Amendment 115

Building Safety Bill - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 29th March 2022.

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The Earl of Lytton:

Moved by The Earl of Lytton

115: Clause 120, page 127, line 27, leave out from “dwellings” to end of line 32Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment extends the cost protections in the Bill to leaseholders in buildings of all heights containing two more residential dwellings.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment is leading the charge here. I refer noble Lords to Grand Committee, when the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in particular, questioned why only buildings of a certain height benefited from the cost protections in this Bill. This is a matter on which I feel very strongly—and, indeed, both my cosignatories feel strongly—and I give notice that I may well press the amendment to a Division.

I reminded the Grand Committee at the time that building safety is not governed by building height alone or, possibly, at all. I refer to the fire at Worcester Park in September 2019. The Minister went on to give us a graphic description of the circumstances. However, despite that the Minister stuck to his text in suggesting that lower rise buildings do not have the same risk profile. I have probably paraphrased him, and that may not be the precise form of words that he used, but that is the drift of what he was saying. If, as he recounted in the circumstances of the Worcester Park fire, it was so well alight after nine minutes that the fire and rescue services concluded that the building could not be saved, that represents to me an existential risk to occupiers who may be asleep, confused of mind, infirm, pregnant, disabled or otherwise particularly vulnerable, especially as regards the speed with which an inferno can evidently develop.

A block of flats without adequate separating walls to me is just as dangerous above ground-floor level as a high-rise block without decent fire doors. I do not make a distinction in terms of risk; they are both equally perilous, as far as I can see. Be that as it may, I have received emails from occupiers of identical buildings in the same development in the Worcester Park building, telling me that the developer was remarkably reluctant to address basic issues and shortcomings, many of which may have accelerated the fire in the building that was actually destroyed. Furthermore, they said that they could not sell their flats and that insurance had gone through the roof, and interim measures were costing a fortune—exactly the same problems and privations as with taller buildings.

I will just say—other noble Lords will be able to elaborate—that the Government have not made the case for excluding these, other than giving the impression that this is driven, dare I say it, by a degree of Treasury parsimony and a departmental inclination to go no further than it absolutely has to. There seems no good reason for height exclusion on any moral, economic, safety or practical ground. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 5:45 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, as noble Lords may know, I am not in the habit of making long speeches, but this group of amendments covers a huge range of issues and is arguably the most important group today. I am proposing seven amendments and I have added my name to four others. I will be as brief as I can, and the good news is that I do not propose to intervene in this debate again.

I will go through the amendments in the order in which they appear, starting with Amendment 115, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, to which I have added my name. It seeks to expand the service charge protection of Schedule 9 to buildings of all heights. At the moment, as we heard, buildings under 11 metres get no help at all from the proposed waterfall. Unless developers agree to fix those buildings voluntarily, or leaseholders are willing to engage in litigation, there is no meaningful help on offer.

As mentioned in earlier debates, buildings under 11 metres can be just as dangerous as buildings over 11 metres. The fire at Richmond House, the 9-metre building that burned to the ground in less than 11 minutes in September 2019, shows the dangers. Buildings under 11 metres are excluded, even though they have exactly the same defects, for which leaseholders bear no responsibility at all. They suffer exactly the same consequences as those in taller buildings: unaffordable service charges, repossession and bankruptcy. I see no equity or principle behind this decision, which is there solely to save money.

When we asked about this in meetings on the Bill, we were told there was no systemic problem with cladding in these buildings—a statement that brings no consolation to leaseholders, such as this one, one of many who have written to me. The letter says:

“I am a leaseholder in a building well under 11 metres. We are three storeys high with 10 flats. We are therefore excluded from any support from the Government, yet our freeholder/managing agent is taking us to court on Friday to ask them to agree to us having to pay for the cost of remediation—a £26,000 service charge in 2022 per leaseholder. We are told the freeholder does not have the means or obligation to pay for these works that we need to reduce the annual insurance premium. We are told that the only way to pay for these works is via the leaseholder and that we will be legally responsible to fund the money and pay it upfront so that the management agent has the means to pay for works.”

The letter continues:

“I hope the Minister will see fit to bring our needs in line with leaseholders in larger properties and protect us from at least some of the costs that we currently face.”

Last week’s Sunday Times had an article showing that, despite what the Government say, buildings under 11 metres remain unsaleable and unmortgageable, as quotes from the major lenders in the article underlined.

We were also told that there were not many such buildings. That is good news, but it follows from that that the extra cost of putting this inequity right is so small that I hope the Minister can accept it.

I should have said at the beginning that I am grateful to Martin Boyd, Liam Spender and Sue Bright, who in their personal capacity have helped me with some briefing.

I turn now to Amendment 117 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. It seeks to expand the service charge protections to enfranchised buildings and buildings where the right to manage has been exercised. This would ensure that all leaseholders are treated equally.

It has been the policy of successive Administrations to encourage leaseholders to enfranchise and buy their freeholds, and to move away from a feudal system of tenure. That process began in the 1960s, when leaseholders could buy their houses, and was extended to flats in the 1990s. Since then, there have been other measures to encourage leaseholders to buy their freeholds, with the security of the independence that goes with it, and measures to promote and enhance right to manage. We are promised legislation in the next Session to take this policy forward.

Against that background, it would be perverse if the legislation before us today put enfranchised leaseholders in a worse position than leaseholders who are not enfranchised, but that is what Clause 120 does. The Government cannot hope to succeed in encouraging more resident-owned and resident-run buildings unless they treat all buildings affected by fire safety issues equally. As I understand the legislation, once your building is “not relevant”, it in effect becomes a second-class building in perpetuity.

I have looked at the government amendments tabled since Committee stage but they seem to make the position worse by confirming that these buildings are excluded. That means that people living in these buildings are being left to fend for themselves, either by undertaking litigation or by recovering what they can from the building safety fund. An excellent article in the recent edition of Inside Housing shows the problem with the fund:

“If the rate of remediation through the fund continues at this pace, it will be decades before all blocks receive funds—never mind see work completed.”

I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm what he said in Committee, which appears to contradict what is in the Bill. He said:

“My noble friend Lord Young asked the very important question of whether enfranchised properties will have to pay all the costs for remediation. I want to be absolutely clear—read my lips—no, they are not. This will not apply to buildings which have exercised a right to collective enfranchisement, or to commonhold land, which in this case, admittedly, is very few buildings. New subsection (3) in government Amendment 63 is very clear on that point. I am happy to speak to my noble friend afterwards, but I am very clear that they are not expected to shoulder the burden. They are effectively leaseholders that have enfranchised as opposed to freeholders. I hope that helps.”—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. GC 262.]

However, under Clause 20, these buildings are left to fend for themselves if the developer does not pay or if they do not have the wherewithal to engage in litigation against a well-resourced developer. They miss out on the guarantee in paragraph 8 of Schedule 9 that no leaseholder will have to pay for cladding costs, because they do not live in a relevant building. They are not treated as leaseholders but as freeholders.

My amendment does no more than achieve the ambition set out by the Secretary of State in another place on 10 January, when he said that

“we will protect leaseholders today and fix the system for the future.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/22; col. 286.]

Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can confirm that, if you have not enfranchised, you are protected by the caps on what you can pay but, if you have enfranchised, there is no such protection. I hope that my noble friend will look at that again.

I turn to Amendment 123 in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lady Neville-Rolfe. This would change the definition of qualifying leases so that buy-to-let landlords with interests in up to five properties, including their main home, benefit from the leaseholder cost protections in Schedule 9. While we welcome the Government’s movement on this, we would like to go a little bit further.

