Leaseholders and Cladding

– in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 24th November 2020.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 12:40 pm, 24th November 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government if he will make a statement on whether leaseholders are expected to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding from their homes.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I congratulate Mr Betts, the Chair of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, on securing the urgent question, which is of huge interest and concern to many of our constituents up and down the country.

The question of who pays for remediation works is key for the Government and many of our constituents. We have been clear that leaseholders should not have to worry about the cost of fixing historical safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause. Test have shown clearly that aluminium composite material—the kind of cladding found on Grenfell Tower—is the most dangerous form of cladding material. We continue to engage with building owners, regulators and the wider industry to ensure that it is removed from high-rise residential buildings as quickly as possible.

ACM remediation costs are being funded through several sources, including warranties, building owners and developers. We have provided £600 million to fund the removal of ACM where funding has been a key barrier to remediation and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has allocated a further £1 billion to be spent on removing other types of unsafe cladding over the current financial year.

It is important to remember that this is a multi-year problem. Remediation work cannot be done overnight and it must be done properly so that it makes buildings and residents safe. That forms part of the ongoing discussion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has with other Departments.

However, I am clear, and I hope that the House is clear, that public funding does not absolve the industry from taking responsibility. We expect developers, investors and building owners who have the means to pay to cover remediation costs themselves without passing on costs to leaseholders, but we recognise that there are cases where that might not be possible, and cases where there may be wider costs relating to historical defects. The Government are determined to identify suitable financial solutions and remove barriers to remediation.

The Government have asked Michael Wade to accelerate his work with leaseholders and the financial sector to develop proposals to protect leaseholders from the costs of remediating historical defects wherever possible. However, we must also ensure that the bill does not fall wholly on taxpayers. We will update leaseholders on that work before the Building Safety Bill, which has just completed its prelegislative scrutiny, is introduced in Parliament.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to ask my urgent question. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has just carried out prelegislative scrutiny of the draft Building Safety Bill. In general, the Bill is very welcome. It implements the recommendations of the Hackitt report, post Grenfell. However, clause 89 contains provisions for leaseholders to be charged a building safety charge. That could cover future costs, but it could also be used to recover the cost of historical defects, such as the removal of dangerous cladding. That is the concern.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm very clearly and straightforwardly that leaseholders should not have to pay any of the costs of removing dangerous cladding from their homes, as has been the Government’s policy for some time? Those leaseholders bought their properties in good faith. They have not done anything wrong and they should not be financially distressed as a result.

If the Minister thinks that leaseholders should have to pay something—the Building Safety Minister said to the Select Committee that he thought an affordable amount was reasonable—how would he define an affordable amount? The Building Safety Minister said it was something that did not bankrupt an individual. However, if leaseholders are not going to pay—I hope the Minister will confirm that point—I accept that he should pursue developers, freeholders and others. In the meantime, if developers have gone out of business or are refusing to pay, does the Minister accept that, at least in the interim, the Government are going to have to step in and fund all the costs?

If the Minister accepts that point, does he also accept that the £1.6 billion so far made available to remove dangerous cladding will be totally inadequate? The Select Committee heard that to make all high-rise buildings totally safe and remove all defects, the total bill could be as high as £15 billion. Leaseholders should not have to pay that.

Finally, does the Minister accept that, without assurances on these points, many people are going to have a very miserable Christmas? They are trapped in properties they cannot sell, that they often cannot insure and where they are having to pay for waking watches, and wondering how on earth they are going to pay the bills that could arrive on their doormats at any time.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his urgent question and for welcoming the proposals that we have tabled in the draft Building Safety Bill. He asks a number of important questions.

First, the hon. Gentleman asks whether the building safety charge will be retrospective. We envisage that the building safety charge will cover ongoing costs that leaseholders may have to pay for legal costs, building safety inspections and the like. In our proposals, we have said that the Secretary of State will be able to prescribe costs to ensure that unfair building safety charge costs do not fall unreasonably on the leaseholder.

We will of course look very carefully at the 80-page report from the Select Committee. I think there are somewhere north of 40 recommendations in the report. We want to look at it carefully and considerately, because we recognise it forms an important part of our answer to the challenge of building safety. I hope that we can develop a cross-party approach to our further scrutiny of the Bill when it comes before Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether leaseholders will pay any costs at all. The point of introducing £1.6 billion of public money is to make sure that in the buildings that are most at risk and where there is no means to pay, the state steps in and supports those leaseholders, but, fundamentally, we expect developers and owners to step up and execute their responsibility to pay where buildings have been defective.

I cannot say that there will not be some costs at some point related to some defect in historical building safety that will not fall upon the leaseholder, but we want to make sure, through the public money that we are spending and through the work of Michael Wade, that we find innovative solutions to make sure that such costs are as minimal as possible. We cannot write an open cheque on behalf of the taxpayer. That would send the wrong signal to developers and those who are responsible for these buildings that they do not have to pay because the taxpayer will.

The hon. Gentleman asks about my noble Friend the Building Safety Minister in the other place. I can tell him that Lord Greenhalgh is working round the clock to find solutions to the challenges that face leaseholders up and down the country. He is determined, with the work that he is doing with insurers, developers and the financial services sector, to ensure that we come up with those solutions, and I look forward to working with him closely as the Bill, which he will introduce to Parliament, works its way through both Houses.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

It is on record that I am a leaseholder, but I am not affected by these proposals or problems.

Justin Madders and I chair the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform. We give our support to the work of the Select Committee, which, in this report, as in its previous one on lease renters, has laid out starkly one of the problems of some particular tenants. Social tenants do not have to pay, ordinary tenants do not have to pay; it is leaseholder tenants who have been lumbered with unimaginable anxiety and with costs beyond possible chance of payment. Until we get a full grip not just on the very high buildings and the aluminium cladding but on all the problems, including the developers who used wood for balconies in ways that were against the house building regulations, we are going to be left with a frozen part of the housing market in every single one of our constituencies.

We are grateful for the work that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have done, but he should go on paying attention, as I think Lord Greenhalgh has, to the work of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which was the first campaigning charity to get a grip of the scale of the problem. Also, will he say a word about waking watches, which are going on too long and at too high a cost?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution and for his ongoing interest in and commitment to this very important area of work. As I said earlier, we do not want leaseholders to carry the burden of these costs. That is why we are working with Michael Wade, who has a 40-odd-year history in the insurance market, to find innovative solutions to what is a very complicated problem. It is why we have also put aside a significant amount of public money in this financial year to remediate the buildings that are most at risk where the owners have no other means of paying.

