Here are simple explanations of some of the terminology that comes up when you’re talking about tower blocks, things that need fixing, and the laws that apply.
A type of cladding used in construction of many tower blocks, but which has been found to increase fire risks.
ACM was the cladding on Grenfell Tower, and was one of the reasons the fire spread so quickly. See our page on ACM here.
See ‘Responsible person‘.
Guidance which was published in 1968 and which has become part of the laws and regulations around building in this country. These pieces of guidance are about the use of gas in Large Panel System buildings. See Circular 62/68 here and Circular 71/68 here.
A service in the UK that gives information and advice on legal and financial problems, for free.
The material on the outside of a building or tower block.
Something that can catch fire. Tower blocks should be made of non-combustible materials, but unfortunately, in the past, combustible cladding has been used.
A fire safety feature in tower blocks, which relies on each flat being its own sealed unit. Because air cannot flow between flats, if fire breaks out in one unit, it will take longer to spread to other flats.
Compartmentation is breached if gaps occur. These might be cracks in the walls, ceilings or floors, or spaces around window frames, etc. They can be caused by subsidence, leaks, old and failing construction, etc.
If compartmentation is breached, this fire safety measure is no longer effective and you should request that the block is assessed and the compartmentation restored.
In Scotland, compartmentation might be called ‘fire separation’, as you can see in this guidance from the Scottish government.
The parts of a building that are shared. This includes places like corridors, foyers or entrance halls, lifts, and walkways. Sometimes called ‘common spaces‘.
Each area in the UK has an MP and some local councillors. A person who lives within the area is a ‘constituent’ of these representatives.
In England, when you make a complaint about your landlord to the Housing Ombudsman, they prefer it if you also get in touch with your MP or councillor to ask if they can offer help and advice. They then become your ‘designated person’. If you have a designated person, you don’t have to wait before the Housing Ombudsman will look at your complaint – otherwise they won’t do anything for eight weeks.
In legal language, ‘disrepair’ means that housing is not being kept in an adequate condition. For example, damage is not being fixed, maintenance is not being done, and problems like mould, pests or blocked drains are not being addressed. If disrepair means that your flat is not safe, clean or healthy, then it may not be ‘fit for human habitation’ (see below). See our page on disrepair.
See ‘Responsible person‘.
Every local council has an Environmental Health department. They advise on and enforce public health law, and their work includes making sure that housing in their area is safe for people to live in.
A fan which takes air from your flat and replaces it with fresh air. These are common in kitchens and bathrooms, and help to get rid of damp air. They may be electric or they might just be a unit that you can open or close by hand.
If you are making a complaint to your landlord and you are unhappy with their first reply, you should ask for a ‘final response’. If this is also unsatisfactory, you can now start an official complaints procedure.
By law, landlords must make sure that a building is regularly checked for any fire risks. See our page on Fire Risk Assessments.
The UK Act, from 2005, which deals with all fire safety law. It says that landlords ‘must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire’. Also known as the ‘Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order‘.
See the entry for Compartmentation.
In England, a law called ‘Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018‘ says that rented property must be suitable for people to live in, without dangers to health or safety. In Scotland the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) does the same job. See more about the laws setting the required standards for housing on this page.
A law which says that anyone can ask for information from the government and most public authorities. See our page on using FOI here.
Gas Safe is an official list of people who are qualified to work on gas appliances.
If you have gas for cooking or heating in your home, anyone repairing it or doing maintenance must be Gas Safe registered.
The 1998 law which says that landlords must ensure all gas fittings, pipes and supplies are safe.
A material which has been used as cladding for tower blocks, and can add to fire risk. HPL was a factor in the Lakanal House fire.
Detailed, but easy to understand, guidance for landlords in England so they can understand what their duties are around health and safety issues in the housing they own. You can see it here.
The Housing Ombudsman Service is an independent organisation which resolves disputes between tenants and social landlords, for free. in Scotland these duties are covered by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
If you are unhappy with a decision, you can write back to your social landlord or housing association and ask them to look again at how the decision was made.
This usually means that a different person will look at your issue, and the way it was handled, and decide whether this was fair or not.
A method of construction which takes blocks made elsewhere, and puts them together onsite. There are safety concerns with Large Panel System buildings — see our page here.
See tenancy agreement.
The type of gas that usually comes in metal canisters, and can be used for heating or cooking appliances. LPG should not be used in Large Panel System blocks.
A person elected to the local council, and who represents a ‘ward’ (or small local area). Councillors help with the problems of their constituents, and take their constituents’ views into council meetings where decisions are made. You might have one local councillor, or several. You can contact them for help with local issues, including housing.
An impartial body which is usually appointed by the government to resolve disputes between citizens and authorities or businesses. On this website, we talk about the Housing Ombudsman (for disputes between landlords and tenants), the Energy Ombudsman (for disputes between citizens and energy providers) and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (for disputes between citizens and any public service such as housing, universities and government bodies.
