Examination of Witnesses

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:57 pm on 14th September 2021.

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Alison Hills and Steve Day gave evidence.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 4:08 pm, 14th September 2021

We will now hear from Alison Hills, an affected leaseholder, and Steve Day, a campaigner on the polluter pays principle. We have until 5 pm for this session. Would the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Alison Hills:

My name is Alison Hills. I am a solicitor who is personally affected by the building safety crisis. I have also been very active in the campaign on behalf of a number of leaseholders, and I have spoken to a number of leaseholders across the country.

Steve Day:

Hello, everyone. I am Steve Day. I am also caught up in the cladding crisis—a £30 million bill for 118 flats. We basically felt we had to fight it, and that has led to where we are today. Thanks for hearing us.

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

Q Thank you, Alison and Steve, for joining us today. Just to let the Committee know, Alison is one of my constituents and we have discussed these matters before. For the benefit of the Committee and for the parliamentary record, could you start by telling us in your own words what impact the fire and safety building crisis has had on you personally, and how this Bill could affect you if it goes through unamended?

Alison Hills:

Sure. The first point I would make is that the Building Safety Bill offers completely inadequate protection for leaseholders. Throughout the ping-pong process of the Bill, leaseholders across the country were repeatedly informed that protection would be forthcoming in the Bill, but it is clear that that is not the case.

Personally, I could be facing a bill of between £150,000 to £200,000 if funding is not forthcoming from either developers or the building safety fund. That could result in bankruptcy and the loss of my career as a solicitor, because my professional qualifications will be automatically revoked if I become bankrupt. I know there are a number of solicitors, accountants, and other professionals who are in the same situation.

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

Q Thank you. Steve, do you want to talk about your own situation?

Steve Day:

Yes. I live in south-east London, in a development called Royal Artillery Quays. We had a £30 million cladding bill, have £1.7 million of internal firestopping issues, and a builder that says that we are timed out with the Defective Premises Act 1972 and the Latent Damage Act 1986 because we are 17 years old, and our 15-year hard stop in latent defects times us out. We are very angry.

My brother is here today. We are doing a start-up and do not have enough money for one salary. It is devastating to have to fight a developer that claims it has no legal liability, even though we found multiple breaches of the BBA certificate on the external wall system. I went around with a fire engineer with an endoscopic camera to see all the holes in the firestopping above every single flat. I am sickened.

I have had to help people in the development with depression. One of my neighbours had to talk someone out of suicide. I am sure my brother will not mind me saying that it has been challenging—running a small business start-up, and trying to fight a developer and come up with a statutory scheme to stop everyone else from doing this.

I urge you to recognise that full redress is not just something that we want—a “nice to have”. You will hear more evidence on it, but think about it this way: if you, as Parliament, do not intervene now, this will happen in decades to come. There is a race to the bottom in construction. I was on holiday, and after The Times article that came out last weekend backing the polluter pays Bill, I did not really want to be next to a senior member of the construction industry for my holidays. However, he was very understanding and said to me, “Well, yes, there is a race to the bottom. Yes, the cheapest contract always wins. Yes, the building control that looks the least at the defects is the one that gets the contracts.” We have to stop this. Levies and taxes is letting them get away with it. We have to step in. That is what I am asking you to do today.

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

Q Hello, Alison and Steve. I am sorry to hear of your experiences. I know that they are shared by hundreds of thousands, if not more, of people across the country. Steve, I have spoken to you before about the polluter pays principle, which collectively we have spoken about—Labour Back Benchers and others have been advocating that, rather than leaseholders. In terms of your proposals going forward, a lot of developers obviously set up special purpose vehicles. How would you ensure that your proposals—your idea—would be able to capture those characters and ensure that the money goes where it deservedly needs to go?