My hon. Friend also asks about waking watch. We have published data on the costs of waking watch so that leaseholders are able to see the relative differences in charges by waking watch providers. It is entirely wrong that some providers charge so much, and I would point leaseholders to that data so that they can better understand where they may get better service. They may also know that alarm systems can pay for themselves within seven weeks and obviate the need for waking watch.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s scrutiny report on the draft Building Safety Bill, published today, makes for powerful yet sobering reading, not just for Members across the Chamber but, importantly, for the hundreds of thousands of leaseholders that are trapped in this living nightmare, left to foot the cost of a broken building safety system that they did not create. Before this, we had another powerful HCLG Committee report, a Public Accounts Committee report and a National Audit Office report, which repeatedly made it clear that, well over three years on from Grenfell, where 72 people lost their lives, the Government need to step up and step in to make buildings safe with a greater sense of urgency.

There are too many aspects of the building safety crisis to mention: the cost of remediation being passed to leaseholders and, yes, the interim costs such as waking watch; the snail’s pace of the work; other safety issues, such as firebreaks and wooden balconies not covered by the funding; the lack of prioritisation according to risk other than simply the height of buildings; and the ongoing saga of the external wall survey forms, despite this weekend’s botched announcement by the Secretary of State. How many reports are we going to need?

By my count, the Government have promised 11 times in this Chamber and beyond that leaseholders should be protected from the cost of remediation. Now we witness Minister after Minister shifting sand, referring to “affordable” costs put on the shoulders of leaseholders and enshrining in the draft Building Safety Bill the building safety charge—clause 89, there in black and white for people to see. Will the Minister tell me and the House what additional invoice paid in 28 days he defines as “affordable” or, as referred to at the Dispatch Box today, “reasonable”? Please answer that question.

Finally, will the Minister explain why those companies and developers that knowingly engineered false test results for insulation and cladding products, then riddled thousands of homes with flammable materials, are getting away scot-free?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. It is not true to say that leaseholders are being left to foot the bill. He and the House know full well that the taxpayer is spending £1.6 billion in this financial year to help remediate those buildings most at risk where the owners are unable to pay. Of course, those discussions across Government are ongoing. We keep the situation under review. However, I remind the House that it is not fair simply to place such a burden on the taxpayer. Developers and owners must step up and play their part.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the external wall system 1 form, which he knows is a form produced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; it is not a Government form. I am pleased that, as a result of the negotiations undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Greenhalgh, the EWS1 form will no longer be necessary for those buildings that are not clad. The industry has made that clear. That will be to the benefit of something like 450,000 leaseholders. But there is more to do, and we will continue to do it.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what affordability is. It is a very subjective matter, because what is affordable to one person is not to another. We want to ensure that, as a result of the work that my noble Friend is doing with the financial services sector and the insurance sector, we come up with appropriate and innovative solutions to ensure that unfair costs do not fall on leaseholders for defects that may be identified down the line.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to commentary on lies told about fire safety tests. I entirely agree that that was wrong. It was outrageous. Where firms have been proven to lie, they must of course receive the full force of the law.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I note that we have 62 people to get through, so I am concerned. I recognise that everyone needs to get in, because they all have personal circumstances, so if we can help each other, that might just get us through.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

While I welcome the fact that a number of responsible property owners have taken the necessary steps, supported by Government funding, to remove dangerous cladding from their buildings, the leaseholders and residents of Paddington Walk in my constituency are still under pressure from their buildings’ owner, European Land, to pay for the works required to remove ACM cladding. As those residents said to me in an email sent this morning: “Manufacturers are responsible for defective kettles or cars. Why is it different for the most expensive purchase anyone will ever make in their lives?” Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the billions of pounds being made available by the Government, it is now inexcusable that many building owners have still failed to remove dangerous cladding and are still trying to pass the cost and, indeed, the buck to leaseholders, who have suffered enough in this living nightmare?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. The buck ought to lie with the owners, their developers or the warrantee holder. She will know that we have spent a great deal of public money to remediate those buildings that are most in need of it, as I have described, but the responsibility of the developers—there are some very good developers out there—must be fully understood by us in this House and by them as an industry to remediate buildings that need it and to restore the reputation of their sector.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I congratulate Mr Betts, the Chairman of the Select Committee, on securing the urgent question.

Despite the building safety programme applying only in England and Wales, its advice is still being used by insurance companies and mortgage providers in Scotland to guide decisions. This is leading to many people north of the border ending up in the same position as those south of the border: essentially mortgage prisoners and having their properties valued as worthless. The Minister knows that this is not just an issue of commonality for buildings over 18 metres; it includes those under 18 metres, too. So what measures will the Government be bringing forward, particularly with an eye to tomorrow’s spending review? What discussions has he had with lenders and insurance companies to make it clear that applying this process to Scotland is unfair? Will he agree to meet a delegation of Scottish MPs to look more closely at the issue impacting our constituents in this regard?

The problems for leaseholders arising from the 18-metre rule raise the question: why is the archaic and often unjust institution of leaseholding continuing in England at all? Might this, therefore, be an opportunity to follow Scotland’s example and abolish this outdated practice and the negative consequences that are so common with it?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I will touch on two points that he raised. He is right that the financial services sector has commonalities throughout the United Kingdom: not simply in England but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why the Secretary of State and Lord Greenhalgh have held a series of meetings with UK Finance and other components of the financial services sector. It is why an agreement has been reached that the EWS1 form should not apply to buildings without cladding, which, as I say, will help 450,000 or so leaseholders around the country. There is more work to do. I trust that the Scottish financial sector will take note of the advances we have made very recently in England and which we will continue to make. He raises the question of 18 metres. That is the guidance provided to us by Judith Hackitt and her committee and we are following that guidance. He also refers to leasehold reform. A leasehold reform White Paper will be forthcoming. Perhaps we may, at that time, be able to debate the advantages and disadvantages of the Scottish system and see where we are able to learn from them and possibly they are able to learn from us.[This section has been corrected on 26 November 2020, column 9MC — read correction]

