No leaseholder should pay for interim fire safety measures
Leaseholders did not cause the cladding scandal, and yet they are paying the price while those responsible are not pursued in any meaningful way.
Nearly four years on from the Grenfell tragedy, thousands of people still live in unsafe buildings with dangerous cladding. Innocent leaseholders have spent the duration of lockdown trapped in flammable homes, paying colossal bills for repair work and hundreds of pounds per month on interim safety measures such as ‘waking watch’.
Much has been said by Parliamentary colleagues across the House about who should pay to remove and replace the dangerous cladding. And the government has introduced grant schemes to help recover some of the costs of remediation.
However much less has been said about who should pay for the eye watering interim costs, or temporary fire safety measures that must be installed while residents wait for the remediation work to begin and then completed.
Despite repeated assurances from the government that no leaseholder should have to pay, thousands of leaseholders are paying extortionate amounts every month for these temporary safety measures. And that’s before they have even received the bill for remediation works.
Faced with homelessness, leaseholders have little choice but to assume these costs
As soon as a building is assessed as being unsafe, residents are told that they must immediately introduce additional fire safety protocols or face an evacuation order from the fire brigade. These ‘interim’ requirements can be met in two ways: by appointing a ‘waking watch’, whereby trained wardens continually patrol the building to detect a fire, or the installation of specialist alarm systems. Faced with homelessness, leaseholders have little choice but to assume these costs.
For hundreds of my leaseholder constituents, the expense is simply unsustainable. Government figures show that the average estimated cost of ‘waking watch’ patrols in London is £499 per affected household every single month. These exorbitant costs can last for months and years because these measures must be in place until the building is made completely safe, and remediation works have been slow to commence. Alarm systems are not much cheaper, ranging between £50,000 and £150,000 depending on the building size.
These costs would be unaffordable for most people, but many of those affected are young first-time buyers whose dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare. They bought their homes in good faith, but now they are literally unsellable. With industry experts estimating that it will take between 5 and 15 years for all affected buildings to be remediated, the truth is that these costs are anything but interim.
It is testament to the hard work of cladding action groups and campaigners across the UK that the government finally announced the ‘Waking Watch’ Relief Fund in December last year. But in its current form, the Fund fails to solve the problem.
Buildings under 18m are excluded from applying, despite having the same interim costs imposed on them. The £30 million allocated is drastically short of what is needed; the government estimates this will pay for a maximum of 460 buildings, but there are at least 590 eligible in London alone. And the Fund only pays for alarm systems installed after December 2020; it doesn’t cover any of the retroactive costs incurred by leaseholders to date.
Leaseholders did not cause the cladding scandal, and yet they are paying the price while those responsible are not pursued in any meaningful way. The reality is that these interim costs are bankrupting leaseholders and causing untold stress and unimaginable levels of debt. And still there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no certainty about when their homes will be safe.
Tomorrow I will be leading a Westminster Hall debate to draw attention to the lack of action on interim costs, and to show the impact this is having on my constituents and by extension, innocent leaseholders up and down the country.
Only the government has the power to fix this and ensure that all leaseholders are protected from these ruinous costs. If we agree in principle that no leaseholder should have to pay for problems caused by others, then that should include interim costs.
Florence Eshalomi is the Labour MP for Vauxhall.