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Leaseholders’ Rights: High-rise Blocks

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice, if any, they are giving to local housing authorities about the rights of leaseholders in high-rise blocks which have cladding which has failed fire safety tests.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, we have advised local housing authorities that building owners should take responsibility for funding fire safety measures and should draw on their existing resources to do so. It is important that leaseholders are able to access specialist advice to understand their rights. The department is providing additional funding to the Leasehold Advisory Service which provides free initial and tailored advice to support leaseholders in understanding the terms of their lease.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, for the announcement last Thursday of the extra £400 million being provided by the Government and for the further clarification yesterday which made it clear to the House that it could be more than that if remediation of these tower blocks costs more. I bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that in a large number of local housing authority tower blocks, fire-watching staff have been in post now for almost a year and will presumably be for some time to come. I seek the Minister’s confirmation that no cost will be incurred either by tenants or leaseholders of such a block; the faulty cladding is no fault of theirs and it seems unreasonable to expect them to pay any additional cost, either through service charges or through rents.

My Lords, the amount is actually £420 million, but the noble Lord is absolutely right that that could be somewhat higher: it is an estimate. That money is designed for replacing the cladding system. On the type of 24/7 watch he referred to, some of these interim measures were in place for blocks where the remediation work has not yet been completed. It is certainly our view that social tenants should not bear the cost of that. In the private sector, similarly, interim measures are in place and it is the view of the department that those costs should be borne by freeholders. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is having round-table meetings in the next few weeks to discuss these issues with leaseholders and owners.

Is it not the case that the responsibility of the landlord will depend to a large extent upon the lease or tenancy agreement and that these may vary considerably? In the circumstances, does the noble Lord not agree that there is a strong case for imposing a blanket statutory responsibility on landlords in this connection?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the position will vary according to the nature of the lease in question: it may vary enormously from one lease to another. We already have the example of Citiscape in Croydon where those responsible, the leaseholders under the lease, have had the owner of the block, Barratt, come forward and say it will bear the cost. We are hoping that that position will be replicated in other cases. We rule nothing out, but in the meantime the round tables that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is organising provide a way forward to see how this will be received.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The sum of £400 million for removing potentially dangerous cladding is welcome. Can the noble Lord confirm whether this is new money or money diverted from the affordable homes programme? Have the Government completely ruled out providing any new additional funding to alleviate the problems highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right and I suspect he knows the answer he is going to get. The money is out of the existing funding programme but additional money will be forthcoming in the year after: it alters the profile by delaying that additional housing by a year.

The Minister has set out very clearly the solutions to one particular problem, but he will be well aware that the Hackitt review said that to avoid these things recurring, it was essential to have a dutyholder who would take responsibility for every phase of the building. Can he confirm that the Government have the power to do that by regulation and do not need to wait for primary legislation in order to deliver this important safety consideration?

My Lords, I believe the noble Lord has written on this very subject—I saw a copy of his letter this morning. We are looking at the points he has raised. But in relation to Hackitt in general, some measures will need to be taken forward in primary legislation, others possibly in secondary legislation, while others might not need legislation at all. We are reviewing that because obviously we accept what Dame Judith has said in all regards, except in relation to the banning of combustible cladding, which we are carrying out and which she is content with.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. It was indeed £400 million, not £420 million. He is better informed than I am. We have so many figures flying around but I apologise to him.

My Lords, in many cases private leaseholders do not know the identity of their freeholder. The freehold may be held in a foreign trust away from the public gaze. Can the Minister explain how in those cases leaseholders will be able to get recourse on these expenses?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that it is not always straightforward; I suspect that that is a minority of cases. We are, I think, beginning to get to the tail end of the identification of buildings. We have made additional money available to local authorities, which have powers under the Housing Act 2004 to require information from the owners. He is absolutely right about that issue. We are looking at that with a view to ensuring that leaseholders do not pick up the bill, irrespective of whether or not that is a provision in the lease.