Glossary

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.


Aluminium Composite Material (ACM)

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.

Circular 62/68 and Circular 71/68

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.

Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB)

A service in the UK that gives information and advice on legal and financial problems, for free.

Cladding

The material on the outside of a building or tower block.

Combustible

Something that can catch fire. Tower blocks should be made of non-combustible materials, but unfortunately, in the past, combustible cladding has been used.

Compartmentation

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.

Common parts

The parts of a building that are shared. This includes places like corridors, foyers or entrance halls, lifts, and walkways. Sometimes called ‘common spaces‘.

Constituent

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.

Disrepair

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.

Environmental Health

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.

Extractor fan

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.

Final response

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.

Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)

By law, landlords must make sure that a building is regularly checked for any fire risks. See our page on Fire Risk Assessments.

Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order

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‘.

Fit for Habitation

In the UK, 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.

Freedom of Information (FOI)

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 registered engineer

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.

Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations

The 1998 law which says that landlords must ensure all gas fittings, pipes and supplies are safe.

High pressure laminate (HPL)

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.

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Detailed, but easy to understand, guidance for landlords so they can understand what their duties are around health and safety issues in the housing they own. You can see it here.

Housing ombudsman

The Housing Ombudsman Service is an independent organisation which resolves disputes between tenants and social landlords, for free.

Internal review

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.

Large panel system (LPS)

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.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

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.

Local councillor

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.

Pre-cast / prefabricated

‘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.

Press release

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.

PSI (Pounds per Square Inch)

This is a way of measuring pressure, and is commonly used by the building industry.

Qualifying repairs

‘Qualifying repairs’ means repairs that your landlord must make, under the ‘Right to Repair‘ scheme. They include repairs to windows, doors, leaky roofs and electrical issues; see a full list on this page from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Repairing Standard

In Scotland, the Repairing Standard law says that rented property must meet a basic standard of repair, which includes being wind and watertight, having heating and sanitation etc. It is part of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006.

Representative

A representative is an elected person such as a Member of Parliament, a local councillor, an Assembly member, etc.

Residents’ Group

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.

Responsible Person

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’.

Right to repair

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.

Shelter

A UK charity which helps people with any problems around housing. Their website contains a lot of advice and information, too.

Subsidence

Sinking or movement of the ground. If this happens under a building it can cause damage, or even collapse.

Tenancy agreement

A contract between a landlord and a tenant.

Tolerable standard

In Scotland, some dwellings are exempt from the “Repairing Standard” (see above). They must reach the “Tolerable Standard”, which is a lower requirement.

Ventilation

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.