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

A number of constituents in a low-rise block of flats in Southend West have been unable to get their properties insured because of cladding issues. It will cost £400,000 to remove the cladding and their service charges will escalate. Will my right hon. Friend please reiterate the principle that those costs should not be passed on to tenants or leaseholders?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am happy to reiterate that point to my hon. Friend. Lord Greenhalgh has had a series of meetings with the insurance industry to make sure it fully understands and takes on board that point. He will continue to do so, as my hon. Friend will continue to campaign doughtily on behalf of his constituents.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

I have to say to the Minister that I never dreamed that, three and a half years after my friend Khadija Saye died with her mother in Grenfell Tower, I would be here begging him to sort this problem out. I have over 1,000 residents in the Tottenham Hale Village in my constituency, a development built by Bellway Homes, which made £500 million profits in 2018, another £500 million profits in 2019, and has shown complete disregard for my constituents living in these buildings with combustible cladding. What is the Minister going to do about leaseholders in that situation when it is clear that his building safety fund is inadequate to meet the task? Will he meet me and my constituents, so we can sort this three and a half years after the Government promised it would be fixed?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I sympathise with him for his personal loss and the loss of many of his friends and associates at Grenfell Tower. He asks what is being done to accelerate the pace of remediation in London, where there have been challenges that are unique to our capital. Lord Greenhalgh convened a summit of the London Mayor and the London Fire Brigade back in September to address an action plan to accelerate the work of London remediation. There was a further progress tracking meeting last month, and there are case conference meetings to address specific buildings in the capital and beyond. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there were something like 2,700 applications for the £1 billion that we put aside for non-ACM cladding. We will work through those. We have now agreed that a significant number of them meet the criteria, and the first funding of those applications is about to begin. I am confident that the funding will be fully allocated by the end of the financial year in 2021, for which the money was made available.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

This is an issue of huge concern to many of my constituents in Portishead. It must be an absolute principle that leaseholders must be protected from the cost of remediation for safety issues that were not their fault. I welcome the Government’s support and approach. A £1.6 billion taxpayers’ commitment is huge, but the taxes of working families up and down the country should not be used to absolve developers, insurers and owners from their proper responsibilities. When will my hon. Friend come forward and set out how these responsibilities will be enforced?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right. As I said in my earlier remarks, first and foremost the responsibility must fall squarely on the developers of these properties, their owners and warranty holders. There are some good developers that have worked hard to remediate ACM cladding; something like 50% of the buildings that have had ACM cladding remediated have been done, and are being done, by the private sector. Pemberstone, Mace, Peabody, Barratt Developments and others are all working to remediate their buildings. We have been clear that those that do not, such as those referred to by my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, must recognise that they will receive the full force of the law. I can tell the House that, from December, those responsible for buildings where remediation is not forecast to start by the end of 2020 will be publicly named, as a further incentive for them to get going.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It would be an inexcusable outrage if the costs of making buildings safe in the light of the Grenfell tragedy fell in practice not on the developers or the governments, whose disregard of safety led to that tragedy, but instead fell on the innocent leaseholders; yet, in effect, that is the Government’s default position, as people are left with homes they cannot afford to make safe and homes that they cannot sell. Will the Government accept Lords amendment 13 to the Fire Safety Bill in the name of my honourable friends Baroness Pinnock and Lord Shipley in order to stop this injustice?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman asks about an amendment that is being sent down to us from the other place. We will, of course, examine very closely the wording of that amendment, but my understanding is that it is a defective one, notwithstanding the issues that he raises and the concerns that he properly posits about leaseholders footing the bill. I hope that I have been clear to the House about my view on that. My understanding of the particular amendment is that it would be retrospective, which raises all sorts of legal challenges. It would also mean that building owners would be responsible for the normal wear and tear of buildings, which I am sure the whole House will accept would not be appropriate. We will look closely at the amendment, but I do not think that I can say at this stage that we can support it.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I spoke about this issue soon after being elected. It affected one tower in my constituency. Since then, the problem has ballooned, and every week more of my constituents seem to be dragged into this. I agree that responsibility should ultimately lie with the freeholder, but the reality is that while the Government have that dispute with freeholders, it is the leaseholders in the middle who have this uncertainty hanging over them. Just last week, residents at Cardinal Lofts on Ipswich waterfront were all notified by quite a distant building manager that they had to pay £300 a month for a waking watch, at a time of uncertainty about employment for many of them because of the pandemic. That is completely wrong. I am glad that some support has been provided by the Government, but we need far more certainty far sooner. Will the Minister meet me and colleagues to talk in detail about the timeline for providing that certainty?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend has raised this particular issue with me before, and I know that he has campaigned hard and long on it since his election just 11 months ago. I am happy to meet him to discuss that. The issue of waking watch has been raised by other Members. As I said, we want to ensure that leaseholders are aware of waking watch costs and the opportunities to mitigate them. It is the reason why we want developers to get on and remediate, and it is also why we have put £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money aside to ensure that we can remediate those buildings where owners cannot, so that the waking watch issue becomes moot.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

It is a disgrace that three and a half years on, people still do not know whether the properties they live in are safe, and others cannot sell because they cannot get external wall system certificates. I am told by surveyors who would willingly carry out this work that they cannot do so because they cannot afford the huge premiums that are being charged by insurance companies. That is leading to a huge backlog in this area of work. It is essential to get that moving. What is the Minister going to do about that, and would he consider paying those premiums, so that we can remove the backlog and start to get some idea of the problem we are facing?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing to speed up the surveying process. We are making more professionals available to undertake EWS assessments. We are spending something like £700,000 to fund the training of those assessors, and we will produce about 2,000 of them over the next six months, which should help to speed up the process.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

