Leaseholders should not have to pay to feel safe in their own homes
The Government must step in now and extend the coverage of its cladding replacement fund to all types of blocks that have been identified as unsafe
Imagine having saved up hard to buy your first flat. Having now got a foot on the property ladder, you settle in and look forward to one day possibly buying a bigger home somewhere, or starting a family or maybe moving to a new city and a new job.
Then suddenly one day you get a letter from your managing agent. It tells you that your block is now judged to be a fire risk because of unsafe cladding and that you must immediately start paying for a ‘waking watch’ in order to be able to stay in your own home; in one case in Leeds that’s costing each flat owner £670 a month. Then you learn – to your mounting horror – that you are going to be asked to pay your share of the cost of removing the cladding to make the building safe. You simply don’t have that kind of money, your home has been rendered worthless so you can’t re-mortgage and you worry about possibly being made bankrupt. And none of this is in any way your fault or responsibility.
This is the nightmare that a growing number of people are now experiencing and as things stand, they can see no end to it.
How did this all happen? After the terrible Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government quite rightly took urgent steps to identify all high-rise buildings clad in the same material – ACM – as Grenfell. Lots of blocks were identified and ministers said that the cladding must be replaced and called on freeholders, not leaseholders, to bear the cost.
Some of these blocks have now had the work done while others are still awaiting remediation. Eventually ministers announced a fund of £200 million to help pay for the removal of ACM cladding. This was the right thing to do to make these homes safe.
The Government also brought in new advice on building safety to toughen up standards – again quite properly – and this led owners and managing agents to start looking at other types of cladding. These investigations have revealed yet more buildings clad in HPL or other systems that aren’t safe either.
So, leaseholders in these buildings find themselves in exactly the same position as those living in ACM-clad blocks, but the problem is that the Government’s fund doesn’t cover making their homes safe. Of course, the freeholders should be paying for the cost of fixing this but not all of them have a plan, some of them may not have the money and the longer this goes on, the longer leaseholders will have to bear the considerable cost of waking watches while fearing that they will eventually be landed with a bill to remove the cladding.
This cannot be right. At the start of this crisis, ministers said that leaseholders should not have to pay. I agree, so let’s extend that principle to all leaseholders regardless of what type of unsafe cladding there is on their building. This is why the Government must step in now and extend the coverage of its cladding replacement fund to all types of blocks that the local fire service has identified as being unsafe. There is no other way of resolving this problem.
This is the case I shall be making to the minister this week. Leaseholders, whose lives are in turmoil because of this, will be watching carefully what is said in response. The one thing they want above all else is to put this nightmare behind them and to go back to living in a safe home. We all have a responsibility to ensure that this happens as soon as possible.
Hilary Benn is Labour MP for Leeds Central. His Westminster Hall debate on cladding and leaseholders is scheduled for Wednesday 12th February at 14:00