Living with the cost of a broken lift

Gareth Lomax from Ardent Lift Consultancy looks at the implications.

With this month’s edition of Flat-Living focussing on service charges, we thought we would look at the cost of lifts beyond the basic maintenance matters or LOLER inspections (AKA insurance inspections).

Whilst many people could put up with the inconvenience of a broken lift for the short term, for others it could mean the difference between freedom or entrapment, where the lift is a vital lifeline for those who come to depend on the service for accessing their homes. The elderly, disabled and young families are often the most vulnerable in society and this is also demonstrated when the equipment they rely on proves to be unreliable.

When the cost of work exceeds £250 per flat, the Section 20 Notice has to be invoked. It is very easy for faulty lift equipment to break that threshold when key operational components fail. For example, a faulty proprietary drive unit could cost up to £5,000 to repair or replace, which would mean that if the lift serves less than 20 flats (i.e. 5-6 floor building) it would require the Section 20 Notice to be implemented before any repair works could be undertaken (potentially leaving a lift out of service for 3 months or more). Whilst most repairs to lift equipment and the basic components of a lift will come in far below the £5,000 figure, a number of components (full control panel, main hoisting machine, door operator, etc.) could conceivably cost this figure or greater.

However, should the sinking fund of a property fall short of the figure required to undertake vital repairs, it could take even longer whilst demands are issued to tenants and funds are collected, potentially with lift service unavailable to those who depend upon it.

The problem is compounded when reviewed against the lifespan of lift equipment and other comparable elements (water heating systems, flat roofs, etc.) and the circa 20 years we would expect these elements to deliver reliable performance before capital expenditure is required. Whilst our article on Flat Living details the pros and cons of lift refurbishment or replacement, the problem we often face when working with residential properties is that the lift has started to prove unreliable before anyone considers the lifespan of the system. Consequently, when it fails, insufficient funding is available.

At Ardent Lift Consultancy, we are big advocates of planning ahead and as part of our surveying work, we always try to offer best advice on how long the key components of any individual lift will last. Whilst we all like to get our money’s worth in life (myself included), there is a tipping point where economic viability of keeping an older piece of equipment 'limping along' becomes a false economy and repair costs can outweigh those of refurbishment/replacement if extrapolated over the next 3-5 years. The trick in this is correctly identifying that point without the aid of a crystal ball or worse still hindsight (which inevitably means the lift has failed and there was an opportunity to avoid that fate).

The cost of any major repairs or the replacement of components when dealing with Flat-Living are high due to the scale of the task at hand. As the buildings are often many times larger than a house, this is all the more reason to consider expenditure far in advance. With a Planned Preventative Maintenance report we are able to look 10 years ahead wherever possible. With major lift works running between the tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds in some properties, it could take years to sustainably collect the funds required, particularly when there are so many other expenses to deal with.

If you need any advice on particular issues or want to ascertain future expenditure at your property, please feel free to contact us at ardentlc.co.uk or 01394 200328.