Dangerous lightweight concrete panels, specifically Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), were commonly used in social housing construction during the 1950s to 1970s. There is now a growing demand for social housing landlords to carry out urgent inspections to determine the extent of RAAC usage and potential hazards it poses.
RAAC panels were used in constructing not only schools but also public buildings and social housing. Estimates from building surveyor Rapleys suggest that around 10% of public buildings from this era contain RAAC panels.
Experts from law firm Winckworth Sherwood recommend housing associations to promptly review building specifications and drawings, and arrange immediate structural surveys if RAAC materials are discovered.
Greg Carter, a legal director and construction specialist at the law firm, emphasised the need for nationwide surveys of social housing to ascertain the scale of the issue. He also noted the possibility of landlords claiming the cost of remedial works on building or insurance policies, subject to certain limitations.
It is advised that landlords inspect properties with flat roofs built during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, as these are more likely to contain problematic RAAC panels. The manufacture and design of panels during this period were inefficient and inadequate. Furthermore, steel reinforcement was often misplaced, leading to potential structural concerns.
Richard Crow, partner in housing consultancy and head of the Birmingham office at Rapleys, stresses the importance of inspecting properties across the country by local authorities and implementing necessary protective measures against damage. He clarified that while RAAC has improved in recent years and become a suitable construction method, earlier usage was marked by numerous challenges due to a lack of Planned Maintenance Programmes or qualified personnel to inspect buildings.
RAAC panels were not only used in high-rise buildings, but also in single storey dwellings. These panels were attractive to constructors of that era due to their low cost and ease of installation. Unfortunately, there were no mechanisms to monitor or record the locations where they were installed.
Several reports have underscored the risks associated with RAAC panels, including the Standing Committee on Structural Safety report (May 2019), the Safety Briefing Notice by the Office of Government Property (September 2022), and guidance from The Institution of Structural Engineers (February 2022).
Recently, the Department for Education shut down 156 schools following a beam collapse in a RAAC-built school, which has heightened concerns over the safety of structures containing these panels. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has not yet commented on the matter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are RAAC inspections crucial for social landlords?
RAAC inspections help ensure the safety and structural integrity of social housing properties. Addressing any potential risks associated with RAAC constructions is crucial as issues left unchecked could lead to severe consequences for both tenants and landlords.
How is social housing safety affected by RAAC?
RAAC has a direct impact on social housing safety, as it ensures structures meet necessary safety standards. Inspections are essential in identifying and addressing any potential hazards, and maintaining a desirable living environment for tenants.
Which measures should social landlords adopt for conducting RAAC inspections?
For RAAC inspections, social landlords should:
- Allocate necessary resources and time for conducting inspections
- Engage trained and qualified inspectors
- Implement a comprehensive inspection plan
- Prioritise properties according to their age, perceived risks, and number of tenants
- Ensure open communication with residents throughout the inspection process
What dangers do unassessed RAAC structures present?
Unassessed RAAC structures can pose several risks, including:
- Structural degradation
- Potential collapse
- Health risks for occupants
- Legal liabilities for landlords
- Damage to property or loss of assets
What do governmental guidelines recommend for RAAC inspections?
Government guidelines for RAAC inspections emphasise the need for:
- Regular inspection schedules
- Compliance with building regulations and industry standards
- Adequate documentation and reporting
- Timely rectification of discovered issues
- Continuous improvement in safety and construction practices
How can social landlords ensure adherence to RAAC inspection standards?
To ensure compliance with RAAC inspection standards, social landlords should:
- Develop and maintain an updated RAAC inspection programme
- Train relevant personnel in RAAC inspection standards and processes
- Seek expert guidance when required
- Learn from previous inspections and continuously improve
- Communicate with tenants and stakeholders on inspection results and plans for rectification