As I mentioned in Committee on 24 February, there are many buildings where flats are owned by buy-to-let landlords. If those landlords cannot pay their share of the bill, it will mean that not all of the money is available to do the works to the whole building and so remediation will not commence, to the disadvantage of all the residents in the block, who will continue to live in unsafe premises. Many landlords hold their buy-to-let properties as part, or in some cases all, of their pension provision. According to data that the Government provided in July 2021 in response to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, of the 2.2 million buy-to-let landlords paying income tax, 1.5 million—68%—fell within the basic income tax band.

This point is reinforced by the recent report on the remediation and financing of building safety work by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee in another place. It said:

“Buy-to-let landlords are no more to blame than other leaseholders for historic building safety defects, and landing them with potentially unaffordable bills will only slow down or prevent works to make buildings safe.”

It wanted total exemption, but we do not go quite so far. The committee rightly pointed to the kinds of landlord who will be affected:

“We heard from landlords who find themselves outside of the scope of the protections, who invested in properties to support their children, to provide income after being made redundant, to help pay for the costs of caring for relatives, or to provide for their retirement, now facing bills they cannot afford. One contributor told us they had invested in flats using compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority ‘after the murder of my husband in the 7/7 atrocity’ and now faces ‘vast bills’”.

Our amendment would align the provisions of the Bill more closely with the Bank of England’s definition of a portfolio landlord as being one with four or more mortgaged buy-to-let properties across all lenders in aggregate. It would also ensure that most private landlords who are leaseholders would be covered by the Bill. The Government’s most recent English private landlords survey shows that 83% of private landlords rent out between one and four properties.

I understand that the Minister has indicated to the National Residential Landlords Association that he might be open to considering a formula which would enable landlords to access support under the government scheme where their portfolio of properties is valued at a certain amount, instead of simply counting how many there are. There are huge variations in the value of property for a multitude of reasons. For example, someone who has 10 other properties may have significantly less means than someone who only owns one property. Yet the government approach will penalise the individual with less means purely because of the number of properties their own. Some buy-to-let owners may have significant equity in their properties while others may be mortgaged to the hilt or in negative equity. The current approach is very crude and does not differentiate between the wealth of those affected, so I wonder whether the Government are considering that option.

I move to Amendment 126, which is a technical amendment. At the moment it is not quite clear whether the protections being given to leaseholders can be sold on to future buyers. It is important that that should be possible, in order to get the market moving again. Clause 121 defines a “qualifying lease” as one held by “a relevant tenant”. A relevant tenant must on 14 February this year meet the occupation and property ownership provisions set out in Clause 121. The Government say that this clause allows protection to be passed from someone who qualifies on 14 February to a future buyer, but I am not sure that that is the case because the restrictions the Government are imposing on who can benefit from help, such as those owning more than four buy-to-let properties, depend on the same definition of relevant tenant.

If the Government’s view of Clause 121 is correct and the existing wording allows leases with protection to be sold on, the Government may have made a drafting error. If the lease can be sold and the protections passed to a buyer, the characteristics of the buyer are irrelevant. If so, it means someone with 10 flats—six more than the four allowed—could come in, buy up a lease and still get protection. I do not think that is what the Government intend. It is important that we get the market moving, but also that we do not give opportunistic cash buyers the chance to buy up these leases and benefit from protections that other buy-to-let landlords will not get.

Amendment 153, which amends government Amendment 152, is technical. Given the passage of time and the fact my notes are in very small print, I think I will pass over that.

I turn now to Amendments 157 to 160 and 163, which are really important. They deal with the amount leaseholders have to pay for non-cladding costs. On this, my preference is for Amendments 155 and 156, which mean zero liability; the leaseholder pays nothing. The Government say these caps are necessary because of legal advice. The claim is that to impose measures on developers and landlords, it is necessary for leaseholders to contribute in some cases.

As with all legal matters, there appears to be a diversity of opinion among professional lawyers on the Government's judgment that Article 1, Protocol 1 requires leaseholders to contribute anything. But if my noble friend the Minister advises your Lordships that those two amendments—the ones with zero cost—mean that he can no longer assert that the legislation is compatible with the ECHR, then Amendments 157 to 160 come into play and limit the liability. My noble friend Lord Blencathra will speak to Amendment 158.

Let me remind the Minister what he told noble Lords in his letter dated 20 January, entitled “Introduction of the Building Safety Bill”:

“The Secretary of State … announced that leaseholders living in their homes should be protected from the costs of remediating historic building … defects.”

The Government’s proposals require leaseholders in properties worth more than £175,000 and up to £1 million outside London to pay £10,000 towards non-cladding remedial works, if the money cannot be found from developers or landlords. In London, leaseholders in properties worth more than £325,000 and up to £1 million may have to pay £15,000, again if the money cannot be found from developers or landlords. Higher caps of £50,000 and £100,000 apply inside and outside London for properties worth more than £1 million or £2 million.

What is not in doubt is that £10,000 and £15,000 are material amounts of money for most people in this country. Even if the payments are spread over 10 years, as the Government propose, £15,000 works out at £125 per month. That extra monthly outlay may be the difference between someone getting a mortgage or not. It is widely acknowledged that people are facing a cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation, rising fuel prices and the rest. Is it wise to impose a further burden of £125 per month on stretched household budgets? Alternatively, as the amendments in my noble friend’s name and mine propose, should the cap be lowered, particularly when the leaseholders are not responsible for the defects?

Amendment 157, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, asks the Government to consider an alternative to the caps. Every leaseholder would then pay the same 1% of the value. That approach would avoid, for example, someone in a modest studio apartment worth £175,000 in Manchester paying as much as someone with a three-bedroom penthouse, and potentially in the same building. The percentage-based approach would avoid the huge cliff edges in the Government’s proposals. For example, someone with a flat worth £174,999 in Leeds pays nothing, while someone next door with a flat worth £176,000 must pay £10,000. I hope that, if the Government insist that zero liability is in contravention of the ECHR, they will consider these alternatives.

Finally, and briefly, Amendment 165 proposes that the value for all purposes in the Bill is the last sale price. The Government have not made clear how they intend to assess the value of properties bought before 2022, as most will have been. There is a risk that, where a property is valued by adding inflation, this may produce a value which cannot actually be achieved on the open market. In cases where leaseholders live in a property which is worth less than they paid for it, this inflation-linked approach may lead to leaseholders being penalised twice over: once in the value lost, and again when they have to pay a capped contribution based on a value imputed by law which has no basis in reality. This amendment avoids the risk.

I am picking up the page with very small print because it raises a very important issue: leaseholders being exempt from paying a service charge for remediation if the landlord’s “net worth” is “more than” £2 million. If a freeholder must remediate a building and the building costs are substantial and the whole cost falls on him, I wonder how the Minister is going to value that building. It may have negative value because of the liability which goes with it to pay the full cost of remediation. Also, it is not absolutely clear from the Government’s amendment, in working out the £2 million value, whether it is based on the property or associated persons. For example, individual directors of the company which owns the freehold could also be caught in, as it were, the means test.

I am conscious that I have taken up a lot of time and raised a lot of issues. I hope that the Minister is able to give a sympathetic reply. I feel particularly strongly about the enfranchised freeholders who I do not believe get the right protection, and I feel very strongly about my noble friend’s amendment on height. I also feel quite strongly about the current cap on leaseholders which is too high.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop 6:00 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 260 and 126. I apologise for not being here this morning. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for speaking to our amendments.

Amendment 260 enfranchises leaseholders and brings them closer to the decision-making processes of their building. It ensures that residents of the building are made aware, within the earliest reasonable timeframe, by the responsible person, when they are served any notice given by the fire and rescue service. It also ensures that, when in complying with the notice the responsible person passes costs on to residents, the residents will have 21 days after being informed to appeal this notice to the court.