Steve Day:

I am glad that you have asked about SPVs, as that is obviously a point of contention for our scheme. First, we are creating a statutory scheme—we are writing the law and Parliament is intervening. We would go after the parent companies when there is a relationship there. In the case of an SPV, we would try to establish that relationship. Remember that there are two parts to polluter pays—I do not know if you have seen the diagram. One part is to get the responsible parties to pay in full if we can. If we cannot find anyone—this is your first answer—we go to the levies that we have on the construction industry and the ancillary bodies such as cladding manufacturers and so on, who have all been part of the problem, as we heard in the Grenfell inquiry.

We can do a better answer than that, though: parent company liability. You might say, “Is that possible?” The UK Competition and Markets Authority can hold parent companies liable for the anticompetitive conduct of their subsidiaries, and can hold both the parent and subsidiary company jointly and severally liable for the payment of fines resulting from the anticompetitive conduct of the subsidiary. It has been done. If you want to look further afield, in German law, Konzernrecht holds parent companies liable for obligations of controlled subsidiaries; that has been done in Germany. Some say that British companies will not be attractive for investors if we do this parent liability, but it seems to be working in Germany. Hopefully, that gives you a little more colour on why we want to do this.

Ultimately though, take a step back from the legality. I am very grateful for Daniel Greenberg’s help and his 20 years of experience as parliamentary counsel; he is operating in a private capacity pro bono, because that is how much he believes in the Bill. He is not at all worried about this liability; he thinks it can and should be done. We have a simple, cost-effective and fast mechanism; a statutory scheme that will make those responsible pay, and their parents. Is that okay, Mike?

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

Q It is, but we had two esteemed lawyers—one a QC, who you will be familiar with—who spoke about extending the scope retrospectively of the Defective Premises Act. They spoke about case law and the potential of taking that forward successfully; it was minimal to say the least. In fact, a number of witnesses have said that. I am interested in why your very well-intentioned proposals would work more effectively than that, which is not very effective at all?

Steve Day:

Do you mean just extending the limitations in the Defective Premises Act?

Steve Day:

First, you cannot take a parent company to court if they do not exist or you do not have the relationship. That is where we need the Government to step in with a statutory scheme, because we need to establish the ability to make that connection. Ultimately, we need the Government to step in with a statutory scheme, which they did for asbestos, so that when people do not come to the table, we fall to a statutory scheme. This is a unique situation. We need the Govt to step in because the law is failing us. Extending limitations is a problem, because people may not have the standing to take their developer to court. They might not be in the contract; they may not have the money or the time; they may have mental illness as a result of suffering we have had already.

Alison Hills:

May I come in here? I am a litigation lawyer; housing is not my area of speciality but I have some insight into the litigation process. The Government seem to think that they have solved this crisis by extending the limitation periods under the Defective Premises Act. I respectfully suggest that is far from true. First, as leaseholders, we do not own the property and we have no leg to stand on to pursue any legal action. Secondly, as we heard from two very prominent lawyers last week, there are a number of problems under clause 124, which could result in extensive litigation before we even get to remediation.

Thirdly, the Bill as drafted does not help when buildings are over 15 years old, it does not help in situations where developers have become insolvent, and it does not help in my own situation, where the developers and the freeholders are part and parcel of the same legal entity, so in essence they would have to sue themselves, which is not going to happen. That is why the polluter pays Bill is the most cost-effective way forward. It is simple and clear and provides an effective solution that avoids years of litigation that leaseholders simply cannot afford.

There was a case recently of Aviva Investors and Shepherd Construction, where Aviva Investors tried to pursue action for £4.5 million relating to a block of student flats. The litigation was unsuccessful, and the judge stated in that case that

“There is no pleaded case that a duty of care was owed by Shepherd to future owners of the property”.

If huge rich companies like Aviva cannot have a successful litigation against these developers, what chance to the little leaseholders have, who have no leg to stand on and no funds to do so?

Steve Day:

One final point, if that is okay?

Steve Day:

There is another complication of the limitations extension, and that is basically the risk of a two-tier system. We have been discussing this with the polluter pays Bill team. There are bilateral investment treaties that have settlement provisions. We are concerned that if a foreign national were to use one of those provisions for international arbitration, especially in the case of a developer not existing in the UK—and these foreign investors are investors, leaseholders in UK property—they may be able to use that international arbitration and get compensation from the UK Government, where UK nationals will not be afforded such a privilege. That would be a shame if the developers do not exist and foreign nationals can use these international arbitration treaties when UK nationals cannot.

