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Dangerous Cladding: Residential Buildings

Volume 681: debated on Monday 5 October 2020

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that dangerous cladding is removed from residential buildings of all heights. (907022)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that dangerous cladding is removed from residential buildings of all heights. (907027)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that dangerous cladding is removed from residential buildings of all heights. (907034)

We are taking action with the biggest reforms of building and fire safety in nearly 40 years through the Building Safety Bill. To tackle the most urgent problems, we have already made available £1.6 billion to remove unsafe cladding systems, and appointed expert construction consultants to review aluminium composite material remediation timescales and to work at increased pace. There therefore should be no excuse for delay.

There should indeed be no excuse for delay, but a constituent of mine tells me that she and her partner are stuck between a rock and a hard place because they cannot sell their flat. Up to half a million people are now in the same position. The Minister will know that whether buildings are above 18 metres or, as in the case of my constituent, below that height, mortgage lenders are requiring EWS1 forms for fire safety clearance. My constituent’s management company refuses to test her building because it is below 18 metres. The Select Committee called for urgent action in June, so what is the Minister doing to help all those who are trapped by the failure of remediation and by these requirements?

With respect to buildings below 18 metres, we are following the advice of Dame Judith Hackitt to target the tallest buildings—those over 18 metres—because they are at greatest danger of fire if they are clad. With respect to the EWS1 form—a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors form—I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with lenders and that my noble Friend the noble Lord Greenhalgh has discussed with the insurance industry how to resolve these matters better. We are encouraging the industry to accept alternative evidence of assurances. Not all lenders require EWS1 forms, and we will encourage more lenders to take similar action.

Countless Salford residents are among over 700,000 nationally who are still living in dangerously cladded homes, yet only 65 registrations to the building safety fund have been allowed to proceed, an estimated 1.5 million people cannot sell their homes, and exorbitant remediation costs are still being passed on to leaseholders for defects that they did not cause. Will the Minister end this protracted scandal today and commit to the proposals set out by the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee?

I have every sympathy with the situation that the hon. Lady’s constituents find themselves in. She will understand that in order to target the right buildings and ensure that the buildings most at risk are prioritised, it is important that the money disbursed by the Government is spent effectively. We have had 2,784 registrations to the end of September, and 1,857 of those—many of them received on the last day of application in July—were incomplete. We are working with the owners and with the submitters of the registrations to ensure that they get the information right, and as soon as they get the information right, we can determine when we can get the money out of the door. I hope that we get the first money out of the door very soon indeed.

According to leading civil servants, the building safety fund will cover less than a third of the buildings that require external remediation, and it does not even cover the interim safety measures and costs that may unscrupulous freeholders have been pushing on to leaseholders, including at Raphael House in my constituency. My constituents and I are wondering whether the Government could increase the budget for that fund so that all buildings are covered, including the cost of the expensive interim safety measures, and extend the application deadline beyond April so that freeholders can act responsibly in the best interests of leaseholders and tenants.

The objective of the £1 billion fund is to target those properties that most need help, where there is no other immediate means of helping them. £1 billion is not a small amount of money and it is important that we get that money out of the door first to help those places that need it. The hon. Gentleman might, while he is at it, have a word with the Mayor of London, because London is lagging well behind the remediation of properties around England. That is why Lord Greenhalgh had to organise a London summit to get London to up its game. So, as much as we are determined to get the money out of the door, he must encourage the Mayor to do the same.

Ritu and Rebecca are among the many thousands of people now trapped in this situation despite their good intentions. Hon. Members across the House have discussed the EWS1 form today. The current estimate for the 1.5 million people stuck in this situation is that it will take 15 years-plus to resolve. This requires a sense of urgency. When the Minister going to get a grip of the situation?

As I explained to the House just a moment ago—I think the hon. Gentleman heard what I said— the Government are working with lenders to make sure that this situation moves as quickly as possible, so that lenders require other more easily available assurances and are encouraged to act much more quickly. We continue to work with the industry to make sure that those people get the help and support they need, and I can confirm to him that we will bring forward further proposals very soon.