to crumbling concrete, it is vital for the Social Housing industry to get ahead of the concrete 'crisis' by tackling the issue quickly and efficiently.
Background on RAAC Concrete
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, commonly referred to as ‘RAAC’, has been in the news recently following the closure of numerous schools across the UK on the basis that the RAAC is unsafe and unfit for purpose.
RAAC is a lightweight concrete which is deemed to be cheaper than alternative concrete materials and was used frequently in building structures across the UK and Europe between the 1950s and 1990s. In particular, RAAC can be found in a multitude of buildings, including schools, universities, hospitals, offices, court buildings, housing estates and social housing, most notably in such buildings with flat roofs, both within the private and public sector
RAAC concrete has always been noted to have a short life-span of approximately 30 to 40 years. The main issue with RAAC concrete appears to be the formation of air bubbles inside the concrete, which has been likened to that of an ‘aero’ chocolate bar, and which is the cause of the instability in structures. As such, it is vital that all buildings that may have been built with materials including or involving RAAC are investigated as a matter of urgency.
The effect on the Social Housing Sector
Although RAAC is not suspected to be widespread within social housing, the Regulator of Social Housing and the Local Government Association have advised all social housing providers to check whether any of their properties contain RAAC so that it can be identified and risk-managed. The Institution of Structural Engineers have established an ‘RAAC Working Study Group’ and issued guidance on what to do where RAAC has been used or where RAAC is suspected.
The guidance states that a detailed survey should be undertaken and where RAAC is found, repeat surveys undertaken in order to monitor any deterioration. It has also been noted that RAAC is often coated with other materials, and therefore investigation by visual inspection may not be sufficient. The Study Group Guidance also notes that ‘depending on the findings, structural engineers may need to recommend further monitoring, remediation, strengthening or replacement of RAAC panels’. Reference to as-built drawings and specifications may be useful in assessing whether RAAC was used in construction.
Many individuals within the Social Housing sector, including landlords and tenants, will be querying who should be named liable for the defects in RAAC and the answer is unfortunately not straightforward. It is unlikely that the government will pay for any works on residential buildings and it is debatable whether buildings insurance will cover such defects. As such, it is important that each insurance policy should be checked to see whether RAAC defects would be covered under the policy. Regarding claims against the original contractor or engineers, traditionally most claims of this type would be time-barred by reference to the Limitation Act 1980, with too much time having passed between the installation of the RAAC and the defects appearing. There is a potential exception to this where the affected building is a dwelling, as is the case for social housing. If this is the case, there is a potential for liability to fall under the Building Safety Act 2022 (introduced following the Grenfell Tower Tragedy) or the Defective Premises Act 1972.
RAAC needs to be monitored as quickly and efficiently as possible within the Social Housing sector. To do so, RAAC needs to be identified and the risks assessed as a matter of urgency.
If you have any concerns about a separate Social Housing matter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert Social Housing lawyers
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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