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Cladding Removal

Volume 689: debated on Monday 22 February 2021

What progress he has made on the design of the loan scheme to fund the removal of cladding on buildings under 18 metres in height. (912381)

Hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be protected from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding. Funding will be targeted at the highest-risk buildings in line with long-standing independent expert advice and evidence, while lower-rise buildings with a lower risk profile will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through the long-term, low-interest, Government-backed finance scheme through which leaseholders will pay no more than £50 per month. We will publish more details on how the scheme will work as soon as we are in a position to do so.

I thank the Minister for his answer; I look forward to more details. In the meantime, will he confirm that the loan will be a charge on the freeholder, that there will be no addition to the debt of any individual leaseholder, and that it will not affect the valuation of leasehold properties? On the money that is to be raised from the levy and financial contributions, will that be in addition to the £3.5 billion that the Government have announced, or will it go to offset the amount of the £3.5 billion that the Government will have to find?

I am obliged to the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for his question. We certainly do not wish for any costs to follow the leaseholder through their life, so he is certainly right to assume that the charge will be applied to the building and not to the leaseholder and that, therefore, their credit rating will not be affected by it. He also asked about how the funding mechanism will work. The Chancellor will say more about that at the Budget, so I do not think I should say any more at this point, but we certainly want to ensure that leaseholders are appropriately and properly protected from unforeseen and unfair costs.

I remind the Minister that, 17 times from the Dispatch Box, the Government have made a commitment to leaseholders that they will not pay. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced last week that funding for cladding removal would not include buildings under 18 metres and that those in homes below 18 metres would be forced into life-changing debts to pay for a problem that they did not cause. But 18 metres is a “crude” height limit that

“does not reflect the complexity of the challenge at hand.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 24.]

Those are not my words, Mr Speaker, but the words of the Secretary of State last year, so what has changed?

The 18-metre threshold is well established as a reasonable threshold for assessing risk. It has featured in statutory guidance since at least the 1970s. It is used by the National Fire Chiefs Council in its operational guidance; it is used by the Building Research Establishment; it was used by the independent expert panel; and it was used by Dame Judith Hackitt, who, I remind the hon. Lady, said only yesterday in The Sunday Telegraph that our proposals are “sensible”. I hope that, with this advantage, she will read what Dame Judith has said and perhaps reflect on the question that she has asked.

Frankly, I do not think that will be of any comfort to the leaseholders, who were told that they would not be asked to pay and are still living in buildings with flammable cladding and other fire risks. The Housing Minister says that he is taking a risk-based approach, but in the papers today it is alleged that a senior civil servant said in 2018 that the real reason for 18 metres was

“because we haven’t got time to come up with a better number.”

That was two years ago. Whatever the reason, why have the Government not used the time for a proper system of risk prioritisation or even responded to their own call for evidence, which closed a year ago this week?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady. We have looked very closely at the evidence, and have always been guided by safety. Safety is our paramount concern. As I say, the Building Research Establishment, the National Fire Chiefs Council, the independent expert panel and Dame Judith herself all say that 18 metres is an appropriate trigger properly to assess the highest risk. Such buildings are four times more likely to result in injury or fatality if they suffer a fire than lower-rise buildings. We have also introduced—as the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), has rightly identified—a mechanism to ensure that people living in lower-rise buildings are able to take advantage of finance to ensure that their homes are remediated, so that the value is properly reascribed to them and those people can get on with living their lives.