How worried should we be about RAAC in homes?

As concerns regarding Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) continue to unfold, there is still much we don’t know about its potential impact, if any, on residential homes.

As I write, we are facing an astonishing situation where 174 schools are believed to contain this short-lived substance, with the possibility of more discoveries to come.

The condition in hospitals is equally concerning, with reports of overweight patients having to receive treatment on the ground floor of one hospital due to fears over RAAC.

While we don’t yet think a significant number of residential homes are affected, reports so far suggest it may be present in a small number of social and council properties.

Clive Betts, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities Committee, recently called on the Government to provide an update on its assessment of the risk of RAAC in social and private housing. However, identifying the substance and rectifying it will be far from straightforward.

If RAAC is discovered in residential properties, we may find ourselves grappling with similar problems and challenges as those seen during the cladding scandal. Questions will need to be asked about who will bear the cost of remedial work, how it will be assessed, who is accountable and what interim safety measures will be implemented.

We have already seen some guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and as we gain a deeper understanding of the issue and address current unknowns, further advice will likely emerge. According to RICS, RAAC was mainly used in flat roofs but also in some floor and wall panel construction in the UK from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s. There is also evidence suggesting its limited use in certain buildings during the 1990s and 2000s.

RICS advises that its use in residential buildings is thought to be limited to rooftop plant rooms and some wall panels. While the substance is more commonly found in schools, hospitals, and public buildings, it has also been discovered in courts, theatres, sports halls, public toilets, and various non-domestic structures.

With an expected lifespan of just 30 years and a risk of sudden failure, it is not surprising that we are witnessing a sense of urgency in addressing this issue.

As of now, we have not heard of homeowners taking matters into their own hands and tearing down walls in search of RAAC. As RICS advises, this is best left to the professionals.

While assessing for RAAC is not typically part of a surveyor’s inspection, this may change for certain properties going forward.

Mortgage lenders will undoubtedly monitor developments closely; assessing their exposure to properties containing RAAC, especially for office-to-residential conversions or former local authority buildings now under private ownership. No lender will want to risk financing a building where RAAC may be present and we may start to see a more cautious approach around certain properties.

Unfortunately, as we saw with the cladding scandal, there is also a risk that leaseholders could end up bearing the cost of some of the remedial work.

Currently, the primary focus is on addressing the issue in schools and hospitals and as the Autumn Statement approaches, any surplus funds the Government did have, will no doubt be allocated towards this.

While I don’t anticipate a large number of cases in local authority and council homes, I doubt the residential sector will be lucky enough to escape the crisis altogether. Although it may not be as extensive as the cladding scandal – for the housing sector at least – I believe that moving forward, unfortunately, we will face similar challenges in resolving the issue.

Simon Jackson is managing director of SDL Surveying

First published by Financial Reporter

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