29th April 2020, House of Commons Chamber
I fully support the broad purposes of this Bill. Any Bill that takes us a step closer to righting the wrongs of Grenfell tower gets my full support, and my thoughts are also with those who died in Grenfell and with those injured and all the families, friends, survivors and firefighters.
Greater powers and meaningful sanctions to ensure that residents are safe in their homes are welcome. However, this Bill is a huge missed opportunity to address a big issue in my constituency and around the country: that of leaseholders being made to pay for the cost of the unsafe cladding still on their buildings. It is too long to wait for the building safety Bill, and the deadline for the removal of all unsafe cladding in private blocks by June 2020, set by the Government, will clearly not be met. In the meantime, thousands of people are left in limbo because of the cladding crisis.
The Swish building and Riverside Quarter in Putney are two examples. They have 66 and 200 flats respectively, and their cladding is a mixture of the Grenfell-type ACM and HPL. Leaseholders have been told by their freeholder that the cladding and other fire safety measures in their building do not meet the standard now regarded by the Government as adequate to obtain a fire safety certificate. For a fire safety certificate to be issued, the building will need to be re-clad. Without the certificate, leaseholders cannot sell, and they have to pay for an expensive nightly waking watch, which costs about £100,000 a year. They are being told they need to foot the bill for the re-cladding, which they are told could be between £50,000 and £80,000 per flat.
It is simply unfair to make leaseholders foot the bill. They are not multimillionaire landlords, but normal people—many of them retired—trying to live their lives, which have been made even more difficult by the current crisis. They do not have a spare £50,000 lying around or the means to get it. The emotional toll is enormous, which is why the matter needs to be addressed urgently, so it is disappointing not to see that in this Bill. The situation has left leaseholders in complete limbo, as has been mentioned by other Members, and facing an uncertain future. Mortgage lenders will not issue mortgages for homes without a fire safety certificate, so people are stuck. One resident, who has been unemployed for over a year, told me:
“The net result for me is that I will lose my home”.
“We now face financial ruin as a direct result of the Government’s retrospective change to fire safety regulation.”
Another resident said that their flat is
“unsaleable and therefore effectively worthless… We cannot afford to pay a sum of this size.”
The Bill offers nothing for leaseholders at the Riverside, Swish or in other similar tower blocks. While I appreciate that the building safety Bill is coming, this Bill could provide the measures that the cladding crisis victims need. In particular, I would like a commitment to adequate Government funding for cladding remediation work or to ensure that freeholders foot the Bill, as they, not the leaseholders, will be the ones who benefit from building improvements. The additional funding announced in the Budget is welcome, but it is also too hard to claim. Only two buildings have made claims from the existing £200 million private property fund. Ministers must take more responsibility.
I would also like local government reimbursement. To ensure that the legislation is successful in protecting lives, national Government must make sure that local government and other fire authorities are reimbursed for any additional costs arising out of the operational changes mandated by this Bill. Our already underfunded local authorities must be given extra capacity to make homes safe.
We also need greater clarity on the non-ACM cladding that is deemed unsafe. There is huge confusion about which cladding is safe or unsafe. Are people living in really dangerous buildings or not? Confusion reigns, and the Bill needs to address that.
In conclusion, we are approaching the third anniversary of the Grenfell tower disaster, and so many questions remain unanswered. This Bill fails to address them and will disappoint thousands. I welcome the Government’s work on cladding so far, but so much more needs to be done.