The essence of this amendment touches upon the freeholder’s incentives, as there is no incentive for the freeholder to challenge a notice from the fire service requiring remedial work, since ultimately it is the tenants or the leaseholders who will shoulder these costs. The reality is that freeholders often do not have skin in the game and are more than happy to comply with a served notice, with the full knowledge that they will not be the ones incurring costs for complying with the notice. This amendment is not handing leaseholders the power to indefinitely hold up works necessary for the safety of the building. It is simply providing them, as the ones with real skin in the game, with the right of appeal.

I recognise that allowing any individual tenant the right of appeal is messy and may lead to a flurry of unnecessary appeals, which in turn could create unnecessary work when it is least needed. Nevertheless, in principle, leaseholders deserve enfranchisement and mechanisms to challenge decisions that are simply imposed on them. Appeals being done through a representative body—a recognised tenants association, for example—would represent a more sensible position, as that would prevent rogue leaseholders going against the majority to appeal decisions, while at the same time allowing appeals to occur through a body that is both representative and accountable to the leaseholder, and which retains regular communication with the responsible person.

I now turn to Amendment 124, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. The definition of a qualifying lease and its implications are concerning, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, has pointed out. I am pleased that the Government have extended this definition to three dwellings in total, but it is still problematic. The protections under the waterfall system in Schedule 9 are only available for qualifying leases. Technically, an individual who owns three flats valued at £900,000 per dwelling would meet the cap of £15,000 for remedial costs, whereas an individual with five investment properties in the north of England valued at £200,000 per dwelling would be offered no protection and be liable for the entire remedial costs for each dwelling.

Is this not the sort of regionalism that the Government want to avoid in their levelling-up policy? Under the Government’s scheme, the individual, up in the north, for example, whose total property holdings are valued at £1 million, is required to pay for all their remedial costs, whereas their equivalent in London, with total property holdings of £2.7 million, would have their costs capped at £15,000. This example is to make the point that simplistically saying a number, whether it be one, two, four, whatever, for the number of leases allowed under the definition of a qualifying lease, says very little about the value of those apartments. It is evidently unfair that an individual with a much lower portfolio in value might incur much higher costs.

I accept the reality that, under any scheme, there will be winners and losers. However, I wonder whether the Government need to go back to the drawing board on how they determine whether a private landlord qualifies under the definition of a qualifying lease, as it is almost entirely void of context. It would be much wiser to determine the definition of a qualifying lease for private landlords based on the value of their entire property portfolio, rather than simply on the number of leases that they own.

This point about context brings us to the crux of what Amendment 124 would do, which is to provide some level of security to those receiving a state pension. Young landlords who may fail to qualify under the definition at least have the ability and the time to incorporate this setback into their retirement plans. It does not make it any less painful, but it would at least be a more manageable state of affairs for which they might be able to plan accordingly over many years if they have that time ahead in which to work. Furthermore, it would be assumed that many private landlords would be in receipt of an active income, probably a reasonable income, if they were able to afford multiple leases and not be classed as a qualifying lease. Regardless of whether this means that their exclusion is fair, at the very minimum they have the possibility of greater future earnings. The hope is that those individuals may at least be able to weather these costs in the long run and secure for themselves the financial future they want in retirement.

However, pensioners do not have this luxury. Beyond their state and work pensions, savings and any income they get from renting out properties or other dividends, there is almost a negligible prospect of them finding additional ways to raise money. The whole point of planning for your pension is the knowledge that whatever you have in your possession at the point of retirement is what you will be required to live on for the rest of your life. What concerns me is the notion that, as a result of this definition of a qualifying lease, some pensioners who have worked their entire lives and saved and invested diligently so they can enjoy their retirement without financial worry will be suddenly forced to raise enormous amounts of capital to fund remedial works. How does one expect a pensioner to raise such funds? I hope that my concerns are not well founded, but I fear that unless the definition of a qualifying lease makes reference to those on pensions, retirees may find their entire financial life’s work in tatters.

I am not a fan of the simplistic way in which the Government are deciding which private landlords do or do not qualify under the definition. However, if I am forced to work within this framework, I think that the provisions contained within Amendment 124, in ensuring that pensioners who own up to six leases in total also fall under the definition of a qualifying lease, are fair ones that protect those who will find it exceedingly difficult to adjust financially to the bills that may come their way.

In this vein, I also support the provisions contained in Amendment 123, extending that number of leases up to five. However, I believe even this is a sticking plaster, for the reasons that I have just outlined, as it says nothing about the value of an individual’s property portfolio.

I really hope that the Government will be able to do something more on this and, at a minimum, offer some assurances to those pensioners affected that they will not see their life’s financial planning reduced to ruin. More comprehensively, I hope that between now and Third Reading the Government will look at this definition of a qualifying lease for private landlords and how in reality it is to the benefit of private landlords with a few but highly expensive leasehold properties.

I am pleased to see Amendments 165 and 165A and their attempt to address the question of how a flat will be valued under the definition of a qualifying lease. However, I express a degree of concern about Amendment 165, as there are leaseholders I have met, not necessarily very wealthy, who purchased a leasehold flat for marginally over £1 million in London only to find that, as a result of requirements to undertake remedial works, the value has dramatically dropped and is now far less than the purchase price. Valuing their flats at the purchase price would likely mean that many leasehold flats which have lost significant value were brought into a cap which no longer reflected their current value. For this reason, I welcome Amendment 165A, as it would force the Government to consider issues surrounding negative equity when drawing up their mechanism to value these leases. I know that the Minister gave some reassuring comments during a meeting we had and hope that he might expand on them today so that leaseholders can be reassured that their leases will be fairly valued.

Finally, I support all those amendments in this group seeking to reduce the costs that can be passed on to leaseholders, along with Amendment 115, which would extend the cost protection to leaseholders in buildings of all heights. Taken together, these amendments could provide a package of measures that would deliver justice to those unfairly caught up in this scandal.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 6:15 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, I was a little slow in rising to introduce the government amendments. I was, perhaps, a little punch drunk after the length of the debate today.

It is only right, and I am sure we all agree, that building owners and landlords should share in the cost of fixing dangerous buildings. We have carefully engineered this Bill to ensure that those responsible, and otherwise those with the broadest shoulders, will be the first who are required to pay. Where there is no party that clearly should pay in full, and only in this scenario, our approach spreads the costs fairly and equitably and, above all, ensures that the most vulnerable leaseholders are protected. These measures are a robust and unprecedented legislative intervention, reversing the existing legal presumption that leaseholders must bear the costs of historical building safety defects.

The Government have listened to the comments raised by noble Lords, and we have tabled amendments which go even further in protecting leaseholders. Before I set out the detail of these further protections, I would like to be clear that the protections we are putting in place are extensive and, as noble Lords will be well aware, that these must remain in balance with the demands placed on landlords and building owners in ensuring that building safety defects are fixed and paid for where no wrongdoing on their part has taken place. There is an element of fairness here that we need to deliver. The Bill changes the private contract between the landlord and the leaseholder by stating that leaseholders will not pay any costs except in certain circumstances. Government can do this if it is in the general interest to do so, provided there is a fair balance between all the parties. Therefore, we need to make sure that the Bill is both proportionate and fair to all parties.

As I have said, leaseholders need to be protected, and we have brought in the most wide-ranging and expansive set of protections ever seen, allowing the courts to look through to associated companies to find both who is responsible and who has funds to remediate properties as there is no point in having money while properties remain unsafe. However, we are also aware that not all landlords were involved with the developer or have deep pockets, and we need to make sure that we consider the issue of building safety from all sides. We have therefore legislated on the side of the landlords by providing numerous robust routes for recovery of funds from those truly responsible: developers and the manufacturers of defective construction products.

To be clear, and bearing in mind my noble friends’ proposed amendments, let me put their minds at rest. The Bill makes it very clear that leaseholders will not pay anything in the majority of cases. These are where the landlord is the developer or is linked to the developer, where the landlord is wealthy and, finally, where the leaseholder’s property is valued at less than £325,000 inside London and £175,000 outside.

