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Building and Fire Safety: Leaseholders

Volume 820: debated on Monday 14 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure leaseholders and others who have building and fire safety issues for which they are not responsible are not excluded from any measures or funding intended to solve such issues.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register.

Leaseholders living in their own properties in buildings over 11 metres will be protected from all cladding remediation costs. The Building Safety Bill will require developers to pay to fix historical building safety defects in buildings they own above 11 metres. We will legislate to make sure that other building owners who can afford to pay cannot pass historical building safety defect costs on to leaseholders. Leaseholders who are liable to pay for some non-cladding costs will have those capped in a way similar to Florrie’s law.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and for the progress made, and I accept that good progress has been made. However, the situation remains that there are general building safety issues and some of these leaseholders are still left in appalling situations. Does the noble Lord accept the principle that if you are not responsible for the poor workmanship, you never signed it off as satisfactory and you did not insure it, you cannot be expected to pay for what is now deemed not fit for purpose? If he accepts that, he is the one person who can do something about it. He is the Minister responsible and has the ear of the Prime Minister, so what are we going to do?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for putting me in the hot seat. We have done an awful lot. It is fair to say that through regulation we can ensure that we protect leaseholders, who are very much the victims, from bearing anything apart from, I hope, very minimal costs. Those have been capped at £15,000 over five years in London and £10,000 outside London. That is for the narrowest shoulders, particularly shared owners, who are protected as well. We can always do more, and I appreciate that that campaign reckons that we should take this down to zero. However, we continue to ensure that we protect leaseholders wherever we possibly can.

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend just said but I remind him of what the Secretary of State in another place said on 10 January:

“First, we will make sure that we provide leaseholders with statutory protection … and we will work with colleagues across the House to ensure that that statutory protection extends to all the work required to make buildings safe.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/22; col. 291.]

I welcome the amendments that my noble friend has tabled in Committee but does he recognise that further substantial amendments will be necessary on Report if that commitment is to be honoured?

I thank my noble friend for stepping in helpfully. Of course, as we approach Report, the Government will bring forward further amendments that will do more to protect leaseholders but will also ensure that the polluters must pay—my noble friend and I share that principle.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the considerable progress he has made and his very collaborative approach as we work through the Building Safety Bill. He will be aware that the definition of a qualifying lease in the Bill is set to exclude many small private landlords. We are not talking about the big commercial set-ups but people who have one, two or possibly three flats which they bought simply to provide themselves with a pension. Do Her Majesty’s Government intend to look at that definition of a qualifying lease again? Many of those people are deeply worried at the moment.

I thank the right reverend Prelate, who has also been a consistent campaigner. As a Government we are very much aware of the impact this has on, say, pensioners, where property is their primary pension asset and the annuity from those properties effectively pays for their pensions. As I say, I ask the right reverend Prelate please to wait until we bring forward further amendments on Report, but we are very alive to this issue.

My Lords, the Minister reminds us that the Government propose that leaseholders should pay no more than £15,000—in London. Does he accept that, if you live in London and are facing very heavy costs, including rapidly rising energy bills, for many people who will be faced with a bill of £15,000, that is not nothing or little—it is a crippling amount? Does he accept that limiting it to £15,000 does not relieve the pressure on many people who simply cannot afford £15,000?

My Lords, there is no doubt that £15,000, paid over five years, is a substantial sum, but the reality is that some poor leaseholders who are victims have paid far more than that on interim measures before a single bit of remediation has been done. Having a cap on leaseholder costs ensures that they are no longer fleeced through Section 20 notices to pay for mistakes for which they are not responsible. That is what that protection achieved and, through regulation, we can broaden the impact to protect those with the very narrowest of shoulders.

My Lords, we have a problem going forward, because cladding, if it is put in properly, can be an option to make older houses thermally efficient. Have the Government thought about reassurance measures so that cladding remains an option for, for example, all the thousands of pre-1930s buildings?

That is a very good point: cladding per se is not necessarily a bad thing. What we cannot do is wrap our buildings up in cladding where the effect on the spread of fire is a bit as if it had been coated in petrol. Cladding provides the warm homes that many people enjoy. If you carry out remediation in an insensitive way, it removes the protection for leaseholders in the insulation required to make the home liveable. Therefore, remediation needs to be done in a sensible and thoughtful manner with people who are living in their homes. Of course, we need to ensure that we promote good cladding systems and remove the bad.