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House of Commons Hansard
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Fire Safety (Leasehold Properties)
28 November 2018
Volume 650

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require freeholders of certain properties that have failed fire safety tests to carry out remedial work; to make provision for sanctions for such freeholders who fail to carry out such work; to ensure that leaseholders are not held liable for the costs of such work; to make provision for a loan scheme to assist freeholders in carrying out such work; and for connected purposes.

Few rights are as basic or as essential as the right to a decent and safe home. Everyone should be able to go to sleep at night knowing that they and their families are safe, but in June 2017 we saw the shocking consequences of what happens when that right is not guaranteed. The Grenfell Tower disaster showed beyond all doubt that there can be no complacency on fire safety. The tragedy is not simply that this was recognised only after the fire, but that there had been warnings. The inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House fire warned that proper fire safety checks could have saved lives, but the action that was needed was not taken.

The Hackitt review of building regulations and fire safety, launched after the Grenfell Tower fire, found that the regulatory system was “unfit for purpose”. It found that there is no clarity about responsibilities and a lack of competence at assessing fire risk. It found that there is inadequate means of compliance assurance, and inadequate deterrence or redress for non-compliance. Crucially, it found that residents’ concerns about fire safety risks are not properly heard. It spoke to the neglect of fire safety concerns by successive Governments. Instead of rigorous processes and high standards, a system had developed where corners were cut, costs were reduced and self-regulation was assumed.

Although it is now recognised how wrong this approach is, its consequences are not all behind us. As of last month, 457 residential blocks and public buildings over 18 metres in height have been found to have ACM— aluminium composite material—cladding, the type of cladding that was applied to Grenfell Tower. Of these, 410 are unlikely to meet building regulations, with as many as eight of those being in my constituency of Battersea. It is now widely recognised that this is not good enough and that fire safety remedial work is needed. Although the Government have created a fund for social landlords to carry out fire safety remedial work, the question of costs at private leasehold blocks has been left unanswered. With nearly 300 private residential blocks across the country, this is a major issue.

The costs involved are great, with fire safety remedial work at some blocks expected to cost as much as £40 million, meaning costs per apartment of as high as £40,000. Leaseholders have been told that they may be expected to pay these eye-watering costs. That is the situation facing leaseholders in Sesame Apartments, a block in my constituency. Residents of the block contacted me last year because they were concerned not just that their block was not fire safe, but that they may be held liable for costs of remedial work. They had discovered that their building has ACM cladding, after a fire in the block revealed that compartmentalisation had failed. A “waking-watch” system was put in place, at the cost of thousands of pounds per week—to date, the cost has been nearly £1 million, while replacing the cladding is expected to cost £2 million. In total, the costs per flat approximate to between £30,000 and £40,000.

I have met residents on multiple occasions, in constituency surgeries and in Parliament. I have written to Secretaries of State and Housing Ministers, but still, after a year, residents are living in fear that these colossal costs will be passed on to them, and that is having a serious impact on their lives. One resident has told me of the “heart-break” of money they had saved for IVF treatment now needing to be set aside in case these costs are passed on to them. Another young woman told me that her pride at getting a foot on the housing ladder was dashed when she found out that her 25% shared ownership may make her liable for 100% of the costs. Others tell me that they cannot move because the property value has plummeted because of the risks of these costs.

A similar situation confronts leaseholders across the country. Each case has its differences, but we see an unmistakeable pattern: residents look on while a group of opaque freeholders, managing agents, developers and insurers fight over the question of liability, all determined to protect their interests and all using their considerable financial resources to argue their case. Developers argue that they built properties to building standards, so they cannot be liable. Insurers argue that the fire safety failures do not break warranty claims, so they cannot be liable. Freeholders point to “sweeping-up” clauses, that can allow them to pass on costs to leaseholders, so they cannot be liable either. Unlike leaseholders, these people each have teams of lawyers to make their case. Against that, leaseholders, who are ordinary people—teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors—face the prospect of their lives being burdened with tens of thousands of pounds of costs. These are costs that many could not ever imagine affording. In this fight, they must do it themselves, using their spare time to defend their futures. Whereas freeholders, developers and insurers argue their case, one party is unambiguous in their innocence—the leaseholders, who are in no way responsible for fire safety failures and who have only suffered because of them. While they argue their case, leaseholders tell me how powerless they feel, and how they feel like David, confronted by Goliath. As these arguments rage on, month after month, leaseholders know that the costs are piling up, and that their homes remain unsafe and their blocks remain wrapped in unsafe cladding.

We know that in some cases developers have stepped in to pay the costs, for example, at Citiscape in Croydon. In other cases, such as that of New Capital Quay in Greenwich, the insurers have accepted liability. But leaseholders in hundreds of other blocks have not been so lucky. They remain at risk of devastating costs and uncertainty. When they are being let down by the system, when they are being asked to pay huge costs they are not responsible for, it is the Government’s duty to remedy these ills and to right this wrong. From the beginning, the Government have said that leaseholders should not be held liable for these costs and that “morally” the freeholders should pick up the tab. Just recently, in response to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Housing went so far as to say that the private sector must,

“fund the measures necessary to ensure the safety of residents and must do all they can to protect leaseholders from additional costs.”

But leaseholders need more than just words; they need action.

The Bill would give the Government the opportunity to do what is right. It would end uncertainty and the fear of ongoing fire-safety failures by requiring freeholders to carry out fire-safety remedial work. It would enforce the requirement through sanctions for freeholders who fail to act. It would create a loan scheme to assist freeholders in the carrying out of the work, which would ensure that costs would not be passed on to leaseholders. The Bill would end the year-long nightmare that many leaseholders have suffered. It would end their fear of living in unsafe buildings and ensure that those who are in no way at fault for these failures are not held liable for them. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Marsha De Cordova, Janet Daby, Emma Dent Coad, Preet Kaur Gill, Karen Lee, Thelma Walker, Rosie Duffield, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Eleanor Smith, Hugh Gaffney, Anneliese Dodds and Chris Williamson present the Bill.

Marsha De Cordova accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January, and to be printed (Bill 298).

Offensive Weapons Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Ordered,

That the Order of 27 June 2018 (Offensive Weapons Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading shall be taken in one day in accordance with the following provisions of the Order.

(3) Proceedings on Consideration—

(a) shall be take in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and

(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to air weapons, firearms or ammunition

3.30 pm

Remaining proceedings on Consideration

6.00 pm

(4) Proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 6.00 pm.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm.—(Gareth Johnson.)