Examination of Witnesses

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 9th September 2021.

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Liam Spender and Giles Grover gave evidence.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 3:28 pm, 9th September 2021

Q We will now move on to our fifth panel of evidence for the Bill, and we will hear from Liam Spender and Giles Grover, both of whom will join us online. May I ask our two witnesses to introduce themselves and say which organisation they are working with? This also acts as a technical check that we can all hear you.

Liam Spender:

I am Liam Spender, representing the UK Cladding Action Group, and I am a leaseholder affected by cladding issues.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Liam, we can hear you loud and clear. That is fabulous.

Giles Grover:

Good afternoon. My name is Giles Grover. I am here on behalf of the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign team. I am an affected leaseholder as well; I have been affected for four years now, with no end in sight, unfortunately. I am here to represent the 20 or so resident groups across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

That is fantastic. We can hear you loud and clear as well. I remind colleagues that this session lasts until quarter past four.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

Q It is good to have both witnesses here. As many MPs have done in their constituencies, I have spoken to people in my constituency of Luton South who are affected by unsafe cladding and other fire safety defects. I note that in your written evidence, you set out a number of key flaws, including in particular something that I have experienced myself. During the passage of the Fire Safety Act 2021, many of us asked questions about covering all remediation costs for leaseholders, and we were told that that was not the right Bill because those matters would fall within the scope of the Building Safety Bill. However, your evidence suggests that that is being palmed off again. Can you elaborate a bit more on that so that we understand it, and do you think there are any other flaws in the Bill?

Liam Spender:

Thank you for the question. As you have picked up on, we set out in our written evidence quite a lot of detail about the flaws we saw in the Bill. The fundamental issue is the one that you have identified: we were promised a solution that has not materialised in the Bill. In many ways, the Bill makes things worse. The key way it makes things worse is that it removes any legal doubt that leaseholders and residents of those buildings, who had no part in their design, regulation or construction, will be held responsible for past, present and future costs when things go wrong. That is an appalling failure of public policy.

The panel before ours touched on all the difficulties with the complicated machine that is being set in motion, with building safety charges, accountable persons and building safety managers. I fear that we are heading for a situation where the Building Safety Bill will become a jobsworths charter, and leaseholders will be seen as one giant blank cheque.

Giles Grover:

I will not take too long, because a lot of this is about the history since the catastrophic events at Grenfell, after which we had many years of Government—Prime Ministers and Ministers—saying that we must be protected from all those costs, which we played no part in creating, as Liam said. Those promises carried on for a couple of years, but it is kind of clear that as the scale of the issue has widened and more buildings have become trapped in it because they have been built so unsafely, the Government have rowed back on that.

In 2020, that promise was changed to “unaffordable costs”. Before a Select Committee in November of last year, Lord Greenhalgh, the building safety Minister, could not really give an answer on what affordability meant; it was a case of, “Hopefully, people won’t go bankrupt.” Sadly, that has already happened to a number of people, who have lost their homes or had to sell at a massive discount. The really frustrating thing, and what has really shocked us—perhaps we should not be so surprised—is the number of promises that were made during the Fire Safety Act ping-pong process. A number of Ministers—including Lord Greenhalgh again, and Kit Malthouse in February—kept saying that leaseholders should be protected, but that the Fire Safety Bill was not the correct legislation and that the Building Safety Bill would address that.

Despite many months of promises and many months of Ministers telling potential rebel Conservative MPs that they would address the problem of historical costs in the Building Safety Bill, the Bill is here and does nothing to address that problem. There is a little bit of tinkering, and something positive for the future of the Defective Premises Act 1972, but we will still have to pay tens of thousands of pounds in costs—sometimes hundreds of thousands—for issues that go far beyond cladding, as the Government and the Secretary of State have known for a couple of years, if not longer. I could go on, but I will leave it there for now.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Rachel has a supplementary. I commend Rachel for the way that she phrased her question so that it was entirely in order, because she was referring not to the building safety fund but to the affordability of repayments. That is entirely in order.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

Q Thank you, Chair. Following on from that, I will ask an open question, as we have limited time with you. If there were one thing you would improve in the Bill, what would it be?

