Thank you Mr Speaker
I rise in utter frustration to speak in support of the amendments tabled by Labour, and by Stephen McPartland MP and Royston Smith MP – and on behalf of hundreds of leaseholders in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields who are staring down the barrel of this scandal.
I welcome this Bill, but it is too small and too slow. There is frustration across the house – we can do this right and do it much faster.
Today, we had another statement of support for leaseholders from the Minister who said he ‘agrees with the intent to give leaseholders peace of mind and financial certainty’. Yet the government did not write this into the Bill and won’t support the amendments.
No leaseholders of buildings of any height should be made to foot a bill for thousands of pounds that they cannot afford.
At the sharp end of its failings are millions of leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes who are suffering enormous stress, anxiety and emotional anguish and who feel totally abandoned.
Many feel their lives are on pause and might be for years.
Thousands of my constituents are affected. This is what some constituents have told me:
“As every day, week, or month goes by, our financial liability and stability becomes ever more disturbing and deeply troubling…. when will this end?”
Another constituent, who bought her flat using money inherited from her mother’s passing, said: “Despite my emotional attachment to my flat, current circumstances make me almost wish I’d never bought it. It’s a burden and a hindrance to me moving forward with the next stage of my life, at a prime time when I want to start a family.”
Another resident is a victim of domestic violence and has been trying to sell her property to raise money for legal fees and has had to receive food parcels due to lost income during the Pandemic. Her insurance premiums have now increased by 500%.
The amendments proposed today will help the Government come good on its own promises, and give leaseholders the peace of mind they need and deserve.
I will repeat what my colleagues and I, on both sides of the house – and indeed the Government on 17 occasions – have been saying for over a year now: under no circumstances should leaseholders, regardless of the height of their building, have to pay for cladding remediation costs that are the fault of developers and a failed regulatory system.
The Government’s announcement two weeks ago, while positive in some areas, fell well short on what was needed.
I had my head in my hands when I heard that Government funding will still only be available for buildings over 18m high, and that buildings lower than this will have to secure funding through a loan. Funding should be based on fire risk and not height.
A loan will not speed up remediation. It will only add layers of administration. I immediately received a lot of emails from people living in lower buildings, including one only 3cm under the 18m cut off. Why should the arbitrary height limit mean the difference between a safe home, and financial ruin?
And there are others – including many in Putney – who don’t have cladding but have been charged up to £100,000 per flat to fix other fire safety issues. What does the Housing Secretary have say to them?
And while I welcome the increase to the Building Safety Fund (BSF), the Minister and I both know full well that this is still nowhere near enough. Most estimates put the final bill for fire safety works at £15 billion.
My constituents are also hugely concerned at the pace at which applications to the Fund are being progressed. Four weeks ago, the Building Safety Fund had approved 12 applications for full funding. There are currently 532 applications that are deemed eligible. At an approval rate of 1 per week, this means the final application will not receive funds until 2031. What is the Minister doing to speed up approval of funds?
So I urge colleagues, from both sides of the House: take a stand for leaseholders today and support the amendments tabled by Labour, and Stephen McPartland MP and Royston Smith MP.
Please, do the right thing.