Where these absolute protections do not apply, the leaseholder’s contributions will be heavily capped. On leaseholder contribution caps, it is important to bear in mind that these caps are a maximum that leaseholders can be charged, not a target, and that, as above, they apply only where the landlord is not linked to the developer and cannot afford to pay in full. In addition, costs paid out in the past five years, including for interim costs such as waking watches, will count against the caps. Overall, we consider that in most cases leaseholders will not have to pay the full capped amount and many will pay nothing at all. Nevertheless, the Government agree it is critical that those leaseholders who are least likely to be able to afford to contribute towards historical remediation costs receive the greatest protection. That is why we have tabled amendments to provide that any qualifying lease with a value below £175,000, or £325,000 in Greater London, will be protected from all costs relating to non-cladding defects and interim measures. This is in addition to the protections for cladding remediation costs, which apply to all qualifying leases, and to all leases in buildings owned by or connected to developers.

Amendment 164 sets out that the value of a qualifying lease at the qualifying time is to be determined by the most recent sale price on the open market, prior to 14 February this year, uprated in accordance with the UK House Price Index published by the Office for National Statistics. Uprating values for this purpose will be set out in legislation.

Amendments 118 and 119 expand the definition of “enfranchised buildings” to ensure that all types of enfranchised buildings are covered.

We have listened very carefully to concerns about leaseholder affordability in the small number of cases where leaseholders are paying up to the caps. That is why we have tabled Amendment 166, to double the repayment period from five to 10 years. For leaseholders whose property is not below the threshold and whose building owner or landlord is not liable for the full remediation costs, Amendment 166 will mean that with regard to the capped costs the monthly repayments will be halved.

We have also listened carefully to those who were worried about buy-to-let investors who may be holding leasehold properties instead of a pension. As a result, we have amended Clause 121 to provide that people owning up to three UK properties qualify for the protections. As before, the principal home will always qualify, irrespective of how many additional properties are owned.

As well as going further to protect leaseholders, we have tabled a number of amendments which add key detail to the measures. We are clear that developers must fix the buildings they developed. That is why we have tabled Amendments 141 to 143 to Schedule 9, which clearly state that, where the landlord is or is linked to the developer, they will not be able to pass costs on to any leaseholder. This includes non-qualifying leaseholders such as commercial leaseholders and those with more than three UK properties. We have also tabled Amendment 145, which extends the definition of a developer to include persons who were in a joint venture with the developer. If you commissioned the work, you will also count as the developer.

We have also tabled Amendment 152, which will amend Schedule 9 to provide that where the landlord meets the contribution condition—defined as having a total net worth of more than £2 million per in-scope building as of 14 February 2022—they will not be able to pass any costs on to qualifying leaseholders. The calculation for net worth will be set out in regulations and will take into account parent and associated companies. This will ensure that those who have used complex corporate structures, such as special purpose vehicles, cannot evade liability where they can afford to meet the costs of remediation.

We are also amending Clauses 120 and 122 on the definitions for relevant buildings, landlords and works. These amendments will extend provisions to include work undertaken to remedy a defect and will clarify that buildings that are leaseholder-owned are out of scope because, in such buildings, the leaseholders are effectively the freeholders as well. With Amendment 121, we set out how the height of an in-scope building and its number of storeys will be calculated.

Amendments to Clauses 122 and 136 cover further definitions, including clarifying that associated partnerships are included, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, raised in Committee. Amendment 169 to Schedule 9 inserts a new definition of cladding remediation, which now means the removal or replacement of any part of a cladding system that forms the outer wall of an external wall system and is unsafe.

Amendments 170 and 171 provide that the landlord cannot pass on costs to a qualifying leaseholder relating to professional services, in addition to legal costs. Amendment 177 provides that certain leases are taken to be qualifying leases without the tenant providing a certificate, unless steps are taken. It also provides that landlords are taken to have met the contribution condition unless they provide a certificate proving otherwise. This means that the legal burden will be on the landlord to prove that they are entitled to pass on capped remediation costs.

The amendments also make minor technical and consequential amendments to clauses to ensure the provisions work as intended, remove extraneous powers and commence the provisions two months after Royal Assent.

It is right that leaseholders be protected from extortionate costs of remediating historical building safety defects, in a manner that balances the demands placed on landlords and building owners, where no wrongdoing on their part has taken place. I ask your Lordships to welcome and support this significant and important set of amendments, which go further to protect leaseholders and provide that fair balance.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this is probably the most important group of amendments we are considering today, because it is absolutely at the heart of the building safety scandal that started nearly five years ago with the loss of 72 people in the Grenfell fire. I always think it is worth remembering that: 72 people died and the lives of many families were changed for ever, and that happened because of systemic and long-term failures in the construction industry.

It is also worth remembering that leaseholders since that time have found themselves under the enormous pressure of anxiety when they receive invoices, maybe for £100,000 or more. Some of them have not been able to cope with that level of anxiety, thinking that nothing would change, and have chosen bankruptcy as a consequence and therefore lost everything they had saved and worked for. For some whom I have heard about, sadly, this pressure may have contributed to something even worse: in the face of the bills and a long dark tunnel with no solution, they ended their lives. That is the backdrop. That is the tragic impact this has had on individuals across the country, and which has brought us to this place. This set of amendments is at the heart of those concerns.

I first raised my worries about leaseholders being liable for all the costs of cladding, removal and remediation of all the fire safety defects when the Fire Safety Bill was first debated in 2020. Unfortunately, I did not succeed in amending it at that stage, but what has happened since has been remarkable—the number of people on all sides of the House who have taken up the cudgels to argue the case, rightly, for justice for leaseholders. I give enormous credit to the cladding campaigners from all groups and different cities around the country who have got together and done the investigation, found the facts and put the case to the Government, who, to their credit, have listened and made the changes we have seen today. I think there are over 200 government amendments to the Bill today.

The question of justice for leaseholders is still at the heart of the Bill, and I contend that the Government still have not gone far enough in fulfilling what the Secretary of State and the Minister have said: that they should not pay a penny. They have done everything right and nothing wrong. They should not pay anything towards this remediation, because the flammable cladding, sometimes knowingly, was put on buildings, as was exposed in the Grenfell inquiry. Shoddy construction, sometimes deliberate, to cut corners and save costs, has also been exposed during the Grenfell inquiry.

I want to speak to Amendment 156 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stunell, but also to Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and to Amendments 158 and 159 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to which I have added my name. They focus on trying to solve the problem of justice for leaseholders, who should not pay a penny.

Unfortunately, the Minister has said today that “the majority” will not pay. Well, if the majority will not pay, the minority will—and the minority should not, because none of this is of their making. My Amendment 156 seeks to establish that what the leaseholder should pay is a peppercorn—a grand, historical way of saying zero, zilch. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his support for Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which uses the word “zero”. I use “peppercorn”, but they get to the same place, and he has acknowledged the justice of this case.

What the Government are saying, when we met civil servants to help us understand the Government’s position in the light of the amendments that they have tabled, is that they had this cap for those properties above £325,000 in London and £175,000 outside London in order to comply with an interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights, Article 1, Protocol 1 —see what you learn when you get involved in Bills? They said that there has to be a fair balance between the property rights of freeholders, or whatever, and the leaseholders, and therefore that there has to be some payment.