Giles Grover:

The one thing is for the Government to hold true to their word over the years and legislate to ensure that we are protected from historical remediation costs. The intention to protect us was in the draft Bill and in the impact assessment, but it has now been taken out, with the aim of transparency for the building safety charge, and there is still nothing to help people across the country who are being forced to pay bills for tens of thousands of pounds that are landing on our doorsteps daily. We need legislation that finally protects us. I am sure Liam can go into the McPartland-Smith amendments that will do just that.

Liam Spender:

I think what is missing from the Bill is everything that is set out in the McPartland-Smith amendments. In particular, the Bill makes it very clear what the legal responsibilities of leaseholders are—the people living in these buildings—but does nothing to make clear what the responsibilities are of the people who put these buildings up and designed them. A critical part of what McPartland-Smith does, as well as providing money for current faults, is to provide a clear legal remedy if buildings are not built properly in the future. I think that is something that stands out like a sore thumb in the current draft of the Bill. That is what is missing, and that is what I would like to see added.

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

Q In my constituency of St Albans, I have a number of constituents who have been affected by this issue and are facing crippling costs to do with fire safety remediation. They have told me about the impact it is having on the decisions they make about their lives, such as not being able to start families because they cannot move house, and about people who are suffering from severe mental ill health. Liam, you mentioned that this Bill makes things worse in some respects. Can you expand on that particular point and talk to us about the real-life impact it is having on people who are affected?

Liam Spender:

You are quite right that the situation is worsening by the day. People are facing existential questions—do they carry on with their property or not? They are facing unpalatable choices. I think one of the ways that the Bill makes things worse is in relation to works that are required to remove building safety risks, an example of which could be cladding. The Bill makes clear that they are all recoverable through the ordinary service charge mechanism, so it removes any doubt that leaseholders have to pay for other people’s misdeeds and mistakes.

We are already seeing the consequences with cladding, so imagine what it will be like with the next thing that comes down the road. You have seen the stories in the newspaper and on “Newsnight” last week that people are already facing six-figure bills, some people have committed suicide and others are declaring bankruptcy. There is a pall hanging over these people and it is a blight on the housing market, which the Bill does nothing to address. I will let Giles add more colour to that answer.

Giles Grover:

Again, everything is a long story. A lot of us have been trapped since very soon after the events at Grenfell when buildings were assessed for ACM, and everything has just snowballed and got a lot worse. Every so often, there are incremental positive steps in terms of funding, but you have to fight tooth and nail for those. As Liam said, and as you said in your question, Daisy, it is families, first-time buyers, pensioners—people from all walks of life who just wanted to fulfil that very British dream of being a homeowner or a flat leaseholder; a leaseholder is not necessarily a homeowner. Just the other day, someone told me that because she is so worried and because there is no detail about the loan scheme, she has accepted an offer that is £35,000—it will not pay off the mortgage—on an under-18m building just to be able to move out. She has a little child as well. That is just in Manchester, but it is happening across the country.

As Liam said, there have been suicides, for a mixture of reasons as well, but people just feel helpless. We are currently trapped. You start off being financially trapped, and everyone focuses on the finances. But then, especially during the pandemic, for a year and a half you are sat in your flat looking at the walls and not able to sleep at night from thinking, “What happens if there is a fire?”

This is people in buildings of all heights and all tenures, with defects of all types. As much as it started as a cladding scandal—we are called End Our Cladding Scandal—it has become a building safety crisis. It is not just cladding; it may be balconies, internal compartmentation or lack of fire protection for steelwork. With all these issues, once they are identified and once you have a proper fire risk assessment—a type 4 intrusive one—you start uncovering the lack of regulations, the lack of oversight and the poor development practice, but we are still being made to pay for it. We are still the ones on the hook for it, despite it being none of our fault. It is an absolute disgrace, and it is unfathomable that it is still happening. Government have done something, but not enough to solve this issue once and for all, to provide that certainty to leaseholders and the housing market, and to help us move on with our lives.

