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RAAC – what are the implications for schools?

On 31 August 2023 the Department for Education (“DfE”) announced that schools and colleges with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (“RAAC”) in their buildings must close, due to the risk of collapse, unless mitigations are put in place. To date, the DfE has published a list of 156 schools and colleges where RAAC was confirmed. In this article we consider what RAAC is and what schools and colleges should do if you are concerned it is present in your buildings.

What is RAAC?

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete, but due to its make-up is much weaker than traditional concrete. RAAC panels and planks are commonly found in flat roofs, floors and walls and this product was widely used in schools, colleges and other buildings constructed from the 1950s until the mid-1990s because of its lightweight nature, thermal performance and cheaper price. Production of RAAC was stopped in the UK in 1982 over concerns in its structural performance and life expectancy and this has now been classed as a deleterious material and therefore will no longer be specified for use.

Why is RAAC a problem?

RAAC has a life span of approximately 30 years, after which it begins to crumble and the buildings which contain RAAC could be at risk of collapse. In July 2018, a roof collapsed just 24 hours after an initial indication of structural strain in the roof in a primary school in Kent and in late August 2023, there was a failure of RAAC panels at another school in England. In August 2023, the Health and Safety Executive announced that “RAAC is now life-expired. It is liable to collapse with little or no notice”.  Where RAAC is identified within a building’s structure, repairs and corrective measures are critical because of the speed at which it can deteriorate and collapse.

Do you have RAAC in your building?

The Institution of Structural Engineers has issued guidance on their website on the investigation and assessment of RAAC. The DfE has also released guidelines for school administrators to better understand and respond to the risks of RAAC. 

If your building or part of your buildings were constructed or modified in the time period from the 1950s up until the mid-1990s and you think RAAC may have been used, it is important that structural investigations and a risk assessment are carried out by a suitably qualified professional (such as a structural engineer) and if required, remediation strategies adopted to mitigate the risks posed by RAAC.

An online questionnaire can be completed by local authorities and multi-academy trusts if you suspect there is RAAC in your building, and based on the answers given, the DfE will consider arranging a professional to survey your school.

If our building is affected, what should I do?

If you are a freeholder of the building without any leasehold arrangements with a third party, you will be responsible for repairs relating to the structure of the building and as such you should be seeking advice from a structural engineer and potentially undertaking RAAC remediation works.

If you are a leaseholder, the terms of the lease will set out your obligations and the landlord’s obligations. Usually, the landlord is responsible for repairs to the structure of the building but you should seek advice to confirm that this is the case.

Next steps

If you have RAAC on your premises, Irwin Mitchell can provide specialist legal advice on all related legal issues including:

  • Lease interpretation to ascertain who is responsible for any repairs that should be undertaken
  • Procurement strategy in relation to how to procure any remedial works or temporary works which are needed to avoid disruption
  • Drafting and providing advice in relation to any construction contracts required for remedial or temporary works
  • Advising on grant funding agreements for mitigation works that are capital funded

Advice on whether you have any potential claims in relation to the original construction of the works, however, considering the widespread use of RAAC came to an end in the 1990s it is likely that any relevant limitation periods will have expired