In my constituency, the biggest concern for residents has been the inappropriate application of these rules and the EWS form to much lower-rise buildings than were ever envisaged and the resulting problems created for them in selling flats, moving flat and so forth. I welcome the announcements made by my right hon. Friend last weekend; I am grateful to him for that. Could I ask him to keep up the pressure on the different professionals and organisations involved, to ensure that this problem really does disappear? These homeowners should not be subject to pressures because of something that is not designed for their kind of property.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I often wonder how Ministers would react if they received a letter, often out of the blue, saying that the cost to make their home safe far exceeded their annual salary, sometimes by multiple amounts. We know that there have been more than 2,800 applications for the building safety fund. Can the Minister inform the House how many have been allowed to proceed to a formal application so far and how much has actually been paid out of the fund to date?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that 2,704 applications were received. A significant number of them, I regret to tell the House, were not sufficient to allow an immediate assessment, but more than 100 have been assessed successfully to move on to the next stage. The first tender for payment has been agreed, and I am confident that by the end of the financial year for which this money was set aside, it will have been fully allocated, and remediation work will have begun.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend said that people should not be required to pay for faults that they did not cause, and he is absolutely right. Further to the point raised by the Father of the House, I have in my constituency one block that has social housing, private rented accommodation and full and shared leaseholders; will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the leaseholder element will not ever be faced with a disproportionate bill that will in effect pay for those who do not pay at all?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for his question. As I said earlier, I cannot say that there will not be some cost that may occur at some point to leaseholders for historical defects work that may be undertaken, but we do want to make sure that, as a result of the work that Michael Wade is doing with the financial services and others, any such costs are fair and reasonable and can be carried. That is why we have put aside that £1.6 billion to make sure that the cost of cladding remediation for cladding such as ACM and high-pressure laminate can be funded by the taxpayer when the developers are not able to fund it, so that the cost does not fall on the leaseholder.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

We have already heard about the difficulties that leaseholders have had with the EWS1 form backlog when they are seeking to sell. At the weekend, the Secretary of State claimed that his proposal to remove the requirement for this certification from properties without cladding had been cleared by and had the backing of mortgage lenders; in fact, UK Finance and the Building Societies Association both said that they did not back the scheme and had not been consulted, and that it did not solve anything and left 1.9 million homeowners in the lurch. Will the Minister tell us whether or not leaseholders who do not have cladding will be required to have the certification, and whether his proposal now has the backing of finance lenders?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is my understanding that buildings that do not have cladding will not need an EWS1 form. We clearly need to do more work with the financial services sector to advance the issues that have arisen with the EWS1 form but, as a result of the negotiations and the agreements made over the weekend, we anticipate that something like 450,000 holders will no longer need to use an EWS1 form.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I wish to press the Minister on that specific point. Will he confirm whether UK Finance has officially acknowledged that leaseholders of residential properties without external cladding do not need to provide an EWS1 form to finance, remortgage or sell their properties? Where can my constituents view that confirmation?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As I said to Ms Buck, my understanding is that the industry has confirmed that the EWS1 form will not be necessary for buildings that do not have cladding. As I am saying it from the Dispatch Box, I would imagine that is the view of the Government.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Conservative, Watford

I welcome the EWS1 form measures as they will have a real impact and provide certainty for many in my constituency. However, a number of Watford residents, especially in places such as Outlook Place, are still finding it difficult to sell or remortgage their homes, so what reassurances can my right hon. Friend offer to those living in buildings with cladding that are under 18 metres?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who I know has been campaigning long and hard on this issue in Watford. As I have said, as a result of some considerable and lengthy negotiations with the financial services sector, we have agreed that EWS1 forms will not be necessary for buildings that are for sale that are not clad in the same way as some buildings that are in grave difficulty. That will help 450,000 people around the country, a number of whom I suspect will be my hon. Friend’s constituents. There is more work to do on this matter and we will continue to undertake it.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I need to declare my interest in that I am a leaseholder in an affected block, but in my case, my developer is paying for the full remediation works. The Minister must acknowledge that this is one of the biggest consumer and safety failures in a generation. For all that I chair the Public Accounts Committee—we have published a report on this issue—and I watch taxpayers’ money very closely, surely the Government need to step up, just as they did when the former Secretary of State signed a ministerial direction sanctioning the expenditure of millions of pounds because he knew that it would take too long to go through the legal process of tracking down the actual owners of buildings for the most dangerous cladding. The Government need to step up. We need 10 times the amount that has been pledged. Surely the Minister must recognise this. Too many leaseholders are trapped and will never be able to move.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I know that she is a very considerate and assiduous Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The Government, though, have stepped up. It is why we put £600 million on the table to remediate ACM-clad buildings, and about 79% of those have now either completed or begun their remediation. Ninety-seven per cent. of social housing buildings have had that remediation completed. It is why we stepped up again with £1 billion through the building safety fund to remediate buildings that have other non-ACM-style dangerous cladding, but we must not absolve the developers and the owners of their responsibility to make sure that remediation takes place in the buildings for which they are responsible. We work with them to make sure that happens while we keep the general situation under review.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington