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

Q It is good to see you both, from afar. I have a question for you both: does the Bill ensure that the polluter pays? They are still receiving billions of pounds of Government subsidies. Is that clearly outlined in any provision in the Bill to ensure that leaseholders are protected and the polluter pays?

Liam Spender:

No. The same builders that have put up buildings with the horrific array of defects that we are seeing are still perfectly entitled to draw on the Help to Buy scheme and the recently announced subsidies for affordable housing. There has been no accountability or payment from the polluter. All that has been offered, which is not in the Bill, is the residential property developer tax, which we do not know the details of. But it is wholly inadequate that it will recover only 13% of the estimated £15 billion cost. The bulk of the cost of the current crisis and/or future crises is being dumped on leaseholders, which is what this Bill does.

Giles Grover:

I agree with Liam. It is not holding them to account at all. The latest figures are approaching £15 billion, and developments have made £2 billion since the catastrophic events at Grenfell. Government have supported them through the Help to Buy scheme and through instantly having a stamp duty land tax relief, and there is a mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers that is open to everyone. The figure that always bothers me more than anything is the amount of money that the Exchequer loses every year—billions of pounds—to the zero rating of VAT on construction.

A lot of those things have laudable aims, but do they actually help the supply side? They do not; they are all about demand. Government are happy to praise the economic effects—the jobs, the flow of taxpayer money—and it certainly pans out to support the construction industry. The collective state of industry failure is affecting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. It has taken two and a half years of kicking and screaming to get a bit of money out the Government every so often. Every year there is a little bit more. They keep telling us, “We’re not going to give you any more; we aren’t going to help you out”, but then we get further. There will be a point next year, hopefully, when the Government will say, “Here’s a little bit more”, but everything is a little bit here and little bit there. We are not being helped.

Why are we being forced into a planning tax loan scheme? Why are the Government not forcing the developers to pay that? The simple point goes back to: it was never our fault, it was never anything we did. The regulations are terrible, weak and inadequate. A lot of people knew that for years; the Government were advised of that for years. Builders were allowed to do whatever they wanted and to cut corners. Dame Judith Hackitt says there is a race to the bottom, focusing on profits over safety. But now, we are the ones on the hook to make that right. I do not get how that is at all fair. We need more funding from Government, we probably need more funding from the developers, and we need more funding from the product manufacturers as well. Leaseholders should finally be protected.

Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

Good afternoon. Broadly, what are your views on the responsible person or persons? What do you think of the responsibilities placed on them? More specifically, is it reasonable to expect all accountable persons to be sufficiently knowledgeable to assume the responsibilities in the BillQ ?

Liam Spender:

I think the whole responsible person regime has not been properly thought out. You cannot see, as parliamentarians, the full detail—that is being developed behind closed doors with industry. You are being asked to put this through without seeing how that very important relationship will work. The fundamental issue with the accountable person and building safety manager is that you would expect to find that regime in a petrochemical refinery, not in a residential building. It is totally unsuited to what needs to be done, massively over engineered, and the cost of it will fall on residents. The Government need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a much more tightly defined set of duties for these people, in order to avoid a situation where we end up with the advice notes, on steroids—which is a real risk.

Giles Grover:

I would echo those comments. The difficulty is, again, that the legislation and the guidance are still not really there to help us understand how it will work. There are potentially moral hazards between the roles of those accountable persons—the building safety managers—in terms of how they will coalesce. There might be different accountable persons, or responsible persons, depending on the building. It still feels like there is no effective control. I do not think anybody wants to be an accountable person right now; the competencies required are a pretty wide skill set, and I fear that they will not be able to get insurance. I think we need a lot more work on how the accountable person will interact with the responsible person.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Q Thank you so much for coming today, Giles, and for your candour. I want to talk about how the Bill addresses some of the inherent power and structural inequalities that we see, particularly when it comes to the industry. Broadly speaking, we have heard some positive overtures about how we change behaviours and the possibilities that are there. How do you think this Bill should go further to do that? From a personal perspective, I have seen what those inherent inequalities do day to day; I have lived through that. What it sounds like from your responses is that there is a system that needs to be ripped apart. How do you think, within this Bill and subsequent legislation, that can be done?