I, of course, always ask the question, so I turned to my noble friend Lord Marks, who has spent a lot of time talking to government lawyers, looking at the evidence and coming to his conclusions. I hope the House will extend the right to my noble friend to explain the interpretation of that element of the ECHR that has resulted in the Government’s position, because, if the Government will accept the exposition of the ECHR A1P1, they might accept Amendments 155 or 156, that leaseholders should pay nothing. That would be a huge tribute to all those across this House who have worked in different ways to achieve that end. I urge the Government to listen to the legal advice—dare I call it advice? No, I dare not; the legal whatever—to show that we can accept that. As noble Lords know, because I have been saying it for two years now, I feel very strongly that, as a matter of justice—plain, simple justice—that leaseholder should not pay anything.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, moves her Amendment 155, which comes before ours, we will undoubtedly support it, because it achieves what I want to achieve, and I have tried for two years-plus now to get there. If that amendment is not pressed to a vote or is disagreed, obviously we will press ours to a vote. But if those fail to get the support of the House, I will support Amendments 158 and 159, which try to move the barrier of justice closer to zero by halving the cap. Let us do it. They deserve justice from us, if we can get there—and why would we not support that?

There are lots of other amendments in this group but, for me, at the heart of it is the principle. I hope we will now hear from the noble Lord, Lord Marks—if the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, will permit that—so that he can explain why we think that Amendments 155 or 156 are permissible according to the ECHR.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 6:30 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure, especially after that introduction, to follow my noble friend Lady Pinnock. I should say that I have not spoken before on this Bill, and I apologise for coming in only at this stage. I want to contribute on just one aspect of the amendments in this group: the legal advice that the Government have apparently found persuasive, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and by my noble friend Lady Pinnock.

Noble Lords have heard that Amendments 155 and 156—and, to a lesser extent, 158 and 159—would significantly limit the permitted maximum payable by leaseholders under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 9 below the caps contended for by the Government, so that leaseholders would pay nothing, or only a small amount, towards remediation costs. The Government have asserted that, if those amendments were passed, the legislation would probably breach a freeholder’s right to the peaceful enjoyment of their property under Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR. I also understand that the Government are therefore concerned that that would mean the Minister could not make a statement of compatibility in conformity with Section 19 of the Human Rights Act.

I do not accept that analysis, and I will say briefly why—and I hope I will be forgiven for quoting the relevant part. It is right that the article provides, in paragraph 1:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”

But paragraph 2 goes on to say:

“The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”

I am relatively confident that this is not a straightforward deprivation case in the first paragraph, because there is no expropriation of the freeholder’s property, in fact or in law. My understanding is that the Government agree with this, although they say that the Strasbourg case law is not clear on the point. On that, I disagree. My reading of the cases on this issue is that they are indeed relatively clear, and that any argument that this is a full deprivation case is unsustainable. But much more difficult is the question of whether this is a case of the Government controlling the freeholder’s use of their property, in such a way as to amount to a breach of the article by imposing effectively the entire remediation costs on those freeholders.

On the initial point as to whether or not this would be a control of use, I think the Government’s advice would be right, but that is not the end of the story. Once control of use is established, then the test is whether the conditions for its lawfulness in paragraph 2 of the article are met by the state. The test for a court, domestically or in Strasbourg, would be threefold. First, does the control of use serve the public interest? Secondly, does it comply with the conditions prescribed by law? Thirdly, does it pass what is sometimes called the fair balance test—that is, does is strike a fair balance between competing interests, and/or is it a proportionate response?

Generally, the European Court of Human Rights will interfere only if the state’s control of use has been arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable. In my view, freeholders would face a difficult uphill battle to persuade a court that a requirement that they meet full remediation costs, pursuant to primary legislation for a clearly public-interest aim—that the fire safety of buildings should be paid for by the freeholder, not my blameless leaseholders—conflicted with the principle of lawfulness or failed to meet the legitimate aim requirement.

Significantly in this context, the protection of the environment—which is, I suggest, analogous to the safety of residential property—has been clearly marked out in cases as a legitimate public interest, as have housing regulations involving rent control and protected tenancies.

The freeholders would have to rely on what is essentially a backstop argument: that these provisions, as amended—if they are—fail to strike a fair balance between their interests in their enjoyment of their property and the interests of the state in achieving a legitimate public policy aim. To rebut such an argument the state would have to show only that the law, as enacted, avoids arbitrariness, that it is foreseeable in its application, and that it strikes a balance between the public interest in protecting blameless leaseholders from heavy charges and the private right of commercial freeholders to enjoy their property. It would be difficult to argue that this legislation, even with any of the proposed amendments, failed to meet the fair balance test.

Nor is it, in my view, central to this argument that there should be a contribution of a particular amount or of a capped amount. For my part, I doubt that the European Court of Human Rights would find that the argument turned on the amount of any contribution by leaseholders. In this I disagree with the Government’s assessment. Indeed, it could be argued that the Government would be more, rather than less, vulnerable to an accusation of arbitrariness if they picked on a particular figure as a defensible cap, rather than legislated for nil contributions from leaseholders.

I am greatly fortified in my overall view by the fact that the margin of appreciation, as it is known, for states in the application of the fair balance test is very wide. I will omit the references that it makes to a number of decided cases, but the European Court of Human Right’s guide on this article, at paragraph 134, I think, says that

“the margin of appreciation available to the legislature in implementing social and economic policies will be a wide one and the Court will respect the legislature’s judgment as to what is ‘in the public interest’ unless that judgment be manifestly without reasonable foundation … Furthermore, the notion of ‘public interest’ is necessarily extensive … The Court normally shows deference to the Contracting States’ arguments that interference under its examination was in the public interest and the intensity of its review”

—the court’s review—

“in this regard is low.”

It follows that I do not believe that a Minister could not properly and conscientiously make a statement under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act that, to use the words of Section 19,

“in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”.

The Minister does not have to be certain; a 51% chance of success in resisting a challenge is sufficient. In my view, that standard is met.

Of course, we sympathise with the Government’s concern that if the burden of remediation costs falls largely or wholly upon them, freeholders may well challenge this legislation, directly or by resisting enforcement. Such challenges may cause delays. In commercial life there is little or nothing anyone can do to stop aggrieved parties litigating, so freeholders or developers may litigate in the UK or at the European Court of Human Rights. However, I am not at all clear that the amendments we are debating will make any difference at all to the decisions that freeholders and developers may make to challenge this legislation in the courts, domestically or internationally, or that their chances of success if they do would be affected. My clear expectation is that, ultimately, the Government would defeat such a challenge, whether or not these amendments succeed. I therefore support my noble friend Lady Pinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others, in pressing these amendments.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords) 6:45 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, I have not spoken in these debates either. I hope, like the noble Lord, Lord Marks, I might be forgiven for intervening very briefly.

I took the opportunity of looking at Article 1 of Protocol 1 shortly before coming into the Chamber today, and at some of the background authorities to which the noble Lord has referred. I agree entirely with his carefully worded speech in every respect. There is, of course, a question of balance and a question of the margin of appreciation and the other technical phrases that he has used, with which I am very familiar, but I think his assessment of all these points is absolutely right. The prospects of a successful challenge really are very remote, and the Government would succeed. I agree with his assessment, and I hope this might be of some comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in her amendment, and to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after hearing from two such knowledgeable noble Lords. I am tempted to say: let us cut to the chase and go straight to the vote on Amendment 115 and get it over with.

In the meantime, I would like to speak on Amendment 115, which I strongly support, and Amendment 123. I would like to comment on Amendments 155, 156 and 157, and to my Amendments 158, 159 and 163. Before doing that, although I will not speak to them, I was privileged to support Amendment 117 on enfranchising leaseholders, Amendment 124, moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on pensioners, and Amendment 153, moved by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham.

