The presence of RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) in more than 150 schools, and identification of the safety hazard it now represents, has caused huge disruption just as the new school year gets underway. But as other buildings are inspected, it is becoming apparent that this issue won't be confined only to education establishments. Those responsible for buildings including hospitals, offices and court buildings, and even homeowners, will now be asking what they need to do to identify whether their building is affected and who is responsible for any necessary remediation work.
Identifying whether it may be present is the first step. RAAC is a lightweight, 'bubbly' form of concrete commonly used in construction between the 1950s and mid-1990s. It is predominantly found as precast panels in roofs (commonly flat roofs, sometimes pitched) and occasionally in floors and walls. RAAC panels are light-grey or white in appearance, and the underside of the panels will appear smooth. The inside of the planks will appear bubbly, often described as looking like an Aero bar. Unlike traditional concrete, there will not be visible stones (aggregate) in the panels. The Department for Education has issued guidance for those seeking to identify whether RAAC may be present, with images and a checklist to consult, but useful not only to those with responsibility for buildings in an education setting: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reinforced-autoclaved-aerated-concrete-estates-guidance
If you think a building may contain RAAC, it will be worth getting a surveyor to take a look. You will need an appropriately qualified building surveyor or structural engineer with experience of RAAC to confirm if it is indeed present. If the presence of RAAC is confirmed, a structural assessment should be carried out. Assessment of RAAC is a highly specialised area within the structural engineering profession, and it is important to ensure that those providing structural engineering services are suitably qualified and can demonstrate an appropriate level of skill and experience to conduct any necessary remediation work. Specialist competent contractors must be appointed to ensure compliance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. The Institution of Structural Engineers is the main professional body for structural engineers in the UK, and it maintains a register of engineers with experience of RAAC.
Bodies responsible for state-funded education estates in England who suspect RAAC might be present on any of their sites must immediately inform the Department for Education via the DfE Capital Portal. The Department for Education will then add the education setting to the DfE Assessment Survey Programme for state-funded education settings in England.
But it won't only be schools that are affected. Many homeowners living in ex-council properties, paying for their building's maintenance through a service charge, will be understandably concerned that they might now face large bills for RAAC remediation work. There are obvious parallels with the cladding crisis that has followed the Grenfell Tower fire, and many will look to the provisions of the Building Safety Act 2022, brought in to address many of the issues that arose from the Grenfell tragedy. However, the protections it affords will not assist the majority of leaseholders with homes containing RAAC, as even the time limit extension to 30 years for safety-related defect claims does not go back far enough to cover its use in homes built between the 1950s and 1980s.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.