The Fire Safety Bill must ensure leaseholders are protected from paying for safety failings
Their homes are now firetraps. They are worthless. They cannot borrow against them and they cannot sell them, writes Hilary Benn MP. | PA Images
This is a story of monumental regulatory failure - of flats being built as cheaply as possible, in many cases without even complying with the building regulations.
Since the start of the cladding crisis, I've been contacted by countless constituents living in the centre of Leeds who find themselves in desperate circumstances that are not of their own making.
They saved up. They bought what they thought was the home of their dreams, but it has turned into a nightmare as the outer layers of their blocks have been peeled back to reveal the full horror underneath.
Their homes are now firetraps. They are worthless. They cannot borrow against them and they cannot sell them.
They are trapped. Trapped by waking watch bills, rising insurance costs and the fear that they will be told that they must pay to fix the problem even though they are not in any way responsible.
The impact on the mental health of the leaseholders affected has been enormous because each and every day they wake up and are reminded of this nightmare with no apparent way out.
Monday’s debate in the House of Commons was really important because it offered us the chance as MPs – on a cross-party basis – to give leaseholders hope as we called on the government to draw up a plan to sort this out.
I am not opposed to a loan scheme in principle provided leaseholders are not required to pay the loans back
Ministers know that the Building Safety Fund won’t deal with the problem. Why? Because the cost of making every home safe is way in excess of the money allocated so far. And that’s why they are looking at a loan scheme with advice from Michael Wade.
I am not opposed to a loan scheme in principle provided leaseholders are not required to pay the loans back.
After all, they didn't neglect to put in the firebreaks or cover their blocks in unsafe cladding, so why on earth should they have to pay? They shouldn’t, and that’s why so many MPs will support amendments to the forthcoming Fire Safety Bill to ensure that they don’t have to.
This is a story of monumental regulatory failure. A story of flats being built as cheaply as possible, in many cases without even complying with the building regulations.
I applaud those freeholders and developers who've taken responsibility and sorted buildings out. But I deplore those who've tried to walk away and claim it's nothing to do with them.
Those who developed and constructed the buildings should pay. The industry as a whole should pay. And government should pay because they allowed it to happen and we all have to take responsibility for that.
I know that legally and practically it’s all rather complicated, but the most important thing now is that we act to bring this crisis to an end.
The leaseholders that I represent in Leeds, and the Leeds Cladding Scandal who have done such a great job in raising their plight and campaigning, want one thing more than anything else.
They just want to be able to feel safe and secure in their homes once again so they can get on with their lives. And we in Parliament have a responsibility - all of us - to make sure that this happens and soon.
Hilary Benn is the Labour MP for Leeds Central.
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