Liam Spender:

Thank you for that excellent question. There are three critical things to address. First, there need to be leaseholder resident representatives on the rule-making bodies. This avoids a situation where industry and Government make rules that suit them, and pass the bill on to leaseholders who are left with the inadequate tool of challenges to the building safety charge and service charge, to contest bills that have already been paid. Secondly, the Government are trying to perform some sort of Frankenstein operation, with the Building Safety Bill, on a system that has had its day—namely, leasehold. There is a fundamental imbalance of power in the leasehold system in favour of landlords. Until you address that, you will not solve the problem of rules being made to suit landlords and bills being passed on to residents with no oversight, and no control. Thirdly, Dame Judith Hackitt identified in her report the culture of box ticking in the industry, the race to the bottom and value engineering—all that sort of stuff. Until that changes, nothing changes; buildings will continue to be built that are not fit for occupation and we will end up repeating the cycle at some point in the future. Those are the three things that need to be changed. I think that the McPartland-Smith amendments go a long way towards changing them, by introducing clear, legal routes to recovery against builders if they do not do their jobs properly.

Giles Grover:

I will just echo the comments on the fact that the whole leaseholder structure means that you are still at the bottom of the food chain. There is all this talk about the building safety charge, but, as Liam said, ultimately it is about leasehold law—despite the Government thinking there might be protections in landlord and tenant law, we have seen that there are not the supposed protections there should be, because all the cases are based on the terms of the lease, which are always written against us. There needs to be an overarching look at the fact that it is not just the building safety charge, it is about service charges and how they are levied. There needs to be a bit more control over that, so that there is the actual ability to challenge it, rather than saying, “You can potentially go to the tribunal.” Ultimately, the cases we have seen do that just end up being rebuffed.

I am still concerned about the insurance issues we are facing now. There does not seem to be enough control. We have seen buildings insurance soaring by hundreds of per cent. I am not sure what protections there are against that happening. We have tried to report it to the FCA and the CMA, but are simply told that the responses are not as constructive or helpful as they could be.

Everything needs to be looked at again—even the building safety charge itself. When it was first drafted, I remember a meeting with one of the deputy directors of MHCLG where they said they did not really know much it was going to be. It was an academic exercise. Even the numbers in the current impact assessment say it will be £16 a month. It might be £42 or £26 a month. For existing buildings it should be more. No one really knows. As some industry figures have started to look at it, it might well be hundreds of pounds a month. There needs to be an overarching, holistic look at service charges and building safety charges. That would be the first thing.

To go back to Liam’s point about the McPartland-Smith amendment, that is what we are hoping the Conservatives will look at and realise that, yes, residents must be protected now, because they are the innocent people.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Q Thank you, Liam and Giles, for the extremely powerful evidence. I really hope you are listened to when we come to the amendment stage of this process. I want to touch on the voice of residents, which we have not really talked about. How important is the engagement of residents to the operation of the occupation phase of the new building regime? Does the engagement process outlined in the Bill do what is required?

Giles Grover:

Thank you for the question, Ian. Resident engagement is key. As we saw last night—those of you who watched “Grenfell: The Untold Story”—if there had been sufficient resident engagement in 2015 and 2016, would the events of June 2017 have happened? I do not think they would have. It is important to have resident engagement, but, as we have seen, as lot of these things are very much tick-box exercises. Recently—or not so recently—the National Fire Chiefs’ Council updated its guidance on simultaneous evacuation and interim measures such as waking watch to say that residents should be consulted and cost-benefit options should be explored. That never happens in practice.

What is there actually to make it happen? The Government do not want to legislate for a resident group in each building. I can understand the reasons for that, but what is to stop the responsible person, the council entities, from just saying, “We have tried to engage residents. We put a few flyers up and gave a form out.” There needs to be a more positive obligation on them to actually engage residents than there seems to be now.

