Impact of new laminate cladding advice on your PII policy
The Government recently published a new advice note on the use of High Pressure Laminate (HPL) cladding systems, targeted at the owners of residential buildings 18 metres tall or more.
The note posits that HPL panels of a European classification of Class C or D are very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire, and that systems using any type of HPL panels (Class B–D) with combustible insulation are also very unlikely to resist the spread of fire. The Expert Panel found that there are no HPL panels that meet the Class A1 or A2-s1, d0 classification, meaning that HPL should not be used in the external walls systems of new residential buildings of 18 metres or more. This includes new builds, residential buildings undergoing refurbishments of the external walls, or a building undergoing a material change of use. Building owners with these systems are expected to take immediate action in line with Advice Note 14, including remediation measures.
The Government's advice note acknowledges that the risk from unsafe cladding systems using ACM Category 3 panels is higher than the risk from unsafe HPL panels, and thus the former should remain a priority. However, action to remediate unsafe HPL systems on existing buildings should be carried out as soon as possible.
Whilst the Expert Panel found that the commonly used HPL (FR) (Class B-s1, d0) panels pose no public safety risk when paired with stone wool insulation (and therefore do not require remediation measures for the time being), current projects underway may have HPL panels specified. These specifications may now need to be changed.
The MHCLG advice note and your Professional Indemnity Insurance policy
This MHCLG advice note on HPL’s is one of many of their advice notes impacting the property sector, from valuation to contract administration. Many of these advice notes reflect the changing concern of insurers from simply ACM cladding, towards the fire safety of all materials, and overall fire design, of a building. Restrictions on construction Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) policies for Architects and Design & Build contractors are now commonly full exclusions that encompass all perceived fire safety design, including issues with any material or product throughout a building. At the time of writing RICS Surveyors are not having to accept such extreme PII exclusions, however we advise it is prudent to work on the understanding that this could change, because the terms and conditions of a future PII policy will be the policy that covers claims arising for work done now.
As for the legal impact of these notes, it is early days as to how relevant they will be in forming the benchmark for duty of care across the affected professions, but we advise for now it is prudent to assume they will be highly relevant