Fire Defects: Remediation Costs

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – in the House of Commons at on 22 April 2024.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

What steps he is taking to help prevent (a) leaseholders and (b) tenants paying for the remediation of fire defects.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

No qualifying leaseholder in a building above 11 metres in England will be liable for cladding remediation costs. Where we are able to do so and where they still exist, we are making those who cause these issues pay to resolve them.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

In my constituency, residents are asking for transparency in their service charges. They are fearful that they are being charged for surveys for fire remediation work, which is the responsibility of the developer and not the people who live in the flats and who are not the cause of those problems. What will the Government do for people in Master Gunner Place or Grove Place in my constituency, where people are asking questions but not getting answers on why they are paying these excessive charges? In one case, there was a 107% increase in the service charge. The Government are making all the right noises, but I do not see much result at the sharp end for my constituents.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is absolutely vital there is transparency in how, when and why leaseholders are being charged. That is why we have done one thing and been doing another thing in the past few weeks alone. Last week, on the new building safety approach for high-rise buildings, we were very clear in a joint letter about highlighting the importance of temperate remuneration and cost. Secondly, we need to continue to bring forward the reforms in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which will see a transformation in transparency on service charges. The Government brought that Bill forward and it will come through as soon as the other place has concluded its observations.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The Minister has done good work in protecting leaseholders and renters from remediation costs above 11 metres. As a leaseholder myself, I am a bit baffled as to why people are not protected when fire remediation measures are necessary below 11 metres. I would be grateful if he could explain the Government’s reasoning.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

When the Building Safety Act 2022, which put in place the differentiation, was going through, we were very clear and asked colleagues, on the Floor of the House, for any examples of where there were potential issues below 11 metres. If my right hon. Friend or any other Member has an issue, I would be very keen to hear from them. The reality is that, over the past two years nearly, we have received only 160 potential issues. Of those, we can count on one hand where there has been a problem. We are working with each of those three buildings to make the progress we need to make.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The Select Committee welcomed the more than £2 billion provided through the building safety fund to private leaseholders with regard to remediation due to fire safety works. On the other hand, social housing providers received only £200 million, which is about 10% of the amount going to private leaseholders. How can it possibly be fair that in a block of flats a private leaseholder gets their remediation costs paid, but in the same flat next door a social housing tenant has to pay for the total cost out of their rent? That simply is not fair. Ministers have accepted the unfairness in the past. When will they do something about it?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

As my constituency neighbour recognises, there is, rightly, a substantial amount of taxpayer subsidy for remediation. We are trying to ensure that that taxpayer subsidy is then clawed back from those responsible for the problems in the first place. Where there are challenges and issues with registered providers, we are very happy to talk to them. We have done that and we have made changes where necessary.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Following a fire last summer, timber and unplasticized polyvinyl chloride cladding on 586 homes in the borough of Barnet was identified as needing remediation. A number of those homes are in my constituency. Homeowners are facing bills of £23,000. Will the Government help them with those bills?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

This important issue is very much on our radar, and one that we are working through. I had meetings about it only a few days ago, and I continue to do so. Perhaps I could update my right hon. Friend separately outside the Chamber with further information about our proposed approach.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Soaring service charges are placing an intolerable financial strain on leaseholders and those with shared ownership across the country. Among the main drivers of the eye-watering demands with which many have been served over recent months are staggering rises in buildings insurance premiums and the passing on of significant costs relating to the functioning of the new building safety regime. Given that many leaseholders are being pushed to the very limits of what they can afford, do the Government now accept that the service charge transparency provisions in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill—and pleading with freeholders to take a temperate approach—are not enough, and that Ministers should explore with urgency what further measures could be included to protect leaseholders better from unreasonable charges and give them more control over their buildings?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

The hon. Gentleman is aware that our substantial reform package sets out clearly and transparently the changes that are being introduced and what people are expected to pay. It could not be clearer than it is in the legislation, which is one of my reasons for wanting it to proceed as quickly as possible. When there are issues, we are keen to look at them and, where we can, take action, but the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is designed to improve transparency and reduce problems, and I am sure that it will do that once it has completed its passage here and in the other place.