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Update for students' unions on fire safety and cladding

Monday 26-06-2017 - 16:30

An update to support students' union staff to take effective steps to assess and address any fire risk before the autumn term starts.

Last week the BBC revealed that a block of student flats managed by Fresh Student Living in Newcastle has the same cladding as that of Grenfell Tower. We understand that in the wake of the fire in North Kensington, tenants of high-rise blocks up and down the country, including students, may be concerned and anxious.

There are three questions you should seek clarification on:

  • Which student blocks are 18 metres high or over?
  • Does the building have Aluminium Composite Material Cladding? Concerns have also been raised about the use of combustible insulation.
  • Is the fire detection system operational? Have there been any complaints?

If you are concerned there are three potential courses of action you could take:

  1. Complain to the Codes
  2. Pressure your provider to ask for materials testing
  3. Complain to local council

The Accommodation Codes

The Codes operate to ensure the standard and safety of student housing. There are three codes.

  1. The Universities UK/GuildHE Code of Practice for University Managed Student Accommodation
  2. The ANUK/Unipol Code of Standards for Larger Residential Developments for Student Accommodation Managed and Controlled by Educational Establishments
  3. The ANUK/Unipol Code of Standards for Larger Developments for Student Accommodation NOT Managed and Controlled by Educational Establishments

Providers should be able to tell you if they are a member of one of these codes, and which one. Building materials are not specifically mentioned in these codes, but there is a requirement for all members of the Codes to have undertaken fire risk assessments. Members of the ANUK/Unipol code have been contacted to confirm what they are doing to update their fire risk assessments in light of recent events. Normally student housing safety systems are tested on a weekly basis.

Member providers of the Codes should have had their buildings signed off by building control officials however there is some concern that this mechanism is not always effective. We have heard of officials signing off buildings without having visited them. This is a situation the Codes management teams are monitoring.

If you are concerned with the fire safety of a Codes member initially complain to the provider, and if they do not resolve it complain via the Codes. Use the links above to find out how to make a complaint.

Testing materials

The Department for Communities and Local Government have offered to test building materials free of charge. This offer applies to all high-rise blocks over 18 metres high. Members of the codes have been notified of this offer, but it is for them to take this up. Tenants cannot request testing from DCLG – the provider must do this. Currently no timescale has been given.

If you expect a student block has ACM cladding you can put pressure on the housing provider, in partnership with your institution, to test their building materials.

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

All rented homes must meet certain standards so they are safe and fit to live in. Councils use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to assess these standards. A council must take action if they find a category 1 hazard. A category 1 hazard is a hazard that poses a serious threat to the health or safety of people living in or visiting your home. Shelter has further information on how to complain about fire hazards.

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