Dismore questions Mayor over Conservative waking watch con trick

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM questioned London Mayor Sadiq Khan over the Conservative Government’s Waking Watch Relief Fund con trick, which provides no money for waking watches at all.

Mr Dismore asked the Mayor:


‘The Government has announced a ‘Waking Watch Relief Fund’ that will pay for fire alarm systems to be installed in high rise residential buildings which have had to have waking watches as temporary fire safety measures because of fire safety defects which have still not been fixed three and a half years after the Grenfell Tower fire. This fund, however, will not actually pay for waking watches, only a fire alarm system. Many buildings need both. The LFB says there are (as at 18 December) 590 buildings with temporary fire safety measures and around 250 of these just have waking watches. Will you press the Government to actually fund waking watches as well as installation of fire alarm systems?

Would you agree that the Conservative Government’s announcement is a fake news shabby con trick, because it gives no help whatsoever with the costs of waking watches. Leaseholders are still left in limbo, facing demands of  hundreds of pounds a month- in London the average cost of a waking watch is £499 a month. The LGA has recently reported that they are now being pressurised by government to use their trading standards departments to challenge the prices of waking watches – but  they have no powers under which they can do so. It’s the case isn’t it that the  Secretary of State is giving  beleaguered leaseholders empty promises unsupported by entirely insufficient funding, dodging his  responsibility by  expecting cash-strapped London Borough councils to step in where they have no jurisdiction?

London Fire Brigade has met the challenge of London’s built environment by stepping up their inspections of buildings at risk – including monitoring waking watches-  to ensure that Londoners are as safe as can be achieved  in these worrying  circumstances. What has been the impact on LFB’s finances and operational capacity of these extra demands-  and is it fair that the Government have refused  to address the funding pressures this additional workload has created?

You recently called for a levy on housebuilders to fund remediation works on homes affected by dangerous cladding. What has been the Government’s response to this proposal; and should this levy be extended to fund waking watches prior to remediation being completed?

The Mayor said that the waking watch relief fund is a belated but welcome step in the right direction, but not enough. It fails to address buildings under 18m in heights or reimburse leaseholders who have paid out for interim waking watch costs. Time and again, the government’s response has come up short and was too little, too late. They took too long to ban the use of combustible materials. People are taking out debt to pay for the waking watch, and he knew some residents were reporting feeling suicidal due to the mental anguish and severe financial pressure on families.

He said that the Government was passing the buck without the resources to local Councils. The Government do not fund the LFB properly, and new obligations placed on the brigade due to the follow up from the Grenfell inquiry and the long-term issues of the built environment, as well as the new inspection regime. The Mayor said he did not apologise for increasing the precept to pay for these vital works, but the LFB will still have to make cuts because of a loss of revenue from business rates and council tax, due to the impact of COVID.

Finally, the Mayor’s campaign for a developers levy of £3 billion to help with the costs of waking watches now has the support of the Daily Mail and Sunday Times thanks to the work of campaigners. However, he said that the important thing for the government to understand is that remediating buildings makes them safer and removes the need for waking watches, thereby saving money in the long term.


notes for editors:

Waking Watches and London

London Fire Brigade have reported that London alone has close to 700 buildings where waking watches are being currently undertaken.[1] However this figure may increase as buildings with fire safety issues are still being identified. MCHLG have identified approximately 62,000 buildings in London that will fall within the scope of the Building Safety Regulator[2], whilst latest registrations to the Building Safety Fund show that 1628 buildings in London have applied for funding for cladding remediation work.[3]  As such 700 is a current rather than the final figure for waking watches in London.

Waking Watch Relief Fund

On 17th December 2020 the government announced £30 million of funding to provide fire alarms for high-rise buildings with cladding currently forced to have expensive waking watches in place as part of an ‘evacuate’ fire policy. This is intended to reduce or remove the cost of expensive waking watches to leaseholders.

However, the fund is woefully inadequate and in fact  provides nothing for the past, current or future costs of waking watches incurred by leaseholders.

To be eligible for fire alarm funding a building must:

  • be in the private sector
  • be over 18 metres in height
  • have an unsafe cladding system
  • have a waking watch in place where these costs have been passed on to leaseholders

These criteria exclude many dangerous and potentially dangerous buildings, such as those with cladding below 18 metres.

Social sector buildings where the Registered Provider can evidence that waking watch costs have been passed to leaseholders and the costs of installing an alarm will fall on leaseholders will also be eligible.[4]

The government has erroneously estimated that the fund could cover the installation of alarm systems in between 310 and 480 buildings, with an average size of 56 apartments per block.[5] This equates to between £62,500- £96,700 per alarm system. In contrast Ritu Saha of the UK Cladding Action Group gave evidence at the Assembly FREP committee that a common alarm system was installed in her building at a total cost of £120,000. At this cost only 250 buildings across the UK would be able to access funding for common alarm systems

Using the government’s lower estimate for installation, funding the installation of alarm systems in all the buildings in London alone will cost £43.75 million, rising to £84 million if costs match those paid by Ms Saha’s building. As such the £30million being offered is not enough to end the misery of waking watches for London, let alone the rest of the UK.

End Our Cladding Scandal Campaign Response:

Whilst the fund has been welcomed, there are serious concerns that it does not address the financial burden that has been placed on leaseholders as a result of dangerous cladding. In London the average monthly costs for a waking watch are £499 a month,[6] with some leaseholders seeing total costs for their building amounting to more than £500,000.[7] Currently these costs fall on leaseholders and developers of building owners. In addition it does not address the major safety concern of affected buildings, the external cladding which poses a danger.

The End Our Cladding Scandal Campaign has stated that:

The Government must step in and take decisive action. First, to front the money to fully address all associated costs that are being passed onto leaseholders, and second, to recoup these costs from the responsible parties via a system of levies and taxes.”[8]

“Our stance is, and always has been, consistent with that of successive government ministers: Leaseholders should not be expected to pay towards historic building safety defects not of their making. The building safety crisis was caused by decades of systemic government regulatory failure and an abhorrent culture within the construction and manufacturing industry of profit before people.”

The Mayor

In December the Mayor called for a levy on developers, including a retrospective levy on developments over the last ten years, to fund cladding remediation. He intends that money raised from the levy will be used to fund the remediation work necessary to make buildings in London safe. He stated:

I have always been clear that the responsibility for funding building safety work must lie with government. However, we cannot deny the role that industry has played in making decisions that have compromised the safety of buildings.[9]

[1] London Assembly, ‘Budget and Performance Committee 10th December 2020 Appendix 2’. [Date Accessed 11.01.21]

[2] Questions to the Mayor, ‘2020/3941’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[3] Gov.UK, ‘Building Safety Fund: Registration Statistics’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[4] Gov.UK, ‘Waking Watch Relief Fund’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[5] Inside Housing, ‘Government unveils new £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]. Further details on the assessment of costs are available at: Gov.UK, ‘Building Safety Programme: Waking Watch Costs’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[6] Gov.UK, ‘Building Safety Programme: Waking Watch Costs’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[7] Inside Housing, ‘Government unveils new £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[8] Inside Housing, ‘Government unveils new £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund’. [Date accessed 11.01.21]

[9] The Independent, ‘Sadiq Khan calls for £3bn levy on property developers to fund replacement cladding’. [Date accessed 04.01.21]