On Amendment 115, concerned with buildings under 11 metres, I strongly support what is proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I hope he presses it to a vote unless my noble friend is willing to accept it. I have heard my noble friend the Minister say repeatedly—and he is largely right—that a building of under 11 metres may be less dangerous than a building of 20 or 30 storeys. I accept that even I could get out of a building of three storeys a bit faster than I could get out of one of 13 or 30 storeys. The risk is lower, but there is still a risk—that is one of the main points: there is still a risk. When we saw Richmond House burn down in nine or 10 minutes, it was horrifying. I hope that, if I was in there and woke up in time, I would have got out, but there might be some disabled people who could not have done so.

There is also an issue of principle. If someone has built a building, whether it is 1 metre high or 11 metres high, and used flammable materials or the wrong materials, they should be made to fix it, no matter how wealthy they are—if it is Abramovich or anyone else. If the building has flawed materials, it should be repaired, irrespective of the height. I appreciate that my noble friend has gone a long way on this and that he has been very kind in telling us at countless meetings that there is a lower risk in those buildings, but there is still a risk. Of course, he also said that the numbers were very small: in that case, if the numbers are very small, it is a small problem to fix.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative

Let us do it—that is a slogan for the next election for the noble Baroness. If the numbers are small, it is a small thing to fix.

Moving on to Amendment 123, again I support my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham in changing the definition of “qualifying lease” so that buy-to-let landlords with an interest in up to five properties, including their main home, benefit from the leaseholder cost protections in Schedule 9. As my noble friend said, this is important because there are many buildings where there are a lot of little flats owned by buy-to-let landlords. If those landlords cannot pay their share of the bill, it will mean that not all the money is available to do the work for the whole building. Similar issues may arise when landlords own flats in multiple different affected buildings that have received help from the building safety fund.

I appreciate that many of those landlords hold their buy-to-let properties as part of or, in some cases, all their pension provision. We have all had many emails from people in the past few days setting out some rather sad examples. I know my noble friend has increased the protection from two by-to-lets to four, but I do not think that goes far enough and we suggest that the overall figure should be five, but even then it omits many small landlords. I know it is not good law to quote hard cases, but I have an example of just one of dozens one has received in the past few weeks.

This person says, “I am 57 and have worked as an electrical contractor most of my life. I now have nine small rental apartments in Salford, valued at £80,000 to £100,000 each, a total of approximately £800,000 before they were valued at £0 since the cladding crisis. These properties were purchased in 2007-08 with years of savings and dropped 40% in value due to the financial crash of 2009 caused by the banks, which were bailed out, so my properties are still in negative equity. My nine apartments in the same building are all subject to safety issues, and my total service charges for 2022 are approximately £250,000 for the external wall system only, and this quote is from last year. The managing agents are in the process of getting updated quotes, which will be much higher. This does not include firebreaks, compartmentalisation, fire doors, et cetera, so my total costs are likely to be over £300,000 on property valued at £800,000. Having nine rental apartments seems to deem me to be a large-scale landlord not worthy of protecting from these costs, whereas someone with one or two rental properties in London worth a similar value to my nine little flats will be protected under the latest proposals.” He concludes, “The developer of the building has not replied to any letters from our managing agent or us leaseholders and has been trying to close the company for months, which we have objected to. The company has not traded for six years and there are zero funds in the accounts.”

That is a good example of why these amendments are necessary. It is not just the numbers, as the right reverend Prelate said, it has to be the overall value, and that is why I support my noble friend Lord Young’s amendment on having a percentage figure. If we cannot have zero or peppercorn, then 1% seems a fairer way of going about it.

On my Amendments 158, 159 and 163, the Government’s proposals require leaseholders in properties worth more than £175,000 and up to £1 million outside London to pay £10,000 towards non-cladding remedial works if money cannot be found from developers or landlords. In London leaseholders in properties worth more than £325,000 and up to £1 million may have to pay up to £15,000. Again, that is if money cannot be found from developers or landlords. Higher caps of £50,000 and £100,000 apply inside and outside London for properties worth more than £1 million or £2 million. The Government say that these caps are necessary, again because of legal advice which we have just heard rebutted and on which I shall comment in a moment. The claim is that in order to impose measures on developers and landlords it is necessary for leaseholders to contribute in some cases or we fall foul of the ECHR.

Amendment 158 in my name, also supported by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock, simply says

“leave out ‘£15,000’ and insert ‘£7,500’”, halving the figure. For buildings in London, the amendment halves the contribution of leaseholders to non-cladding costs. Similarly, Amendment 159, for buildings outside London, reduces it from £10,000 to £5,000, halving the contribution of leaseholders on non-cladding costs; again, supported by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock. Finally, Amendment 163, again supported by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, says,

“leave out ‘£50,000’ and insert ‘£15,000’”.

That applies to the properties inside and outside London worth between £1 million and £2 million. The amendment would reduce the leaseholder contribution to non-cladding costs from £50,000 to £15,000.

All told, as we come to the end of this debate, the Government have been given four options by the various amendments. There is the zero option, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock; the peppercorn option, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock; the 1% option proposed by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham; or they can lower the cap, as in the amendments that I have just described. We have done all those amendments on lowering the cap in the hope that we could get around the Government’s view that the ECHR would put a block on this and that they would have to say that the Bill, or Act, was not compliant with the ECHR. But we have just heard from two eminent and learned noble Lords and an ex-Supreme Court judge that none of these amendments would be in breach of the ECHR. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, pointed out, even if we do not accept of these amendments and stick with the government ones, there will be some freeholders, landlords and developers who will still go to the ECHR and complain about anything to slow it down. So sticking with the Government’s level does not get us out of litigation in the European court.

I look forward to what my noble friend has to say on this. The legal arguments produced by the noble and learned Lords are very telling. I commend my amendments to the House, and also commend those from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. In relation to Amendment 115, the noble Lord discussed the 11-metre question. The emphasis is often on whether there is less risk in safety terms under or over 11 metres. For me, that slightly misses the point—which is that, regardless of whether you have resolved that, the problem is that freeholders are still charging and doing remediation work on buildings under 11 metres. Therefore, there are costs that those people who live in buildings under 11 metres have to pick up. The lecture that it is less risky over 11 metres really needs to be given to the freeholders not, necessarily, to the leaseholders—but that does not really help us, I think.

More generally, this is such an important group of amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, passionately reminded us of the context. It is true that being a leaseholder today is no longer just a description—it has almost become a full-time job in terms of fending off more and more financial demands and getting on top of the law. If you go and meet a group of leaseholders, they are having the kind of discussion about the ECHR that we have just heard from noble Lords, because they are trying to get on top of all these details and technicalities. It has become an overriding source of worry and anxiety, and genuinely—rather than just being about the status of home ownership—it has become a hellish state of affairs. So they need anything that can resolve that, and that is why this Bill is so important and this group of amendments matters.

My amendment in this group is a tiny, modest amendment that relates to evaluations. Amendment 165A in my name asks that any evaluations used to decide on caps for those still being charged for remediation should be looked at in a slightly different way. I do not want anything to be paid—I would go with peppercorn or nil—but if there are caps deployed and evaluations used, I remind noble Lords that we need to rectify a different kind of injustice.

The amendment asks that those valuations take into account that the leaseholder’s ability to pay will have been affected by the fact that their main wealth may be in the form of their asset—their home—and that their asset’s value may well be devalued hugely due to fire safety and building safety policies. The amendment notes that the properties may well be in negative equity as a consequence of government measures.

I just wanted to read out a few examples—we have heard some before, but this will be very quick. A flat in Highbury Stadium Square was purchased in October 2019 for £377,500. It was sold in May 2020 for £167,000. That massive fall was in less than one year. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities valuation is £400,000. Then there is Brindley House in Birmingham, where a flat was bought for £198,000 in 2007. It was valued by the Department for Levelling Up now as being worth £300,000, but actually it sold for only £140,000. Again, that is below what it was bought for: in 2020, many years after it was bought, it was devalued. The final one I have here is Royal Artillery Quays in south-east London: £250,000 was paid for a flat in 2006, but it was unsold at the guide price at auction recently, for £210,000, and yet the Department for Levelling Up values it as worth £385,000.