Liam Spender:

I wholeheartedly endorse all of that. The answer to Ian’s question is that the residents engagement strategy in the Bill is not up to scratch. The problem is that the rules are being made now by statutory instruments in close consultation with industry. There is no amount of resident engagement strategy or vision that can overcome that issue. Once the regulations are made, there will be limited room for manoeuvre. I think there needs to be resident representation on the rule-making bodies to ensure we actually have a genuine residents’ voice, rather than a couple of cul-de-sacs that freeholders, managing agents, responsible persons—whatever title they are being given in the Bill—can lead residents down without there being any meaningful input.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Are there any other questions from colleagues?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q I have a couple. Like many Members, I have a lot of affected leaseholders. The McPartland new clause 4 proposes a building safety indemnity scheme, equivalent to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. Will that address some of the challenges about who ultimately pays for the historic defects in buildings that leaseholders are living in? Do you feel that will be suitable to apply to leaseholders, whether they are leaseholders of private owners, housing associations, councils or other providers?

Liam Spender:

Yes, is the simple answer. The building safety indemnity scheme would be one way of creating a pot of money into which all stakeholders would pay to ensure there was money available to fix buildings with issues, in whichever sector they are in—private, public—and whatever tenure they are in, whether they are rented or held on long leases. That would seem to be an equitable way of doing it. It is one implementation of the idea that the polluter should pay and that there should be a social insurance scheme in the same way that there is for uninsured drivers. I will let Giles add to that answer.

Giles Grover:

I have nothing to add to the specific point on that amendment. I have tried to read the Building Safety Bill, the impact assessment and the explanatory notes many times, but I have not managed to make it right through to the end. Having read the amendments and interrogated those, the McPartland-Smith amendment is one that helps us. The simple point is about better protection for current and future leaseholders by ensuring that the limitation periods are extended, by using legislation such as the Housing Act 1985. That would help us.

The simple amendment, the one that I really want to see, and which I think should be a no-brainer, is the one about VAT. I cannot remember which one it was—I am sure Liam will—but it says that the VAT that we have been forced to pay on works and on fire safety interim measures, for the last five years, should be refunded. It should mean that we are treated the same as the developers and the building owners that can apply for zero-rating. They have been told that exceptional health and safety reasons apply, so they can be classed as “person constructing” status.

Would it not be a good start to put us on that same deal and to say, “Actually, here you go—the money you have spent already, that 20% that has been added on, you can have that back”? For future cases—in instances where future remediations are funded—at the very least, that should be taxed at 0%. The Treasury has profited from VAT and from insurance premium tax. Agreeing to that amendment would be one way of showing they want to help the leaseholders who have been forced to pay these costs with the additional costs added on.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Thank you, Giles. I think you were referring to new clause 1. Ruth, did you have a second question?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q Yes. I do not know whether you heard the evidence from the National Housing Federation. One of the issues it raised was seeking an appropriate mechanism to gain limited and proportionate access to properties for essential safety works, where that is not granted by a resident. That presumably also goes for private landlords of leasehold properties, as well as housing associations.

That clearly raises a challenge for your members, whether the building manager or owner is a resident management organisation or housing association or private sector freeholder or leaseholder. How do you respond to what the federation says, and presumably other building owners and managers say as well?

Liam Spender:

Yes, I did hear that evidence. From a residents’ point of view, we would have concerns about making it too easy to gain access into people’s homes, potentially for spurious reasons. You may have seen in the written evidence that we have submitted that we suggest there needs to be a very tough statutory code of practice, to make it clear when powers of entry should be used, whether or not that is accompanied with tweaks to the drafting of those clauses; that is a possibility. However, the key point is that we have a very clear set of rules saying when people can enter private property for safety issues.

After we have finished with this panel, you will hear from two eminent housing lawyers, who will probably have much more to say on this topic and will probably say it far more eloquently than I can.

I will let Giles chip in with anything he wants to add.

Giles Grover:

I am not sure that I can be more eloquent than you, Liam, but I will do my best.

Having been a property manager for a year and a half—for my sins—I understand the actual difficulty of entering a property. I think that the point is that, as Liam said in our submission, there is a lease generally of quiet enjoyment. However, leases also say that for good estate management generally you can enter a building within 48 hours.

