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Grenfell Tower Fire: Advice to Landlords

Volume 627: debated on Monday 17 July 2017

The safety of tower block residents is absolutely paramount. We have made our testing process available to private residential owners free of charge. This means that landlords can check the safety of their buildings and take the necessary action to reassure residents that they are safe in their homes.

The Residential Landlords Association, which is based in my constituency, has raised concerns about the complex and sometimes contradictory guidance being given to private landlords by various bodies, including the Government, on fire safety. What plans does the Secretary of State have to address this matter?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that, in the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Government had to move quickly and issue guidance within days. Much of that guidance was continuously updated as we were made aware of new information. I met representatives of the private sector on 6 July, and we are discussing with them what more we can do.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it was this Government who introduced the requirement for private landlords to fit smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in private homes, and that we are introducing electrical safety checks as standard later this year? Does he acknowledge that all landlords have an overriding responsibility to make their properties safe for their tenants?

My hon. Friend reminds us that it is the legal responsibility of all landlords, whether in the private or public sector, to ensure that their properties are safe for all their tenants. I think that he was also implying that, in the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we should be looking at what more can be done.

17. I am concerned that a survey of social landlords carried out by HouseMark has found that they had little confidence that they would be able to take enforcement action under the Housing Act 2004 to ensure that leaseholders complied with fire safety regulations, including through fitting fire doors, which is obviously essential, given what the Secretary of State has just said about keeping all tenants safe. Will he respond to the request from Nottingham City Council, which is seeking additional powers to enable this to happen? (900518)

That is an important issue and I will certainly look carefully at that request. It is important that all leaseholders recognise their responsibilities as legal owners of their properties. A number of towers were evacuated in Camden recently and a lot was found to be wrong with the internal fire safety of the buildings, including fire doors that should have been in place but simply were not.

I have pointed out to the mayor of Birmingham that the home in which he lives in Birmingham is in a block that is clad. Does the Department keep a register so that it can push out information to private landlords on what they should be looking for, specifically in relation to cladding?

My hon. Friend will know that the legal owners of the building, be they private landlords or otherwise, will have the best information about what type of cladding may or may not exist. Soon after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, after getting expert opinion, we swiftly issued guidance on how to handle that identification process better.

Could the Secretary of State be more specific about the financial help that he is going to make available to councils with tower blocks, such as Southwark, which has 174? He has talked about the legal duties of councils to keep their tenants safe, and of course that is very important, but they also have a legal duty to have a balanced budget. Since the Conservatives came into government in 2010, Southwark Council’s budget has nearly halved. Fire improvements such as the installation of sprinklers should not happen at the expense of other improvements that tenants are waiting for; nor should the expense be placed on leaseholders. Will the Secretary of State come up with the £100 million that Southwark needs?

We have been very clear to local authorities and housing associations in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy that they should carry out checks immediately. They should then consult with their local fire and rescue service, and whatever is recommended should absolutely be put in place. Where local authorities cannot afford that, we are happy to talk to them and to provide the support that they need.

In the five weeks since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, both private and social landlords have met with an array of bewildering and sometimes contradictory advice. They look to the Department for Communities and Local Government both for technical advice about acceptable specification and for real advice about what the Department will pay for. When is the Secretary of State going to make it clear to those responsible for tower blocks what is the right thing to do and how they will pay for the necessary improvements?

First, the hon. Gentleman is right about looking to the Department, among others, for advice. That is one reason why we set up an independent expert panel to provide more of that advice that can be relied on. Secondly, the Government have made their position clear on funding: there is no need to wait. If any necessary work has been identified, local authorities must get on with it, and where they cannot afford it they should approach us.