I welcome the additional money for training for assessors, because I understand from the industry that this is a very important issue, in terms of several of the delays. I am frustrated, however, that three and a half years on from the appalling Grenfell tragedy that happened in my constituency, we still have many outstanding issues. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that we will not be having the same conversation in six or 12 months’ time? Are there any interim measures that we can put in place to support leaseholders?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I appreciate the very unique challenge that she has as the Member of Parliament for Kensington. As I said earlier, the £700,000 of public money that we are putting aside to support the training of assessors will deliver about 2,000 assessors—clearly qualified assessors—who will be able to undertake the assessment work over the next 12 months, so I trust that that will also be a means by which we will not be having this conversation again any time in the future. The public money that we have set aside beyond that—the £1.6 billion—is also designed to ensure that the worst, most dangerous buildings are dealt with quickly and effectively. I hope and trust that the conversations we have ongoing with developers and owners to make sure that they step up to the plate will mean that very soon, we will remediate all the buildings that are affected, and that we will be able to see value and trust restored to those buildings and the development sector.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My constituent is a leaseholder in one of the 2,700 blocks —I think that is what the Minister said—that have applied to the building safety fund, which has approximately enough money to remedy about 600 blocks. She does not know whether her flat is safe. She cannot sell it and she does not know how much her liabilities may be. The Minister can talk about finding innovative solutions, but it is three and a half years since Grenfell and we still do not see builders, owners or developers paying for remediation. Will he guarantee to my constituent that she will not have to be liable—that she will not have to pay for these costs—and does he agree that this is just one more example that shows that the leasehold system is broken and needs to be reformed?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The leasehold system and its reform will form part of a Government White Paper and separate debates in this Chamber, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will play her part in those.[This section has been corrected on 26 November 2020, column 10MC — read correction] It is not true to say that developers and others are not funding remediation. As I have described, firms such as Pemberstone, Mace, Peabody, Barratt and, I think, Legal and General are all stepping forward with funds to remediate buildings for which they are responsible, resulting in something like 50% of ACM-clad buildings being remediated by the private sector. I do not know the specific issues of the buildings in her constituency to which she refers, but I am happy to talk to her separately about them. I am confident that the £1 billion of public money that we will set aside through the Building Safety Bill will be allocated by the end of this financial year, as we said it would be, and that remediation of those non-ACM buildings will begin.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In many cases there are insurmountable legal problems involved in trying to charge building owners and freeholders for these sums, and developers will often point the finger elsewhere. We know that responsibility lies with the developers and installers, with the manufacturers of insulation and cladding in many cases, and, let us be honest, with successive Governments for their approach to building regulations, which must be described as ambiguous. This cannot be left at the door of the leaseholders. Is it not right that the Government should now step in, increase the building safety fund, get the work done and claim back the moneys wherever possible and from whoever possible, and where they cannot, do so by means of a cross-sector levy?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend is an expert in this field and I pay tribute to him for the work that he has undertaken. Mr Wade, our adviser, is working hard with us and with the sector to develop solutions that will provide help and support to leaseholders. In the meantime, as I say, the Government have stepped up and provided a significant amount of public money to remediate the buildings that are most in need of it where there is no other means of paying, but it must be right that we ask developers and those responsible for these buildings to pay. To signal that the state will simply step in and sub them will not encourage them to do the right thing, and it is for developers, owners and warranty suppliers in the first instance to ensure that the buildings for which they are responsible are remediated.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Leaseholders in St Albans are already facing estimated bills of between £50,000 and £120,000 each for fixing safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause. These are not bills that are in the far-off distant future; these are costs that are being passed on to leaseholders right now, including through increased service charges. In the last three years, leaseholders in St Albans have seen their service charges rise from under £1,000 a year to £6,000 a year. Some of my residents cannot afford to pay these bills any more, and that will affect their ability to continue working in some professions, so will the Government get a grip and take urgent action to ensure that leaseholders no longer have to pay, as they are already doing, and that they do not have to foot the bill for these costs?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Lady. She is right. We recognise, as she will, that there are many cases in which leasehold agreements allow the building owners—the freeholders or their managing agents—to pass on remediation costs to the leaseholders of individual flats. That is why we have instituted the work of Michael Wade to ensure that leaseholders are protected from any charges for historical remediation that are unfair. The fundamental responsibility—the first responsibility—for the remediation of those buildings must lie with the developers, the building owners and the warranty holders, and not with the leaseholders.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I thank the Government for the substantial investment in tackling this problem, including for the social sector. Will the Minister encourage housing associations that have been funded to do this work to get it done as quickly as possible? That is the best thing to do to keep people safe, but also it is really tough on tenants effectively living in a building site for months on end, as has been the case in Desmond House in East Barnet in my constituency.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for her constituents in Chipping Barnet, and I will do exactly as she advises.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Hundreds of families in Walthamstow have finally managed to get their foot on the property ladder through shared ownership and now, as a result of this crisis, find themselves in properties that are almost worthless and facing huge bills. Will the Minister reconsider the decision to exclude those bills that were incurred before 11 March, because many of those people have already tried to do the right thing and have incurred huge cost to themselves through the remediation works. Surely we should not penalise those people who have tried to act promptly on this matter.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Lady. The decision of the Government was to make sure that those buildings that were most in need of remediation and where the owners could not pay should be, as it were, first in the queue for Government help. We want to work with the sector, with the leaseholder community and with the adviser Michael Wade to find solutions that will ensure that unfair bills do not fall upon leaseholders who are not responsible for the troubles that they face.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

I should draw your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As a landlord myself, I make it my utmost priority to ensure that my tenants are safe in their homes. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that all landlords are taking their duties seriously and acting on their tenants’ concerns?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I can tell my hon. Friend that we have written to all those responsible for buildings, including their owners, where remediation has not started to remind them of their responsibilities and our expectation that remediation will begin by the end of the year. My hon. Friend the noble Lord Greenhalgh has convened roundtable meetings with owners and with local authority leaders to address the challenges that they face locally. We have made it clear that, from December, those responsible for buildings where remediation has not started and is not forecast to start by the end of this year will be publicly named. Those are active steps that we are undertaking to remind landlords and owners of their responsibilities.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

In October, more than 1,000 of my constituents—leaseholders, shared owners, tenants and students—were asked to leave the Paragon Estate in Brentford within seven days because the current owners, Notting Hill Genesis, found significant fire safety and structural issues. They were unrelated to flammable cladding, because that had been removed two years ago. In September 2019, Richmond House in Worcester Park, a four-storey block of only 23 leasehold flats, was destroyed by fire in 11 minutes. Both estates were developed by the Barclay Group, and both had the same significant fire safety defects. The week before last, the Sunday Times said that

“the scandal over building safety spreads far beyond dangerously clad tower blocks” and could affect 4 million people. What are the Government doing right now to protect all those at risk of dying at home because of failures in the building safety regime?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The building safety fund was designed specifically to deal with the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding where the buildings are over 18 metres and where materials, even before the combustible cladding ban was put in place in 2018 under statutory guidance, should not have been used on high-rise buildings. That fund is available, and, as I have described to the House, it is already being disbursed round the country and will be completed by the end of this financial year. We will continue to work with the financial sector, as I have described, using Michael Wade. We will continue to work with developers to make sure that their responsibility is executed, and support for leaseholders is provided. As for the specifics of the case that the hon. Lady raised, I am not aware of it, but I am happy to discuss it with her outwith the Chamber.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

As a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, I have had the opportunity to scrutinise the draft safety Bill. The report that we published today has unanimous cross-party support, and I urge my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to look at it in very great detail indeed. I do not expect—it would be unreasonable to do so—an immediate reaction today following publication. However, during the inquiry, a concern arose from Lord Greenhalgh’s evidence about costs being passed on to leaseholders. My right hon. Friend has said that proposed amendments to the Fire Safety Bill are defective in some way, but would he commit, on behalf of the Government, to make it clear that the Government will ensure that it will be illegal for the cost of remediating unsafe cladding on buildings to be passed on to leaseholders in any shape or form?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I can guarantee that we will look very closely at the report. As I have said, there are something like 80 pages and 40-odd recommendations. I shall look very closely at pages 22 to 39, which may include reference to proposals from another place.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