It does not feel like there are enough protections essentially to stop accountable persons who want to mitigate their own liability from abusing these powers. I do not know how every single electrical point in every single flat will be checked, as well; I defer to Liam and the lawyers you will have before you later.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Q I just want to come back on the really good question that was asked about resident and tenant representation, because we know that when that is done well, it ensures that people can live in safe communities and make the representations that they need to. We also know what it looks like when it is done horrendously wrongly and the power of a few is collated around a small minority, who seem to dictate what happens for everyone else in a community.

May I just ask you both: where should the driver be to ensure that tenant representation is effective? Should it be prescribed from national Government, in the context of this Bill? Should there be a mix? We have so many different types of ownership and of tenant model; I have three that are utilised in my own local authority alone. How do we ensure that every single person who needs that representation actually gets it, and where should the prescription for that come from—from national Government downwards, or from local government upwards? How do we do that? As you said in response to me before, the core of this is the importance of ensuring that those communities are accurately represented. So I am interested to hear from you both your thoughts on that.

Liam Spender:

Thank you for the question and for engaging with the detail on this; as you say, it is vital. There is no one better placed than the people living in buildings to have a view on what is safe and what they think needs to be done to make those buildings safe.

I think there needs to be clearer language in the Bill about taking into account the resident’s voice, because at the moment a lot of the language in the Bill is passive; it is about residents being given information and not particularly good rights of consultation. There needs to be something in the Bill that creates a genuine partnership between the managers and the people living in the buildings.

To reiterate the point that I made in previous responses, residents need a voice on the groups and committees that make the rules, so that from the ground up and from the get-go the rules are shaped by that voice as they are being made, rather than just presented at the other end.

The last point I will make is that there needs to be better and more readily accessible advice for leaseholders and tenants. Perhaps specific programmes can be set up to provide that advice, so that people know where to go to get help when things are not working, and we do not end up with relationships breaking down, and so that we can have a genuine partnership. I think that would be a helpful addition.

I will let Giles add anything that he wants to add.

Giles Grover:

I echo all those comments. Again, I have seen for myself the difficulty of engaging all residents; there is the turnover of residents as well, and you might have absent leaseholders. I appreciate that it might be difficult to do it on a statutory basis, but a lot more guidance and help could be provided to those responsible persons. In general, whether at this point there is that engagement with residents, or whether it is about tackling the issues that we are still facing, in terms of fire safety in our buildings, there probably needs to be a lot more partnership with local government and central Government. Local government—local authorities—and the fire service are able to be more reactive. They are on the ground and already have that relationship with the responsible persons and the managing agencies. That whole approach of saying, “Okay, this is what central Government are doing and this is what local government is doing, supported by the fire services,” could actually help drive a lot of it forward. Councillors have that local knowledge, as they are the ones residents turn to directly, as well as their MPs. Engagement with all stakeholders could be a lot better than it seems currently designed to be.

Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

Q Have you considered or anticipated any possible increases to service charges or rent as a result of the Bill? If so, do you have any idea what that impact might look like to you as leaseholders or tenants?

Liam Spender:

I think the simplest answer to the question is that we can expect the cost of living in higher-risk buildings, however defined, to be significantly higher in the future than it is today. We cannot really give any credence to the Government’s estimates that it will be between £9 and £26 a month. If you read the press articles, some of which quote industry figures you will be talking to next week, they are already talking about £500 a year extra just to pay the administrative costs of the new regime. That might not sound like a lot of money, but for some people—particularly shared owners who struggle to get on the ladder—it is make-or-break money. It is a lot of money if you have not got it—that is one way of describing it.

If that sort of burden were being imposed on a company, there would be uproar about it and there would be a great deal more scrutiny of it, but billions of pounds of costs are being loaded on to leaseholders as a result of the new regulatory regime, and the question that needs to be asked is whether we really need to spend that money. Do we really need to spend other people’s money—people who may struggle to pay—on this particular issue? I will hand over to Giles and let him add anything he wants to add.

