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The government must step in to help leaseholders still burdened with fire safety costs

The government must step in to help leaseholders still burdened with fire safety costs

Lord Bishop of St Albans and Lord Bishop of London

4 min read

We are re-tabling the McPartland-Smith amendment to the Fire Safety Bill. Leaseholders should not be bankrupted on account of decisions made by others, and since they cannot pay, then the government must step in.

The fire that engulfed Grenfell was one of the most shocking and tragic events in recent British memory. The burden of this event, which cost 72 lives, is made heavier by the fact it was entirely avoidable.

Grenfell is telling of our attitudes towards poverty, of a carelessness with regard to safety, and of corporate ineptitude.

Cladding was installed, not only to provide insulation but also to spruce up the ageing brutalist tower block. It remains unknown whether the residents were overly concerned with these exterior renovations. Grenfell was situated in one of England's most deprived areas; many inhabitants were suffering poverty before regenerations. They remained poor afterwards. The makeover simply hid the poverty better.

The Grenfell inquiry revealed that when the regeneration project was under planning, the developer opted for cheaper cladding to reduce costs. The inquest also alleged that the cladding provider was aware of the fire safety flaws but had told staff to keep these ‘very confidential’.

It is an enduring shame that despite prior knowledge that the cladding was a potential hazard, it took a tragedy to expose it.

Those who purchased leasehold apartments in good faith are now being forced to shoulder thousands of pounds in costs to eliminate fire safety liabilities which should never have existed. This is on top of the sky-high insurance premiums imposed on residents and the costs of waking watches to ensure fire does not break out.

Crippling insurance premiums costing an extra thousands of pounds a year provide an additional source of misery for the residents

One leaseholder from London, Tom, explained to us the financial and mental health strains incurred from this process:

“Owning a leasehold flat is a constant source of worry. I live alone and receive no financial support other than my income. Selling my property is virtually impossible and unlikely to change in the near future. The toll on my mental health is a daily burden. Every day, I am overcome with anxiety thinking about the situation I find myself in.

As a flat block, we were forced to pay £10,000 for an intrusive survey and EWS1 form. The freeholder has shunned all responsibility and shown no interest in contributing. Furthermore, crippling insurance premiums costing an extra thousands of pounds a year provide an additional source of misery for the residents.

A loan will not help and only plunge the already indebted further into the red. All of this of course exacerbated by the pandemic. The entire block is shouldering the costs. We simply cannot afford to replace the cladding, and no one knows when the costs will end.

Leaseholders need a solution so we can finally move on with our lives, something denied to us now for several years. We just want this nightmare to end”.

Tom’s story is replicated by thousands of leaseholders in the UK caught in a constant state of unending financial and mental anxiety. Despite funding promises, and some progress in the right direction, the government has not yet provided enough to pay for remediation or given leaseholders the security of knowing they will not have to pay for it.

This delayed and denied justice is something many in the Church of England feel strongly about, sufficiently for a group of Bishops in the House of Lords to re-table the McPartland-Smith amendment to the Fire Safety Bill. Our hope is, by securing a big majority for this amendment, we will send a message to the government that leaseholders are the innocent parties, and that those who bear responsibility for the application of unsafe cladding should be the ones that pay.

Leaseholders should not be bankrupted on account of decisions made by others, and since they cannot pay, then the government must step in.

 

The Lord Bishop of St Albans and The Lord Bishop of London are non-affiliated members of the House of Lords.

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