Why we need better protection in the Building Safety Bill

It is nearly five years since the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has shown how the Civil Service and ex-Ministers failed to act on repeated warnings, largely due to the deregulatory landscape.

On 10 January 2022, Secretary of State Michael Gove told Parliament that leaseholders “are blameless, and it is morally wrong that they should be the ones asked to pay the price”.

Unfortunately, the recent Government amendments to the Building Safety Bill have many caveats and mean that many leaseholders will still have to pay life-changing sums of money to remediate their building:

  • Our recent survey of over 2,200 properties in buildings over 11 metres shows that over 64% of leaseholders outside London and over 83% of leaseholders in London will not be protected from the costs of non-cladding fire safety defects.
  • The arbitrary exclusion of leaseholders with more than three properties also means that many buildings will not be able to collect sufficient funding to be made safe.

Thankfully, peers in the Lords have tabled further amendments to the Building Safety Bill, seeking to widen its scope:

  • Baroness Hayman tabled an amendment to reduce leaseholder contributions to zero
  • the Earl of Lytton, supported by Conservative ex-Chief Whips Lord Blencathra and Lord Young, tabled an amendment to extend leaseholder protections to buildings of all heights

We need MPs to support these amendments.

Unfortunately, the Bill has not had sufficient time for proper scrutiny in both Houses, especially given the number of amendments tabled in the Lords at report stage. As a result, we fear the Government will offer only minor compromises and force through the Bill before the end of this session.

Mr Gove may say that leaseholders are now the last resort to pay what are still life-changing costs for most ordinary people. However, in many cases where the developer does not exist, and the freeholder is of limited financial means, this is simply not true. If no party can be identified to pay for remediation, leaseholders will be liable. As most will not have sufficient funds, this means that buildings will not be remediated.

Leaseholders are the only innocent party in what is a collective state and industry failure spanning over two decades. Successive governments and the senior civil servants in charge of building regulations have allowed the UK’s regulatory system to remain inadequate and gameable despite repeated warnings.

Brian Martin, former head of technical policy and responsible for building regulations, gave evidence just a few days ago. He admitted that the cost of regulation to industry was considered more important by the Ministry than fire safety guidance giving priority to life safety. Mr Martin also ignored warnings about the dangers of not reviewing Approved Document B – as explicitly advised to do by the coroner of the 2009 Lakanal House fire. As a civil servant, Mr Martin will have been acting upon the direction of his seniors and ex-Ministers such as Lord Pickles and Lord Barwell.

Rather than taking full control of this scandal some years ago, the Government has instead chosen to play political games, first pitting leaseholders against the taxpayer, and now setting solving the building safety crisis against the affordable housing crisis.

The recent pledges from developers to remediate the buildings they built over the past 30 years do not go far enough. Whilst we do not yet know how the pledge will work in practice, it is not clear how a consistent approach to assessment and remediation will be achieved as part of this process, so we are sceptical as to whether it will bring certainty to the housing market. Furthermore, we already know that leaseholders in buildings under 11m will remain unprotected. The Government continues to ignore the pleas of these leaseholders, many of whom have received huge bills for remediation with legal threats upon non-payment.

Lastly, there is still no funding commitment from housebuilders for the £4bn required for remediation of buildings where the developer does not exist anymore, referred to as ‘orphan buildings’.

Leaseholders have already been forced to pay thousands of pounds, and building reserve funds have been depleted, due to the Government’s delayed action. Leaseholders have gone bankrupt. Many are looking into bankruptcy now because of interim costs alone, before any remediation has even taken place. We need a comprehensive solution and an end to the Building Safety Crisis. We need it now.

We are organising a rally in Westminster at 1pm on 20 April. Please meet us there.

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign calls on the Government to lead an urgent, national effort to fix the building safety crisis.

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