As my hon. Friend David Linden said, this is not a problem that stops at the border. I have constituents in the Partick area and elsewhere who are trapped in houses that they cannot sell and cannot get fixed as a result of advice assigned for an English model of ownership and management that does not apply in Scotland. When did the Minister last engage with his Scottish Government counterparts on this, and when will he next engage with them? Will he respond to the request from my hon. Friend to meet a delegation of MPs from Scotland to discuss how this particularly affects our constituencies?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We discuss a range of issues with our colleagues in the Scottish Government—and officials discuss with officials—in the usual way, all the time. I am very happy to discuss with the hon. Gentleman any particular arrangements that he may wish to raise, and I will make sure that any such issues are raised with my noble Friend Lord Greenhalgh.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

While discussions take place with property developers and freeholders about who will fund the cost of this, we should never forget that there are leaseholders and tenants living in these buildings, so would the Minister set out what steps have been taken to keep those people safe, as they are living in fear?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We have put a great deal of public money aside to make sure that buildings that need remediation—and where there is no other means of making them safe quickly—are made safe through the ACM fund and the building safety fund. We will continue to work closely with the industry to make sure that other buildings are remediated and made safe. I look forward to further contributions from my hon. Friend in that regard.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The Minister answered a series of questions on this subject yesterday, and his answers all contained the same formulation of words: “to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs”. Does he realise that that leaves leaseholders in limbo? What he needs to do now is either define what “unaffordable” means better than “just below the bankruptcy threshold”, as in a previous attempt by one of his colleagues, or he needs to recommit to exempting leaseholders from those costs, as well as social landlords, as there are costs not only for leaseholders but for tenants?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As I said earlier, I cannot commit that there will be no costs that a leaseholder will ever have to pay with respect to some historical defect. We want to make sure, through the building safety fund and the ACM fund, and through our work with developers and owners, that the costs of cladding issues that confront many people and which are the subject of great debate in the House are protected for leaseholders.

The hon. Gentleman asks me about affordability, which is a very subjective matter. I want to make sure, through the funds we have made available and the work Michael Wade is doing with the sector, that people are able to get on with their lives, restore value to their properties and live as normally as possible without the spectre of costs hanging over them.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government blames the building control inspectors. The building control inspectors blame the construction company. The construction company blames the developer. The developer blames the lack of proper regulation. What is clear is that no one blames the thousands of leaseholders in my constituency who are now trapped in their homes, paying for everyone else’s mistakes. So will the Minister accept that the buck stops with him to get those who are responsible to pay up, if necessary with a windfall tax on the industry, to sort out the regulation and to keep my constituents safe and solvent?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The buck stops with those responsible for the development of these buildings, the owners and the warranty holders, and that—getting them to pay—is what we are working to make sure they do.

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Conservative, Orpington

I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are leaseholders in buildings under 18 metres in height that have cladding on them. They are unable to remortgage or to move home because mortgage providers are refusing to lend without the EWS1 form and the freeholder has not provided it. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether or not an EWS1 form is required for buildings with cladding that are under 18 metres in height? If it is not, will the Government commit to reinforcing that message to mortgage providers, so that my constituents can move on with their lives?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I can certainly confirm that buildings that are without cladding should not have an EWS1 form apply to them. EWS1 forms can be applied in other egregious circumstances, and we are working with the sector to make sure that we obviate, as far as is possible, the responsibility of leaseholders to provide those forms. There is more work to be done to ensure that buildings can have their value restored to them and that people can move effectively without recourse to an EWS1 form.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

In my local authority of Richmond upon Thames, remediation work has either been started or completed on fewer than 50% of buildings with dangerous cladding. Leaseholders living in these buildings, such as the residents of the Sandy Lane estate in my constituency, are living at constant personal and financial risk. So may I press the Minister again: will he, in the first instance, commit to covering the costs of both the assessment and the remedial work, to keep not just my constituents safe, but leaseholders across the capital and the country, and claim the money back from freeholders and developers later?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As I said a moment ago, some 79% of all identified high-rise ACM buildings have either completed or started their remediation, and some 97% of social sector buildings have either completed or started their remediation. I know that there are specific challenges in London, which is why the Secretary of State and Lord Greenhalgh have undertaken roundtables with the Mayor, the fire brigade and the sector to ensure that the pace of acceleration is speeded up. We want to make sure that this work is done. We will continue to work with the developer community and with leaseholders to make sure that it is. Where necessary, as we have already demonstrated, public money will be spent, but in the first instance the responsibility should fall on those who built these buildings or who own them.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

The Minister is quite right that the buck should stop with those who are responsible, but for the 66 leaseholders in the Landmark in Bexhill, their builder and developer have both gone out of business, and indeed the insurer is not in business either. Ultimately, while the freeholder should of course be responsible, legally they may not be. What can be done to ensure that leaseholders are not responsible and do not face years of court action or bankruptcy? Surely we need to look at an industry levy to make sure that the industry that is ultimately responsible carries the can.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The work of Michael Wade is designed to address some of the challenges that my hon. Friend raises. In the interim—I am sorry to labour this point—that is why we put aside a very significant amount of public money to alleviate the risk to the buildings that are most at risk of fire and that are most dangerous, and where there is no other means of the owner paying, so that, fundamentally, leaseholders in those circumstances are made safe. The work of Mr Wade will focus particularly on the matters that my hon. Friend raises.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

The bottom line is that this is a national scandal. It is a UK-wide problem that is going to require UK-wide solutions, such as the Minister has described, regarding the EWS1 forms that have affected my constituents. I have been absolutely appalled by the utterly amoral behaviour of many of the developers and construction companies, raking in billions while trying to dump the costs on to leaseholders in my constituency and so many others around this country. Has the Minister actually hauled in the likes of Redrow, Laing O’Rourke and Taylor Wimpey? If he is saying that they are ultimately responsible, what is he actually going to do to make them pay? Will it be a levy or some other measure? When will we see these innovative insurance products, because the reality is that my constituents are paying thousands in increased premiums right now?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I understand the concerns of the hon. Gentleman and the passion with which he expresses the concerns of his constituents. We have named and shamed the owners and developers who did not step up the plate and properly and quickly remediate ACM-clad buildings. We made it clear that where we anticipate that the remediation of other buildings will not have begun by the end of this year, we will name and shame those owners and developers too. That is the work that Mr Wade is undertaking to develop the solutions that will mitigate the effect of any costs on leaseholders so as to make sure that we draw this terrible situation to a reasonably quick and satisfactory conclusion. I think that will answer some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We want to get on with this, and get on with it quickly, and that is the work that Mr Wade is undertaking.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