‘Pre-cast’ or ‘prefabricated’ means that a block of concrete is made somewhere else, and then transported to the building site. Several pre-cast panels or blocks are then fitted together to make a block.
A short document (usually one page or less) which describes a potential news story to journalists. It should include summary of the issue; a more in-depth description; a quote from someone involved; and contact details if the journalist wants to find out more.
This is a way of measuring pressure, and is commonly used by the building industry.
‘Qualifying repairs’ means repairs that your landlord must make, under the ‘Right to Repair‘ scheme. In England, they include repairs to windows, doors, leaky roofs and electrical issues; see a full list on this page from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
In Scotland, the Right to Repair applies to tenants of social landlords. It is described in this Scottish Government publication.
In Scotland and Wales, housing associations which are run as charities or co-operatives are known as RSLs. Council/local authority landlords are not RSLs.
In Scotland, the Repairing Standard law, under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, applies in relation to residential properties that are rented from private landlords. It says that a rented house must be wind and watertight and that all parts of the building and utilities must be in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order.
A representative is an elected person such as a Member of Parliament, a local councillor, an Assembly member, etc.
A group of people who live on the same estate, within the same building, or who have the same concerns, and who have joined together to make change. Read more on our Residents’ Group page here.
A Residents’ Association (RA), and a Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (TRA) are both forms of Residents Group.
In England, the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order says that every tower block must have an identified person whose duty it is to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire. That law refers to this role as the ‘Responsible Person’.
In Scotland, the concept of ‘Responsible Person’ isn’t included in the law, and “all parties with any control share responsibility to the extent of their control” (Section 54, Fire (Scotland) Act 2005). In practice this means that most responsibility for fire safety falls on the landlord, who may be referred to as the “duty holder”. The duty holder should be helped by a “competent person”. See more in points 487 and 488 here.
Local authority landlords have to make certain repairs under the ‘Right to repair’ scheme. Other social landlords aren’t bound by this law, but many use it anyway, or maintain a similar list of repairs they will cover. See more on the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website.
In Scotland, the Right to Repair does apply to tenants of social landlords. It is described in this Scottish Government publication.
When considering whether a house is fit for human habitation, in Scotland the law says that ‘sanitary defects‘ can be taken into account. The legislation explains that this can include “lack of air space or of ventilation, lack of lighting, dampness, absence of adequate and readily accessible water supply or of sanitary arrangements or of other conveniences, and inadequate paving or drainage of courts, yards or passages”.
So in other words, you must have a good water supply, facilities for washing, a toilet, light, good airflow, no damp and no flooding – or the landlord would be considered to be breaking the law.
The SHQS makes sure landlords provide housing that is of a minimum standard. In Scotland, social housing must not fall below this level of safety, security and maintenance. If it does, the Scottish Housing Regulator can step in. See more about the laws setting the required standards for housing on this page.
See the entry for Housing Ombudsman.
In Scotland, most tenants of social landlords occupy their homes under a Scottish secure tenancy. A smaller number occupy Short Scottish secure tenancies, also known as SSSTs.
The Act which regulates both types of tenancy is the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. Schedule 4 of the Act sets out important repairing duties that the landlord must meet, in either type of tenancy. In the vast majority of cases, tenants are asked to sign a standard form tenancy agreement, which contains a statement of the landlord’s schedule 4 duties. See this page from Scottish Shelter and, for more about the laws setting the required standards for housing see this page.
A UK charity which helps people with any problems around housing. Their website contains a lot of advice and information, too.
In Scotland, local authority landlords and RSLs are described as ‘social landlords’ or landlords in the ‘socially rented sector’.
Tenancies of social landlords are subject to the same rules, under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, and the same repairing duties, under schedule 4 of that Act. They are also subject to the same regulatory regime, under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010.
Sinking or movement of the ground. If this happens under a building it can cause damage, or even collapse.
A contract between a landlord and a tenant, sometimes also called a ‘lease’.
In Scotland, registered social landlords (RSLs) and local authorities must, by law, have a strategy to demonstrate how they enable ‘continuous improvement in landlords’ performance in supporting and enabling tenants to participate’. In other words, they should show that they are open to listening to tenants, and how they will act on tenants’ suggestions. See more on gov.scot.
In Scotland, all houses must meet the ‘tolerable standard’. This is a basic level of repair any house (including houses which are owner-occupied) must meet, to make it fit for a person to live in.
It consists of 14 different elements which must be met, including structural stability; freedom from damp; adequate water supply, etc. Where a house does not meet the standard, the local authority has the power to require it to be closed, demolished or brought up to the standard.
The movement of air around your flat. If ventilation is poor, it can lead to mould and other problems. Windows and fans can help improve ventilation.