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Leaseholders: Fire Safety Costs

Volume 687: debated on Monday 11 January 2021

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that leaseholders are not held responsible for the costs of remediating dangerous cladding. (910659)

We expect—and we are right to expect—developers, investors and building owners who have the means to pay to cover remediation costs themselves without passing on costs to leaseholders. In cases where this may not be possible and where there may be wider costs related to historical defects, we are keenly aware that leaseholders can face unforeseen costs. That is why we have introduced funding schemes, providing £1.6 billion to accelerate the pace of work and meet the costs of remediating high-risk and the most expensive defects. We are accelerating the work on a long-term solution, and are working to announce the findings of that as soon as possible.

The Government have always been right to say that leaseholders should not bear the costs of a scandal for which they bore no responsibility. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that it will be wholly—[Inaudible]—for them to be expected to meet the costs by way of a loan scheme supported by the Government, as is reported in some of the press? That would not be consistent with the Government’s policy or the Government’s word, would it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he was breaking up a little, but I think we got the gist of his question. We have always been clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about fixing the costs of historical safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause. I fully understand the anxiety that they must all feel, particularly given the compounding challenges of the pandemic. That is why we are determined to remove the barriers to fixing those historical defects and to identify clear financial solutions to help protect those leaseholders while also, of course, protecting the taxpayer. We will update the House with further measures as soon as possible.

Let us head to the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, in Yorkshire, Clive Betts.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—happy new year to you. I am sure it would be remiss of me if I did not say that your local constituency football team have made rather a good start to this year.

In saying happy new year to the Minister as well, I am sure he would want it to be a happy new year for all leaseholders, but he did not really answer the question from the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). Even if a loan scheme were introduced to cover the costs of these defects, and even if it was a very low-interest scheme, that would still be a capital charge on properties—a capital charge that would be a considerable financial burden on leaseholders, would put many of them into negative equity, and would mean that their properties were unsaleable. Will the Minister accept that a loan scheme that puts an additional debt on leaseholders is not a fair way out of this problem and that he should instead look to the industry and to Government to cover the cost of putting these defects right?

The Chair of the Select Committee is absolutely right—we should look to developers and to building owners to remedy the defects in their buildings. We have made available to owners who are not able to remedy those defects quickly and effectively £1.6 billion in order to remedy those defects. As I said in my earlier answer, we do not want and we do not expect hard-pressed leaseholders to bear unfair costs of defects for which they are not responsible. That is why we are working quickly to bring forward a long-term solution to ensure that costs are met, that defects are remedied, and that the position that leaseholders find themselves in is remedied too.

A belated happy new year to you, Mr Speaker.

Clauses 88 and 89 of the Government’s proposed Building Safety Bill will impose a charge on leaseholders, not developers and not the industry. Ministers now refer to “affordable” cost and a 30-year loan on top of current debts, including for waking watch, which we still have no remedy to. Adding insult to injury, Ministers are trying to gag recipients of the building safety fund from speaking to the media. That is just not going to happen. Have Ministers learned nothing about transparency from the Grenfell inquiry? Is it not about time that Ministers stepped in and made sure that the developer community shoulder their responsibility for this mess?

The Government have stepped in: they have spent £1.6 billion of public money on remediating the most difficult and challenging buildings that require help and support. We have made a further £30 million available for waking watch. The Building Safety Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers—one of the most significant pieces of legislation in this Parliament —will be brought forward to make sure that building defects such as we have seen are things of the past. In the meantime, we will work at pace to find solutions that resolve the question of building defects such that we do not see hard-pressed leaseholders enduring difficult, unforeseen and unfair taxes. If those leaseholders wish to step forward and make comments themselves, who am I to say that they should not? We live in a free country; let them speak.