Although I welcome the funding that the Government have made available to remove unsafe cladding and praise the owners who have stepped up to get the process under way, there are, sadly, many owners who have not done that, leaving residents in Basildon trapped in homes they cannot sell. Further to the point made previously, what more can the Government do, other than naming and shaming, to force building owners to start the process of cladding removal and to fund it where they can?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Local authorities have a suite of measures with respect to enforcement—fines and the like that can be brought to bear to address the concerns, or some of the concerns, that my hon. Friend raises. As I have said previously and shall say again, the work of Michael Wade, a very experienced player in the insurance sector with 40 years’ experience behind him, is to bring the sector together to find sensible and innovative solutions that will result in the costs that may fall to leaseholders being mitigated. That is the solution to this problem, not simply writing a blank cheque on behalf of taxpayers, which would send entirely the wrong message to the developers and the owners of these buildings, who are, in the first place, responsible for remediating the issues that they have caused.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North

I should make a declaration of interest that I am a leaseholder, although I am personally unaffected by the matter we are considering. However, I have heard from a number of constituents who are—or whose children are—affected. Does the Minister agree that the principle is simple? They have purchased flats in good faith that have subsequently been shown to have been built potentially dangerously. As my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury said, that extends far beyond combustible cladding. If they had bought some other item with inherent faults, they would not be expected to pay for repairs, so those leaseholders should not be liable for remedial works to make their homes safe, should they?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Our actions are designed to ensure that the hon. Lady’s constituents and others around the country are not liable for the costs of cladding. I cannot say to her that there will not be some costs that fall on leaseholders that have some connection with defects in their properties, but we are working hard with Mr Wade and others to ensure that we have solutions to mitigate that, and we must make sure that developers and owners step up to the plate and remedy the situations that they have created. Where they cannot, thus far the Government have demonstrated that we will step in and support remediation of buildings, but we cannot and should not offer a blank cheque on behalf of taxpayers. The primary responsibility must reside with developers who built those buildings.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I welcome what my hon. Friend is doing, particularly on fairness for leaseholders, but what measures can he take to support Harlow locally to improve the quality of social housing, given the urgent need to ensure that our social housing stock is fit for purpose and we can build an even better Harlow for residents, for the 21st century and beyond?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My right hon. Friend campaigns for Harlow possibly like no other colleague campaigns for any constituency in the country. He was integral to our work on space standards for upbuilding and ensuring that buildings have light in all habitable rooms. In answer to his question, I point him to our affordable homes programme, under which £12.2 billion will deliver 180,000 affordable new homes in the next five years, and to our reforms to the housing revenue account, which will allow local councils more easily to build social homes if they wish. Harlow may wish to pursue those two endeavours.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I have been contacted by numerous leaseholders in my constituency who, through no fault of their own, are worried sick because they are being told that they need to pay thousands of pounds for essential fire safety works, including the removal of unsafe cladding. Some are vulnerable or on low incomes and all fear losing their home or being trapped in a financial nightmare. I think that the Minister agrees with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that leaseholders should not be required to pay for the remediation of historical building safety defects, but what is his advice to my constituents, who are receiving enormous service charge bills that they cannot afford and should not be asked to pay?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I entirely sympathise with the situation that the hon. Lady’s constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. colleagues face. We are entirely cognisant of the fact that individual legal contracts between owners and leaseholders allow owners to pass on costs to their leaseholders. That is one of the reasons we invited Michael Wade to do the work that he is doing. We will work as fast as we can to ensure that the solutions that we are working through are available to mitigate any costs that leaseholders may fear they have to pay. That is also why we will continue to make public funds available, as we have through the ACM fund and the building safety fund to remediate buildings that are most in need and for which there is no other means of quick and easy remediation.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Leaseholders are not just living in limbo. As we have heard this afternoon, they are living in fear. They are paying over the odds in insurance to live in fear, and in some cases they are paying well over £1,000 a year for waking watch charges. I recognise that my hon. Friend has done an enormous amount of work on that, but may I please impress upon him the urgency? At this economic time, people simply cannot afford those charges on an ongoing basis.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I entirely accept the points made by my right hon. Friend. We will continue to work with the insurance sector on the insurance challenges that leaseholders face, with the financial services sector on the challenges with mortgage costs that leaseholders face, and with developers to make sure that remediation takes place swiftly and effectively, so that this problem is resolved.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

Will the Minister set out much more clearly the criteria for the much-needed grant funding? Residents at Waterside Park in my constituency are worried that their management company wants to apply to the building safety fund, even though the development recently received a B1 rating so remediation is not required. Would such an application be appropriate?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I point the right hon. Gentleman to the specific criteria in the building safety fund, which was published earlier this year. As I have said and will say again, we will work with Michael Wade to make sure that there are solutions to what is a very complicated issue. There may be more than one element to the package of solutions to resolve this challenge. I do not want to give a running commentary to the House on the progress of that work, but it is ongoing, and we hope that we can make some further and concrete announcement soon to give succour to the points made by the right hon. Gentleman and reassurance to others in the House.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

I welcome the £1 billion the Government have made available through the building safety fund for the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding. Is my right hon. Friend able to update the House with regard to the number of applications to the fund and how quickly those can be reviewed and processed so that the work can finally be done?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He campaigns hard and long for his constituents in Blackpool South. We have now advanced more than 100 applications and the first payments for work will be made imminently. I am confident that the full allocation of £1 billion that the Chancellor made available in the Budget earlier this year will be made by the end of this financial year, for which the money was made available.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Justice)

