Non-Qualifying Leaseholders meeting with DLUHC

We want to see all homes made safe as quickly as possible and all innocent leaseholders protected from the costs of remediating building safety defects. But despite frequent statements from the Government that innocent leaseholders ‘should not’ pay, those deemed to be ‘non-qualifying’ are still facing entirely uncapped costs. In this guest blog, Maggie and Suzy, co-leaders of the Non-Qualifying Leaseholders campaign group share an update on their recent engagement with DLUHC.

We started the Non-Qualifying Leaseholders group in October 2022, to create a community for all leaseholders who are discriminated against by the Building Safety Act and excluded from the ‘leaseholder protections’ that were laid down in law. We aim to achieve fair and equitable funding for non-qualifying leaseholders, in line with those deemed qualifying. All leaseholders have suffered the same consequences from the building safety crisis, through no fault of their own.

We have members from all categories of the exclusions, with many different circumstances affecting them including leaseholders owning more than three properties, enfranchised leaseholders, those living in low-rise buildings under 11 metres, and commercial leaseholders in mixed-use buildings.

Based on government data, there are approximately 400,000 flats in mid or high-rise buildings that are owned by a non-qualifying leaseholder with more than three properties, and an estimated 1.3 million leasehold flats in low-rise purpose-built blocks. This is not a small problem – and it has a ripple effect. In any building that has even one non-qualifying leaseholder who cannot pay, remediation work to make homes safe may be delayed or unable to go ahead.

Despite the devastating impact on many thousands of people, the amendments that created this ‘non-qualifying’ status were pushed through in April 2022 with little time for scrutiny, and we are finding that more and more leaseholders are discovering the impact of this legislation as time goes on.

Our group is now approaching 500 members – and the numbers are increasing all the time. We are grateful for the many contributions, discussions and suggestions that our members are sharing, which enable us to represent a stronger voice as we campaign to end this injustice and hold the Government accountable for their promises to protect all leaseholders.

Thanks to an introduction from the EOCS campaign team, who highlighted our role as a specialised focus group, we attended an initial meeting in January with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and were subsequently invited to a meeting in February with DLUHC’s Resident Engagement team and the Secretary of State’s Policy Unit. At this meeting we were able to discuss in more depth the urgent issues now facing leaseholders who have been entirely excluded from the ‘protections’ laid down in the Building Safety Act.

During this meeting, officials heard directly from a number of non-qualifying leaseholders about the real-life consequences of the Department’s policy decisions. We highlighted that this is a problem that will not go away, with many unintended consequences delaying the process of remediation and the ability of leaseholders to move forward with the remediation of their building and their lives. It was clearly identified that further government action is required and that the current progress towards making buildings safe is totally unacceptable.

Holding this meeting with a dedicated focus on the issues of non-qualifying leaseholders was a step in the right direction, and we were encouraged by some of the discussion in the meeting. However, it is disappointing that we have not yet seen any formal signs of new policy thinking beyond the repeated advice that non-qualifying leaseholders have already seen copied and pasted into correspondence from the Department. We have subsequently responded to DLHUC to confirm that, as we outlined in the meeting, we expect to see much more comprehensive action to ensure all leaseholders are protected from historic building safety costs.

We have highlighted that more issues continue to emerge as a result of this ill-conceived category of non-qualifying leaseholders having been created. For example, building owners are deliberately misinterpreting the legislation on qualifying status; there is a lack of legal clarity over whether a lease extension (lease surrender and regrant) results in a leaseholder forfeiting their qualifying status; it is unclear whether there is a very short deadline for revived claims under the extension of the Defective Premises Act, which is the only real advice being offered to buildings under 11 metres; and leaseholders who purchased after 14 February 2022 but before the legislation was passed are now finding themselves non-qualifying because the status is passed on to the next buyer, despite the fact that they would be qualifying based on their own circumstances.

We are also very concerned about the emphasis being placed on legal action, such as Remediation Orders and Remediation Contribution Orders, as the route forward for remediation funding. It is not reasonable to expect non-qualifying leaseholders to enter into an open-ended financial commitment to fund action for the benefit of all leaseholders in the building, when the outcome is unknown and non-qualifying leaseholders are the only ones expected to pay the landlord’s legal costs and bear financial risk.

When we met the Secretary of State in January, we listened to him express his concern for those ‘on the margins’ and his expectation that those of ‘substantial means’ would pay for the remediation of fire safety defects. However, all leaseholders are equally blameless for a national problem they had no involvement in or control over.

Jeremy Pocklington, formerly Permanent Secretary at DLUHC, told the LUHC Select Committee earlier this year that there would be a ‘vanishingly small tail’ of leaseholders who have to pay for remediation. More recently, Richard Goodman, Director General for Building Safety, declared there would be no funding gap; however when he listed the sources contributing to funding, he failed to mention leaseholders. The reality is that the Department is attempting to use leaseholders to substantially close the funding gap on the building safety crisis. Our position has always been that the building safety crisis is caused by decades of failure by government and industry and that all leaseholders are equally deserving of protection from the costs of fixing historic safety defects.

As we seek further action at our next meeting, it is vitally important that DLUHC’s Resident Engagement team are aware of the issues you are facing. If you are affected, please email correspondence@levellingup.gov.uk and include your non-qualifying category in the subject header (e.g. building under 11 metres, 3+ properties, enfranchised). We would be grateful if you could copy us into your email at unqualifiedleaseholders@gmail.com, so that we may highlight your situation in our discussions.

It is also important to email your constituency MP – don’t be put off if they ignore you initially, please keep going. We have a template letter you can use as a starting point but as new situations arise regularly, do continue to let them know how you are affected by issues such as mortgage lending; valuers and conveyancers who are unable or unwilling to deal with any non-qualifying leasehold property; lack of response or slow response from government funding schemes; issues with your developer if they have promised to fix your building; or the impact this is having on your family’s health and wellbeing. Our members are reporting some success with getting their MP to speak up for them; we must increase the noise!

We have joined forces with you all towards this objective and – with the help and support from other cladding groups nationwide – we have a voice. We must continue to use it.

If you are a non-qualifying leaseholder, please join the private Facebook group to share information, support other leaseholders and advocate for justice. We also need more non-qualifying leaseholders who are willing to share their story with the media so that this issue gets the attention it deserves. If you’re keen to help, please complete this form.

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