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Homeowners face pulling down extensions in Grenfell building inspection crisis

Patrick Sawer
The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster is having an impact on the ability of building inspectors to approve housing developments and private extensions - REUTERS

Hundreds of homeowners face having to rebuild newly erected extensions, lofts and basements because of a crisis in building inspections arising out of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The crisis has led to private building inspectors, known as Approved Inspectors (AI), being unable to obtain insurance, forcing them to hand over inspection of newly built homes and extensions to local council officials.

But it has now emerged that unless the AIs can provide satisfactory documentation to show councils that the building work meets certain standards, then local authority inspectors may order the structures to be dismantled so they can be re-examined to determine whether they were built in accordance with strict safety rules.

That means hundreds of loft extensions, basements and other structural work may have to be partly or wholly dismantled in order for council building inspectors to issue the required approval certificates.

The crisis is the result of a number of Approved Inspectors no longer being able to obtain the necessary liability insurance for them to carry out their work.

This follows a decision earlier this year by one of the two main insurers, Howden, to pull out of the market as a result of the potential cost of the requirement for potentially lethal cladding to be removed from buildings in the wake of the Grenfell fire. This left 72 people dead in June 2017,  after flammable cladding was used during its refurbishment.

A report has said the Government is "still not doing enough" to remove dangerous cladding from buildings more than two years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

The Telegraph understands that at least three AI firms have gone into liquidation, leaving thousands of building notice cases that may have to be handed over to local authorities for approval.

The professional body representing council building inspectors, Local Authority Building Control (LABC), estimates there are currently 14,000 ongoing building projects in England and Wales that have yet to receive final safety certificates.

That means many homeowners have been left in limbo over the status of their building work

A senior local government source said: “Local government officers have got to satisfy themselves that any building work has been done according to building regulations. But the AI may not have the required documentation and the council inspectors may have to carry out invasive checks, which could mean pulling things apart to make sure they were originally done as they should be.”

Several Approved Inspectors, including Darlington-based Aedis Regulatory Services, have been unable to secure insurance cover, leaving them unable to carry out inspections and forcing clients to seek approval from council building control inspectors.

In a number of cases homeowners have already been advised to remove newly built roofs so the council inspectors can gain access to structural work before approving it, leaving them facing the cost of reinstating the roof and other work.

In a letter to clients the Bromley-based loft conversion firm Econoloft, said: “We would recommend contacting your Local Authority Building Control. This would involve cancelling the initial notice received by them from Aedis and submitting a Reversion or Regularisation application.  This would mean that the local authority would take over the application. They may ask for areas of your conversion to be exposed (steels, insulation etc). Levels of intrusion will vary from local authority to local authority.”

The knock on effect of the Grenfell fire has left the insurance industry wary of providing cover for private building inspectors because of the potentially high cost of liability they may face should things go wrong.

“After Grenfell the industry has taken the view that the risk is high and people are reticent to provide insurance,” said the source.

The crisis has also had a dramatic impact on new developments, creating problems for the wider housing and commercial building sector, as a result of a shortage in the number of inspectors able to sign off work.

The Home Builders Federation says the insurance issue “potentially has implications for housing supply”, and that it “is particularly impacting small and medium-sized builders”.

Homeowners who fear they may have to have new work dismantled and reinspected have now been urged to contact their local authority for advice.

Lorna Stimpson, chief executive of LABC, said: “We are doing everything we can to assist people who are the receiving end of this problem, including homeowners who face spending more money to rebuild and complete existing work.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) called on the Government to help councils and homeowners tackle the mess.

Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “As councils pick up the pieces their priority is to ensure homeowners suffer minimal disruption to their building projects, while ensuring what work has been done to date complies with the building regulations.

“The representative bodies for these private sector firms and the Government need to help councils and their residents by doing all they can to ensure those who need to cancel the notices do so, letting councils inspect, and where appropriate, sign-off work as complying with the building regulations.”