Hundreds of constituents are affected by safety problems, from social housing tenants in Canning Town to leaseholders in Stratford. Those in the Prime Minister’s flagship Olympic park have had the Olympic dream turned into a nightmare. This crisis is getting worse. Just two weeks ago, four more blocks were placed on waking watch. They have been told there is a risk of fire, which increases their fear. They are trapped in unsellable homes and there is a dread that, at the end of all this, there is going to be an unaffordable bill for them to pay. Why can the Government not understand that this continuing uncertainty and punishing of leaseholders is plain wrong and that the notion of affordability is massively contentious and concerning? Perhaps we can have a meeting.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Lady and her constituents. The Government are working hard and at pace to remediate these buildings and resolve the issues that her constituents face. I am very happy to meet her to discuss the specific issues in her constituency, but she can be assured that I have every sympathy with the plight of her constituents. We are working very hard, very quickly to make sure those issues are resolved.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress is being made in removing both ACM and non-ACM cladding in the social housing sector?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Something like 97% of buildings with ACM cladding in the social sector have been remediated or have remediation under way. Of course, we continue to work on the remediation of non-ACM cladding, and we will work with local authorities to make sure that that is done as swiftly as possible. Another Member previously asked me if I would encourage housing associations to work more swiftly to remediate their properties—I think it was my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers—and I said to her that, yes, we will. I say to my hon. Friend: yes, we will work harder with social housing operators to make sure that their properties are remediated.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

Like so many colleagues across the House, I have had many constituents write to me about the problems they are suffering with cladding, remediation and getting some answers from both finance and insurers, so I will not repeat all of what has been said before. Could I just say to my right hon. Friend that I have an outstanding meeting request with his colleague Lord Greenhalgh, and I wonder whether he might facilitate that for me?

I heard the Minister’s answer a moment ago to the question about whether or not the Government would look at the amendment from the House of Lords, and I listened carefully to his answer. Can he tell me whether or not the Government are sympathetic to the amendment, and whether or not the Government might bring forward their own amendment that would be in order?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend encourages me to facilitate a meeting with Lord Greenhalgh, and I am happy to try to assist him in that regard. Regardless of the rather byzantine practices in the other place, I trust that we can make that happen for him.

My hon. Friend asks whether we have sympathy with the amendment sent down to us from the House of Lords. I understand what the amendment is trying to achieve. I believe it is defective, but of course we will look at it from the point of view that another Chamber in this Parliament has sent us an important amendment, and we will give it appropriate consideration.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Opposition Whip (Commons)

I receive emails from constituents in Vauxhall on an almost daily basis about this cladding scandal. My constituent who lives at Beregaria Court on Kennington Park Road emailed me yesterday and said:

“I am a leaseholder and do not own any other part of the building, I had no say in how this was built, until recently I didn’t know what cladding was, have just been working and saving for years and putting it all into 1-bedroom apartment that now is worth nothing.”

Such constituents bought their homes in good faith, so I have one question to the Minister: do the Government agree with me that in principle it is wrong to make leaseholders pay for these bills?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady. I know she campaigns hard for her constituents, and we have had many exchanges across the Chamber about the concerns that her constituents have raised with her. We entirely agree that it is not right that leaseholders who have done the right thing—who have invested in a property or have chosen a place to call home—should find themselves burdened by costs for which they are not responsible. That is why we are working with the financial services sector—Michael Wade is working on this—to try to make sure that any costs respecting historical defects of buildings are obviated. She will understand when I say that the taxpayer should not be held responsible for an open-ended cheque. We have already spent over £1.5 billion of public money to ameliorate those buildings most in need of it. The fundamental responsibility must lie with developers, but I entirely understand the point of view that the hon. Lady has raised on behalf of her constituents. Leaseholders who have done the right thing should not fall liable to unfair costs.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

On behalf of my constituents who are affected by and anxious about this situation, can I add my voice to the cause that leaseholders should not have to pay for these charges? They have done nothing wrong. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will push lenders not to require the EWS1 form if it is not really needed, and also push the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which is training 2,000 other assessors, to deploy those in the areas of the country that most need them? If they are too thinly spread across the country, it will not do enough to reduce the delays.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughtful contribution. Yes, we will continue to work with the lending sector to ensure that the EWS1 form is fully and properly understood and is not misused, or that its use does not bleed across in a way that is inappropriate. We will of course roll out the 2,000 assessors as quickly as we possibly can. I will take on board his point and consider how those assessors can be best and most effectively deployed.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union

For the past hour and a half, the Minister has had to listen to testimony about the nightmare that all our constituents, including mine in Leeds city centre, are living with. He knows that leaseholders simply do not have the billions that are still required to fix the problem. He knows that without funding from elsewhere, they will continue to live in unsafe homes, as waking watch and insurance bills mount. He knows that some of them will eventually lose their homes, because they will be made bankrupt by those costs. He knows how much anguish this nightmare is causing them. He also knows that an answer must be found, but I think the question that leaseholders who have been listening to this urgent question would like to put to him is: when will the Government come forward with that answer?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The question he puts is a fair one, and the way in which he puts the issues he raised was entirely reasonable and fair. We will bring forward proposals as quickly as we can, to ensure that costs to leaseholders are mitigated. He will understand that this is a complicated issue that tracks back over political generations. To unpick that challenge, and to ensure that remediation is done effectively, that liability falls where it should, that the taxpayer is not subjected to unfunded commitment and that leaseholders have the right thing done by them is a challenge, but one that we are rising to and one for which we will bring forward proposals as quickly as we can.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

The Minister may well have seen on Sunday on the television my constituent Ritu Saha talking not for the first time about the agony that she and her neighbours in Northpoint in Bromley are going through, for all the reasons that have just been set out by Hilary Benn and many others.

Of course there are complications in sorting out liability and dealing with some of the technical issues of remediation. I entirely accept that, and the work being done, but will the Minister recognise that the moral point is not complicated? At the end of the day, leaseholders who have done nothing to create this situation and who relied in good faith on a regulation that ultimately Government—of whatever description—own should not be out of pocket for whatever reason. If that takes more money, will he at least give the commitment that where it is a failure of regulation and no fault of the leaseholder, they will not ultimately have to pick up the tab?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have heard the testimony of Ritu Saha and others in his constituency. I understand the point that he makes. I hope that in answering him quickly, he will not in any way think that I am diminishing that point, because it has also been made by colleagues across the House. We will work at pace to ensure that leaseholders who through no fault of their own find themselves in this terrible situation are not subjected to unfair costs. Costs ought to fall in the first instance to the developers and owners—and their warranty providers—who built the properties. The Government have set aside funds in this financial year to support those buildings that require immediate remediation and where there is no other means of so doing. We will continue to keep the situation under review, but we will work with the sector to ensure that remediation is done by those where responsibility lies.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive answers.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order 4 June)