Many constituents have contacted me about the ongoing issue of unsafe cladding.
I know how stressful and difficult the cladding scandal is for so many leaseholders, not least because so many of my constituents in Leeds have been affected. It is completely wrong that they should be asked to pay to fix a problem – unsafe cladding and shoddy buildings – which they are in no way responsible for.
After a great deal of pressure by cladding campaigners and a group of us as MPs, the Communities Secretary made an announcement at the beginning of February about more help. 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. 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 simply 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 cost of putting these right. Ministers have also created an artificial divide based on the height of buildings 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 all 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 would still be unsafe if the other defects are not dealt with at the same time. This is because leaseholders simply do not have the sums of money required to pay for this work. The stress and strain on them is enormous , their homes have been rendered worthless, they cannot re-mortgage, they’re having to pay waking watch and increased insurance bills and they worry about the very real prospect of bankruptcy.
This is completely unfair and our campaign for justice for leaseholders is far from over, not least because although Government ministers have promised on many occasions that the costs would not be passed on to leaseholders, they have consistently rejected proposals in Parliament to protect leaseholders.
We debated the Fire Safety Bill in the last week of February where we had the House of Lords amendment which sought to prevent leaseholders from having to meet any of the costs. Unfortunately, the Government defeated this amendment (which I voted to keep) with ministers trying to argue that the Fire Safety Bill was not the place to be discussing what costs should fall on to leaseholders. I profoundly disagreed and I made the point in my speech, a copy of which you can see here:
We debated the bill again on 22 March and then on 27 and 28 April. Here’s a link to a further speech I made.
All these debates were on amendments to the Fire Safety Bill to protect leaseholders from having to pay to replace dangerous cladding. Unfortunately, these were opposed by the Government and defeated every time, despite almost every MP who spoke being in favour of them. Sadly, it became clear that we were banging our heads against a brick wall, and the Fire Safety Bill, which contains a lot of very important provisions in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, has now become law.
I can assure you, however, that I will keep campaigning on this issue and the next point of pressure for the Government will be when the Building Safety Bill comes before the House of Commons in the new parliamentary session.
I believe that the only way forward is for the Government to make loans available to fix all of the problems in all of the affected blocks and then recover the cost from the levies it is proposing to put on developers and the house building industry, with a contribution from Government for having allowed this scandal to happen in the first place.
Hilary Benn MP