The widespread use of RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, also known as ‘bubbly concrete’) as a lightweight alternative to traditional concrete builds, was used in thousands of public buildings from the 1950s. Relatively cheap and readily available, it was particularly popular for flat roofs and external cladding. With a limited lifespan, RAAC decays over time so deterioration and the risk of collapse was inevitable. The crisis has forced the closure of hundreds of schools, including, to date, two in Anglesey, Wales, with hospitals facing similar problems. The Welsh government is working with councils to identify those schools and hospitals which may be at risk.
Sadly, the problem isn’t confined to schools and hospitals. Property consultants have reported that RAAC could also affect the social housing sector in housing stock that was built during the 1950s to 1980s. The problem may also affect properties such as old offices and hospitals that have been converted into housing.
Lack of certainty over the extent of the problem faced by the social housing sector means that thorough, urgent inspections of properties built during the 1950s to the 1980s (when much social housing was built) will be the only way of reliably identifying those affected by the presence of RAAC. According to engineering experts, buildings constructed between these dates of two to four storeys in height and with a flat roof are most likely to be affected.
Recent reforms to building safety could offer limited hope for homeowners; however, a civil claim for remedial works under the Defective Premises Act 1972 will only apply to buildings constructed or redeveloped in the last 30 years.
The responsibility for replacing or mitigating the use of RAAC will rest with the relevant property owners. Clearly, the immediate priority is to ensure the safety of occupiers. Housing providers should check whether they have any records dating from the time of construction. Urgent advice should be sought from experts to identify those buildings with RAAC present, assess the risk posed and whether immediate remedial works are required. Expert legal advice will also determine whether a cause of action may be available against those responsible for the design and construction of the buildings in question.
“Housing associations and local authorities should urgently check building specifications and drawings for the use of RAAC in any of their housing stock that were constructed between the 1950s to the 1980s. Immediate structural surveys should be commissioned where RAAC is found to be present.
One of the perhaps unintended consequences of the Building Safety Act 2022 is that if RAAC is present in a building constructed or refurbished in the last 30 years, it may be that the association or authority could pursue a claim for the remedial works cost under the Defective Premises Act 1972.
It may be that the time period to pursue such claims has lapsed given the 30-year time period from completion of the dwellings to pursue such claims. But given the widespread uncertainty on the nature and extent of the RAAC issues at present, associations and authorities should not delay in exploring and investigating such claims”.