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Dangerous Cladding: Leaseholder Support

Volume 684: debated on Monday 16 November 2020

We are providing £1.6 billion to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding and make homes safer, and to make them safer quicker. Where funding alone has not been enough to increase the pace of remediation, we are providing direct expert support to projects. We will continue to listen to leaseholders to resolve their concerns.

I thank the Minister for his continued engagement on these issues, but, as he knows, the very difficult and serious issues now facing tens of thousands of leaseholders around the country are growing, not declining, and they are taking a serious toll on people’s lives and livelihoods. From buildings unable to get insurance, to the nightmares of acquiring an EWS1 form even for buildings with no cladding and the many now deemed out of scope of the building safety fund, this is becoming a national scandal and a real crisis for leaseholders. Will the Minister meet me and Manchester City Council to discuss an excellent piece of work that it has done on the wider and acute impacts of these issues on a place such as Manchester?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question and for the tone of it. Of course I will continue to engage with her and will happily meet her, as I think I did in July, to discuss these matters. She raised the EWS1 form particularly, and I think it would be worthwhile if I said a few words about it.

First, it is worth pointing out that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors EWS1 form is not a Government document; it was devised by RICS and by the industry. Not all lenders require it; some use other tools. Lenders that do require it are working with us to ensure that there are more nuanced tools available to resolve leaseholders’ concerns. I should say, with respect to those lenders that use EWS1 forms for buildings less than 18 metres in height, that that is not something that the Government support. We do not support a blanket approach to the use of EWS1 forms. Lenders should use other tools in order to discuss the safety or otherwise of those sorts of buildings.

Over three years on from the Grenfell tragedy and one year since the Bolton Cube fire, 203 high-rise blocks are still clad with flammable aluminium composite material, and many thousands more are clad with equally flammable high-pressure laminate. Minister, is it not about time to come clean about the serious limitations of the size and scope of the building safety fund? Up to 1.5 million people, such as Paul in Manchester, are desperate, trapped in this nightmare. What bold, urgent action does the Minister intend to take?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know, with respect to ACM cladding, that we have made £600 million available to remediate the most dangerous buildings. Something like 97% of buildings with ACM cladding have either completed or started their remediation. As a result of the expert support we have provided to private building owners, we have supported something like 100 ACM projects to remediation. With respect to the £1 billion fund for non-ACM-clad buildings, I can tell him that we have had a very significant number of applications, which have worked through. A very significant number have now been asked to make further information available, so we can advance those applications. We will get the money out of the door as quickly as we can. We will also encourage builders and owners to remediate the buildings themselves, because that is what they are obliged to do. It should not fall on the taxpayer to pay for remediation. It is the responsibility in the first case of building owners, through their warrantee schemes or through the original builders.

Could the Housing Minister clarify the Government’s policy on what costs leaseholders should have to bear for the removal of cladding? On 20 July, the Secretary of State, in a written statement, very helpfully said:

“The Government are clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historic safety defects”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 89WS.]

However, by the time we got to 16 October, the Housing Minister himself said we should look for solutions

“that protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs”.

So, not any costs, but unaffordable costs. When the Minister with responsibility for building safety came to the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, he could only define “affordable” as costs that did not make someone bankrupt. Does the Housing Minister understand the great concern and upset that the change of policy has caused for leaseholders, who thought they would bear no costs but could now be faced with substantial bills? Will he explain the change of policy or, better still, go back to the original policy the Secretary of State identified that the costs should not fall on leaseholders at all?

I am obliged to the Chairman of the Select Committee and I am grateful for the report that the Committee produced on cladding. There has been no change in policy. The Government are quite clear that we do not expect, and we do not want, leaseholders to bear the costs of remediation of unsafe buildings for which they were not responsible. That cost should fall on the owners, through the owners, the builders or any warrantee scheme the owners have.

Questions 20 and 21 have been withdrawn, so could we have the answer to the substantive questions, followed by David Linden from the SNP?