After a great deal of pressure, the Communities Secretary made an announcement at the beginning of February about more help to do something about the cladding scandal.
He said that all buildings over 18 metres or six storeys in height will get the removal of their unsafe cladding paid for by increased Government funding so none of this cost falls on leaseholders. For buildings under 18 metres with unsafe cladding, the Government will make available loans to the building to remove it but leaseholders will have to help contribute to the cost of paying the loan back subject to a maximum payment of £50 a month. The Government also announced that there will be a development levy and a tax on house building to help pay for the additional funding and the loans.
While this does represent some progress, it doesn’t solve the problem because crucially the Government’s offer does not cover other fire safety problems that have been identified in many blocks, including things like missing fire breaks, wooden balconies and flammable insulation. This means that all leaseholders will still be hit by the costs of remedying these problems. Ministers have also created an artificial divide depending on the height of the building which means that some leaseholders will get the removal of their dangerous cladding paid for while others will only get a loan for this which they will then have to help to pay back. What this means is that, despite this announcement, all leaseholders will still be left facing considerable costs for a problem they did not create and even where unsafe cladding is replaced, a building could still be unsafe if the other defects are not dealt with at the same time. I think this is completely unfair and our campaign for justice for leaseholders is far from over, not least because Government ministers had promised on at least eleven occasions that the costs would not be passed on to leaseholders.
Attention will now turn to the Fire Safety Bill which has been through the House of Lords where an amendment was passed seeking to prevent leaseholders from having to meet any of the costs, although it doesn’t provide all of the detail about how this would apply in practice. A number of amendments have now put down to the Bill for its return to the House of Commons on 24th February, including the McPartland/Smith amendment (to which I have added my name) and the amendments from the Labour front bench, both of which seek to protect leaseholders from being forced to pay to fix a problem they did not create. I will vote for all amendments that aim to do this.
On the EWS1 problem, the Government has announced a new approach which they say will remove the need for such certificates in about half of the cases. We’re still waiting to see the details, but in any event, we need more trained surveyors and they need to be able to get public liability insurance.
I hope this update is helpful and I will continue to campaign for a fair outcome.
Hilary Benn MP
You can watch Hilary’s contribution to the recent cladding debate here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3V3zJT0dcM&feature=youtu.be