Giles Grover:

It is difficult to consider it, because last year it slightly changed. Last year, it included the historical remediation costs, and there were some vague, wide-ranging, heavily caveated figures about what it might be. Those figures are still heavily caveated. I suppose the difficulty I have is thinking about the future building safety charge when I have to pay a lot more already. A lot of people are already paying hundreds of pounds, so it is hard to have this conceptual thought about what may be put in place when they are already facing hundreds of pounds a month. Until there is more clarity about what it actually is, until there is more control over the building safety charge, and until the problems I am facing right now and the thousands of pounds I have to pay right now are resolved, I will not really consider it fully.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Q Thank you. Unless there are any other questions, we have a couple of minutes left at the end. Giles and Liam, is there anything else you want to add that we have not yet covered? You have just a couple of minutes each to do that. That would be really helpful to us. Is there anything you feel we should have questioned you on but have not covered yet? Over to you, Liam.

Liam Spender:

The one thing we would like to have spoken about, but we have not had the questions to do it, is how the Bill affects the housing market. In addition to the cost that is being loaded on to leaseholders, does it affect the functioning of the market? We already know—we made references to this in our written evidence—that banks are starting to make extra provision in their books because they think mortgages are worth less as a result of their exposure to cladding. If you ask me, that is shades of 2008, when we had an enormous banking crash. I suppose the issue for Parliament to consider, when considering this legislation, is what the effect on the economy of not putting up enough money—not by a long shot—to fix the current cladding issues and then creating this enormously complex machine, which may not be suited to the task. I do not think it is and I do not think many people think it is. What is the effect of that on the housing market and, in turn, what is the effect of that on the wider economy? And does Parliament really want to make that choice without knowing and considering that impact? I will hand over to Giles to add anything he wants to add.

Giles Grover:

Thank you, Liam. On that point, I think it was in November 2020, before the Chancellor’s spending review, when we wrote to make exactly that point. The shades of the 2007-08 financial crisis were starting to become clear: the impact on regulatory capital of the banks with mortgages being valued at zero, and the increasing number of forfeitures. We saw reporting earlier this year about the impact on flat sales transactions. I think they were halved in September 2020. So, as Liam says, there is the effect on property prices, especially in the north—I am from Manchester. The property prices would be lower, but that means that the actual remediation costs are much larger. I think that has not really been considered.

There is the loan scheme as well. It might not be part of the Building Safety Bill, but we still have no idea how it is going to work and how it will not materially impact property prices.

The other thing I will just pick up on, which is in the Building Safety Bill, is the measurement of height and height being the determinant of risk. I think it was Sir Ken Knight who said earlier that height was a crude threshold. Robert Jenrick also said on 20 January 2020 that it was an arbitrary threshold; it might be important, but there are other factors. There is talk of PAS 9980, which will help with that, but, as was mentioned earlier today, the fire at Richmond House, Worcester Park, was in a building that was under 11 metres and it was completely destroyed in 10 minutes. Okay, there is the issue of higher buildings; I understand you might have to phase the scheme in, but we need a solution for all buildings. We need proper risk matrices that actually look at building risk holistically—that look at occupancy and means of escape and do not just say, “Okay, you’ve got cladding here.” What about the internal issues? What about the cavity barriers? What about the lack of sprinklers? One example of what could be done, which we have suggested before, is this. Rather than forcing people in buildings under 18 metres or between 11 and 18 metres to pay a cladding tax, why not ensure that you have sprinklers in those buildings? That is now part of Approved Document B, because Government have realised the clear safety principles of it. That would actually go a long way towards helping many of the people in the under 18-metre or 11 to 18-metre buildings. One final point is that we need to ensure that all buildings, not just those over 18 metres and from 11 to 18 metres, are safe, because those under 11 metres are still potentially very unsafe.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

If there are no further questions from members, let me, on behalf of the whole Committee, thank you, Liam and Giles, both for taking the time to join us this afternoon and for your incredibly comprehensive and thorough answers to the questions posed. We are very grateful for your first-hand insight. I will let you get on with the rest of your afternoon. Thank you for joining us. That brings to a close the fifth panel of witnesses, and we will now turn to our final panel of witnesses, who have just been referred to by Liam and Giles.