I think that indicates that there has been a massive crisis that has affected the value of flats. They are not to be valued in any kind of normal way. It illustrates a broader problem: flat sales are actually down 60% in three years, according to Land Registry data. This raises concerns, more generally, that the flats market could be killed off if they become unduly expensive through higher and higher service charges, as we discussed earlier. It illustrates again the potential unintended consequences of aspects of this Bill, in terms of the implications for a housing crisis through this muddle on valuations. It means that the people who own these flats will lose money if they try to sell them, but if not, they will be charged at a cap as though the flats were worth a lot more money.

On those caps on historical remediations, we have heard some important and persuasive arguments from the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, about anomalies. I think there are lots of inequities still left in the Bill. The least of these inequities is contained in the way the Government have assessed who can afford to pay what. For example, it might sound as though someone is well off if they own a flat valued at more than £1 million; that must mean that they are wealthy. I appreciate that it is not necessarily popular anywhere in the world to be defending people who own flats worth more than £1 million, but I think it is reasonable to point out that often a leaseholder who bought a flat worth £1 million might well be asset rich but could well be cash poor. Maybe a flat was bought after a lifetime of work, meaning they are enjoying their retirement in that flat, but as of now they are not working full-time. So, they are just not well equipped to pay a much greater cap of £50,000 over 10 years, compared to the £15,000 for someone who, ironically, has a flat valued at £999,999.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has pointed out, that flat might not be worth £1 million, and I think that is a really important issue not to forget. This has also been raised by Stephen McPartland, an MP in the other place, and I think it is a general issue. I would like the Government to consider looking again at this valuation of houses for caps.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 7:00 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, there are many amendments in this group, and I have concerns about the open-ended financial implications while it remains unclear who is responsible for a perpetrator who cannot be found, or who is beyond the reach of the law—thus the importance of the review that the Minister has, I believe, agreed to bring forward much sooner than five years’ hence, although, without my amendment, he would need another Bill if we have to make changes, which seems inevitable.

There have been many powerful speeches, not least from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I will not repeat what has been said. I have, however, given my support to Amendment 123, and I would like to take the opportunity to commend my noble friend Lord Naseby who in Committee highlighted the unfairness of excluding buy-to-let premises from the safeguards in the Bill for reasons we have heard. The Government have acknowledged that he was right.

However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that it is difficult to limit this arbitrarily to the ownership of two extra UK properties. I would prefer his formula of four properties, or some other, fairer system. He and others have worked so hard to get the various provisions of the Bill right. For example, he said that we may not have capped the liability of enfranchised leaseholders—which he and I have worked on together—as we had been led to believe in Committee.

I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s reply on the rationale and an answer to all the good points that have been raised, particularly on enfranchised leaseholders and how we do buy-to-let fairly.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this has been an extremely important debate in which we have covered some of the critical issues still outstanding in the Bill. I thank the Minister for the introduction to the amendments. Many of them are good, but we believe there are still problems that need to be sorted out.

I will be brief. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his introduction to Amendment 115. If he decides to divide the House, he will have our support on that amendment.

I turn to my Amendment 155. It is really important that we take account of the principle that has been referred to by other noble Lords: there should be no cost to people who have done nothing wrong. It is not the fault of leaseholders that they have been left with these huge costs. We believe it is desperately unfair to force them to pay a penny, which is why my amendment has the word “zero” in it. As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, we must not forget the strain on the mental health of leaseholders. They need clear and proper support, and they are relying on your Lordships to do the right thing by them. To me, this is a moral question. Should leaseholders pay costs that, for many, will still be huge despite the caps proposed by the Government? They are blameless; they should pay nothing.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for clearly laying out the legal position. It has been important for me to hear that from them, and the detail that they have provided, having had discussions with the Government on their concerns about the ECHR. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for their support.

I confirm that I intend to divide the House on Amendment 155. If it fails to pass, I will be happy to support the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Young, on Amendment 158.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, I spoke to the government amendments as I hoped it would assist the House to have the Government’s views. With the permission of the House, I will now speak again in reply to the points raised by noble Lords on the non-government amendments that they have tabled.

Amendments 155 to 160 and Amendments 162 to 163 deal with leaseholder contribution caps. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and constructive approach, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept these amendments. It is important to bear in mind that leaseholder contributions apply only in certain circumstances, and even then, only when a series of other steps have been exhausted. The caps do not apply at all in relation to cladding defects, nor do they apply where the value of the flat is less than £175,000 outside Greater London and £325,000 inside.

The caps only apply where the building owner or landlord is not linked to the developer and cannot afford to pay in full, where the developer cannot be made to fix their own building, and where the building owners have exhausted all reasonable steps to recover costs from third parties. Leaseholder contributions will only apply where there is no clear developer or wealthy landlord to meet the costs in full, and the party responsible for defective work cannot be identified. The Government consider that this will occur only in a minority of circumstances.

Where there is no party that clearly should pay in full—and only then—our approach spreads the costs fairly and equitably across those with an interest in the building and ensures above all that the most vulnerable leaseholders are protected. The Government’s latest amendments go even further in protecting leaseholders. Where the freeholder or landlord is not at fault and cannot pay to meet the costs, we need to ensure a proportionate approach that takes into account the interests of all parties. That is why our approach spreads the costs equitably among all relevant parties with an interest in the building.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, and—

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

Can my noble friend quantify how many people he expects will be paying? What is the maximum amount they will pay?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I cannot quantify the exact amount people will pay, but it is fair to say that we have set out a fundamental system of protection that admittedly does not go as far as the zero or peppercorn proposed in opposition amendments, but it does go a considerable way to ensuring that leaseholders are the last in line to pay, as opposed to the first.

As I said, the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seek to reduce leaseholder contributions to zero or a peppercorn. Where there is no clear party that must pay, it would not achieve a fair balance between relevant parties to transfer the costs in full to the freeholder or landlord. I appreciate that that opinion seems to vary from that of noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, but that is the government position.

Amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra propose to reduce the leaseholder contribution caps, and another amendment proposes alternatively that the contribution is 1% of the lease value. The Government have already taken significant and far-reaching steps to protect leaseholders, protecting those in lower value properties and doubling the repayment period to 10 years. On that basis, I ask the noble Lords not to move their amendments.

Government Amendment 164 provides for the value of a lease to be determined without the need for a valuation. It allows for the value of the lease to be determined by uprating the most recent sale price prior to 14 February 2022. The uprating, which will be set out in regulations, will ensure all properties are compared on a level playing field. The uprating will be based on a metric called the house price index which tracks house prices. This will allow properties to be assigned a nominal present-day value.

Amendment 165, tabled by my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, proposes that the value of the lease would be based solely on its most recent sale price. I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept this amendment as it would put leaseholders who have purchased their properties more recently at a significant disadvantage. The Government consider it important that properties are compared like for like, irrespective of when they were last sold. On that basis, I ask my noble friends not to move to their amendments.

I will turn now to Amendments 123 and 124, which deal with the definition of a qualifying lease. The Government have already tabled amendments which will see people with a total of up to three UK properties eligible for the protections. Amendment 123, tabled by my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, proposes to increase this to a total of up to five UK properties. Amendment 124, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, proposes to increase the total to six for individuals in receipt of a state pension. I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept these amendments.

As I have previously discussed, it is important that the Government take a proportionate approach and ensure that our measures are fair to all parties. This includes considering where certain groups of leaseholders are likely, on average, to be able to afford to contribute to the costs of remediation. The Government need to focus their protections on those who need it most, primarily leaseholders living in their own homes and those who have moved out and are subletting. We also recognise concerns about people with small numbers of additional properties, and that is why we are ensuring those with up to three UK properties will be protected.

