Millions of owners of unsafe flats ‘should not be made to pay a penny’ towards repair costs for historical cladding fire safety defects, say MPs
- Cross-party committee of MPs says leaseholders should be responsible for costs
- Report says only developers or the Government should be liable for repair bills
Pressure is pilling on the Government to ensure owners of flats earmarked as potentially unsafe in the cladding scandal following the Grenfell disaster do not have to pick up massive repair bills.
A cross-party committee of MPs has made it clear in a new report that leaseholders should not be burdened with the costs to fix historical fire safety issues with their buildings.
In a damning report that looks into the Building Safety Bill, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC) said that any legislation that passes these costs onto leaseholders would be unacceptable and an ‘abdication of responsibility’ by the Government – and they should not ‘contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible’.
Owners bought flats believing that as they complied with building regulations they were safe, however, many have been left unable to sell or move in the wake of the Grenfell fire, as mortgage lenders will not offer loans without fresh proof of safety.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about dangerous fire safety defects – and who pays for the repairs to them – have become a national issue
The report called on the Government to ‘provide leaseholders with the peace of mind they deserve’ by amending the bill to ‘explicitly exclude historical costs from the building safety charge’.
It went on to say that leaseholders ‘should not be left to pick up the pieces of the broken building safety system’.
This is despite clauses in the bill that allow for leaseholders to be charged for repair costs, even for issues that pre-date their moving in.
While Tory MPs have repeatedly said these should not be ‘unaffordable costs’, it has done little to clarify what an affordable bill for leaseholders could amount to.
‘We continue to believe that residents should not bear any of the costs of remediating historical building safety defects and are deeply concerned by the Government’s failure to protect them from these costs,’ the report said.
‘We are especially disturbed by its commitment to protecting them only from ‘unaffordable costs’.
‘It would be unacceptable and an abdication of responsibility to make them contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible.’
It added: ‘Quite simply, no-one besides the Government thinks the leaseholder should pay.’
Calls are being made for the Government to pay up front for the required safety repairs
How the cladding scandal left owners stuck
The issue of who pays for the repairs is at the heart of resolving an issue that has seen leaseholders in unsafe buildings burdened with colossal costs for ‘waking watch’ patrols and being unable to remortgage or sell.
Homeowners require what is known as an EWS1 form to prove their building is free of fire risk cladding if they want to sell or remortgage.
But some have been told they may have to wait up to 10 years to get one. About two million people in England are thought to be affected, with thousands more in Scotland and Wales.
The report suggested that only developers or the Government should be liable for the costs of the repairs as the issue had emerged due to either defective regulations or defective buildings.
This is supported by the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, which is calling on the Government to pay up front for the repairs and to give itself the power to sue those responsible to reclaim the cash and impose a levy on developers to help pay the bill back over time.
Once the issue of who is responsible for paying for remediation costs is resolved, it will help banks and building societies to lend on affected buildings and for owners to ultimately sell their flats and move on with their lives.
Rebecca Fairclough, from Manchester speaking on behalf of the campaign, said: ‘It has been three-and-a-half years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and we still have no effective or fair plan from the Government to make our dangerous buildings safe.
‘The Government’s failed approach to ending our cladding scandal has only exacerbated the stress and uncertainty felt by hundreds of thousands of residents.
‘It is well past time for the Government to grasp the nettle, show the leadership that is required and fix this crisis once and for all.’
The Government has currently set aside £1.6billion to cover the cost of remediating affected buildings. However, the committee said this is not enough and more money needs to be set aside.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government committee has previously estimated that the figure could be as high as £15billion that’s required.
Rob Stevens, of Nationwide Building Society, said: ‘The solution to the cladding crisis is to make the buildings safe and this can be achieved through the expansion of the building safety fund to cover all affected properties.’
Leaseholders should not be left to pay for the safety repairs, new report recommends
Government under fire for claiming a breakthrough
The MPs call follows the Government announcing at the weekend that it has secured agreement that the EWS1 form will not be needed on buildings where there is no cladding.
But a row erupted as UK Finance, which represents more than 250 banking and finance firms, and the Building Societies Association (BSA), which represents 43 UK building societies, said the importance of the announcement was minimal.
The Building Societies Association and UK Finance said in a statement: ‘Lenders sympathise with the impact that the safety issues related to cladding are causing some homeowners.
‘Borrowers and lenders have a common interest in ensuring that their flat is a safe place to live.’
‘In practical terms, with the exception of a few occasions where they were demanded in error, which have since been rectified, an EWS1 form has never been required for a building without any form of cladding or a combustible wooden balcony.’