There is still significant support available for people with more than three properties. The principal home will always be protected irrespective of how many additional properties are owned. In addition, all leaseholders will be protected from all historical building safety costs where the building owner or landlord is, or is connected to, the developer. This includes leaseholders with more than three properties. In addition, all leaseholders will benefit from our £5.1 billion funding to fix unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings, irrespective of how many properties they own.

We are also clear that developers must fix buildings above 11 metres that they had a role in developing or refurbishing. This will benefit all leaseholders with properties in these buildings. Our amendments will also drive a more proportionate approach to building safety as building owners and landlords will no longer be incentivised to commission unnecessary and costly works. This more proportionate approach will benefit all leaseholders. On that basis, I ask the noble Lords to withdraw these amendments.

I turn now to Amendment 115, which extends the leaseholder protections to buildings of all heights containing two or more residential dwellings. It is not necessary to extend the leaseholder protection provisions to lower-rise buildings. Leaseholder protections are needed in multi-occupied buildings above 11 metres as essential and costly remediation works may be needed in buildings of this height from which leaseholders need to be protected. On the other hand, there is no systemic fire safety risk in buildings below 11 metres. Low-rise buildings will not need costly remediation to make them safe. Lower-cost mitigations are likely to be more appropriate.

I am aware of just a handful of low-rise buildings—as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blencathra—where freeholders have been commissioning such works. This is in the context of there being vastly more low-rise than medium and high-rise buildings. It is clear in this very small number of cases that many of the examples of buildings under 11 metres follow the recommendations of EWS1s undertaken prior to the July statement and prior to the withdrawal of the consolidated advice notice in January of this year, as well as the introduction of the publicly available specification 9980, which followed shortly thereafter. I am completely clear that freeholders and landlords should not be commissioning costly remediation works in buildings below 11 metres tall.

I now turn to Amendment 117, which seeks to bring leaseholder-owned buildings into the scope of the protections. Our leaseholder protection measures work at a fundamental level by preventing building owners and landlords from passing on certain costs to leaseholders through the service charge and requiring building owners and landlords to pay instead. The leaseholder protections do not apply where buildings have been collectively enfranchised, as in these circumstances the building is owned by some or all of the leaseholders. We are therefore unable to apply the leaseholder protection provisions in these circumstances as there is no separate landlord or freeholder with whom costs can be shared.

In essence, there is nothing in these amendments that increases liability for enfranchised leaseholders. Enfranchised buildings are of course eligible for the £5.1 billion building safety fund in the same way as other buildings. It is still our expectation that the polluter will pay, and our expectation is that developers will pay to fix buildings that they had a role in developing or refurbishing. In addition, all the other legislative provisions will apply equally to collectively enfranchised buildings, including all measures and powers in the Bill to pursue developers and cladding manufacturers and compel them to pay. On that basis, I would ask my noble friends to withdraw their amendments.

Amendment 126 seeks to make it clear that the protections transfer to future purchasers of a lease. The drafting of the provisions already does this and I can confirm that the protections that applied on 14 February will transfer to any future purchaser. As this amendment is not needed, I would ask my noble friends and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, to withdraw it.

Amendment 153 relates to trusts and third-party investors. I thank my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, who are always here to help, for tabling this amendment, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept it. Unfortunately, we believe that the amendment will not have the intended effect of ensuring that the assets of third-party investors are considered when the landlord “contribution condition” is assessed. I do, however, consider that your Lordships have brought up an important issue which needs addressing. Therefore, I am happy to commit to consider this further, and would be happy to meet to discuss this matter. Given this commitment, I hope that my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra will not press their amendment.

Amendment 165A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, would mean that the value of the lease is also “determined by reference to” the tenant’s ability to pay, and with reference to “the open market value of” the lease. Taking into account tthe open market value would involve an individual valuation for each property which would be fraught with difficulty as there likely would be disputes between the landlord and leaseholder as to the value assigned. It is critical that the lease value cannot be subject to a protracted dispute. I also point out that the Government have already brought forward a number of measures to further protect leaseholders, notably increasing the repayment period to 10 years. With that explanation, I kindly ask the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, not to press her amendment.

I turn now to the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who has been a stout campaigner on this matter over the entire passage of this Bill. The right reverend Prelate’s amendment aims to provide further cost protections to leaseholders, including the right of appeal to a court under the fire safety order. First, in practice, there will already be a requirement for responsible persons to communicate such fire safety matters which are relevant to residents. Secondly, this amendment potentially has unintended consequences which could be detrimental to fire safety. It could mean that the cost of fire safety reparations in response to an enforcement notice, even those of relatively small cost incurred as maintenance or reparations of wear and tear, could be taken to a court. This could mean that important fire safety works in more serious cases are simply put on hold pending court action, which may compromise the safety of residents. For the reasons I have outlined, I ask the right reverend Prelate not to press his amendment.

Above all, I thank noble Lords for a high standard of debate which has been touched by moments of expertise which, frankly, I could not entirely follow. It is important that we all rely on noble and learned Lords at all times to tell us what we can and cannot do. I have done my best to respond to the issues raised, and I hope that noble Lords will not press the non-government amendments—but I do not expect so.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 7:15 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, I will test the opinion of the House on Amendment 115 in a minute. However, before I do so, I will say how much I appreciate the contributions from all noble Lords. It has been an absolutely fascinating debate. As others have said, we are really getting into the core philosophy of what sits behind this Bill. I feel slightly like the skinny fly-half who, having got hold of the rugby ball and made a dash for the opposing side’s try line, finds himself up against a veritable wall of the opposition. It is only seconds later that he finds that a substantial number of heavyweights from his own side have propelled him over the line and applied him and the rugby ball into the mud to score a try. We have not scored a try yet. That, of course, depends on noble Lords—the referees.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his summary of this and the other amendments—I found him to be wholly convincing. I will not go into a great deal of detail, given the well-rounded debate we have had, but Amendment 117 seems to address an issue which actually borders on discrimination on the grounds of tenure, and it is a really perverse outcome for commonholders as a tenure. It is a tenure to which the Government should be giving support—we all know that. Excluding them cannot be right.

Various noble Lords have spoken about extending the number of buy-to-let properties. That would rely on their accepting the basic premise of a charge to the leasehold and freehold properties as a default mode—I shall come back to that in a minute.

Amendment 126 is necessary because, unless the benefits under the Bill inure to the benefit of the buyer as a signee, the Bill would simply act to the prejudice of the seller, which would remain and lead to unfair loss, cost, worry, delay and disadvantage—and we cannot have that. A reduction to zero charge would be beneficial and I would support it, but, again, I go back to the question whether I would start from this point.

I welcome a lot of these amendments and would welcome some of those from the Government if I was not troubled by their basic premise of deciding that orphan cost liabilities must be spread between two categories of the innocent. It is a matter of policy; it is not a matter of human rights. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said on that, and I found it absolutely fascinating. The fact remains that freeholders as we know them very often have a minority interest by value, so the questions remain: where do you find that real, available hard cash to fund the remediation, and after what degree of litigation, delay and cost?

Despite what the Minister said, and I admire his tenacity, I remain unconvinced by the arguments. On sub-11 metres, I do not see that the argument has been made for the quantifiable difference under the Bill that the Government are trying to achieve, bearing in mind that the Worcester Park building was a four-storey building. I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 115.

Ayes 156, Noes 123.

Division number 2 Building Safety Bill - Report (Continued) — Amendment 115

Aye: 156 Members of the House of Lords

No: 123 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Amendment 115 agreed.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:40 pm, 29th March 2022

My Lords, I cannot call Amendment 116, as it was pre-empted by Amendment 115, which has already been agreed by your Lordships.