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

Q At the very beginning, you both outlined the potential size of the bill you are facing for remediation work, but over the course of the past year or so, particularly in relation to the Fire Safety Act 2021, which came before this Bill, we have heard from leaseholders who talked about all sorts of costs. Could you talk us through the different kinds of costs that you have incurred and the cumulative impact they have had? Do you feel that the Government are addressing the issue with the necessary level of urgency?

Alison Hills:

First of all, once we had our intrusive survey undertaken, we had a waking watch implemented on is, which was at a cost of £400 per leaseholder. I have to say that a whole new crisis has been created as a result of the advice note and the EWS1 process. It is ineffective, it is placing leaseholders under an unacceptable level of financial risk. Personally, I felt more unsafe while they were in the building. They were undertaking activities such as smoking underneath flammable cladding. They were falling asleep. This sounds awful but they were peeing in our car park. We have also heard stories of other leaseholders across the country where single females have been harassed by them, which is completely unacceptable. That is just the first point, which is on waking watch alone.

In addition, we have had to pay increased service charges, which amounts to an extra £200 a month each. Our insurance has absolutely skyrocketed. I have heard of a leaseholder based in a block in Runcorn where it has increased by 1,400%. People are going bankrupt as a result of these interim measures alone, and that is before we even get to the remediation costs. As we have seen already, Hayley Tillotson was a leaseholder who has gone bankrupt as a result of these extortionate costs.

Leaseholders’ finances are being completely wiped out. It is completely unacceptable to put us under this level of financial risk and burden—in the middle of a pandemic as well, one might add, which only adds to the financial and mental health distress. There have already been reported suicides as a result of this crisis. I have to say that my mental health has seriously deteriorated, to the point that I have had to move out of my flat, because I could not sleep, eat or concentrate. It was an horrific situation to be in. Those are the sorts of things that are happening, and that is before we even get to any remediation costs.

Steve Day:

Our service charge has doubled because of the waking watch and insurance. It is due to lack of trust in building regulations. The insurers do not trust, the lenders do not trust. That is devastating when you are doing a start-up as well. I do not have the salary that I used to have, and I do not have the savings I used to have because they have all gone on service charge. That is a huge risk.

Let me tell you something else. It is not just about the money for waking watch. I think we forget what it is about. Can you imagine people staring at your home 24/7 because they are so concerned that there is going to be a fire? Can you imagine what that does to you? You go to sleep wondering what on earth these people are doing staring at your building, going up and down the stairs. They are doing their job but their job is very concerning. They are so scared that they might miss it that they are checking things and all the rest of it. Then, there are some who do not do their job. You are in a total stress, non-stop.

It is all to do with the root cause. This is where I come back to the simple scheme that we have come up with. Let us restore trust in building regulations. EWS1s, PAS 9980s—it is a new way of showing building regulatory compliance, because the trust has gone from the lenders and insurers. Let us restore that trust. Full redress is the only way to do it. This is a unique situation, the costs are high and we need you, Parliament, to step up and put in this scheme.

There is so much support for the scheme—you will see that because we will put it out there to you guys as much as we can over the next few weeks. It is growing: we have bishops behind it, the Earl of Lytton and the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association. You have heard that the Association of Residential Managing Agents backs it and we have quite a few people that I cannot remember, but I am happy to write to you.

The support is only going to grow, because as we go through the Grenfell inquiry and we see some of the things that come out, maybe in module 6, full redress will come up again and again. If you want to give out loans to people and you let the industry off with a levy, they will never forgive you, because you did not go for full redress when you could have, and that is what I urge you to do.

Yes, it is unusual to have a leaseholder here coming out with a statutory scheme, but it is not just me—there is a load of experts helping me, all for free, because they believe passionately that we cannot let a levy system and a loan system go in when we have not tried full redress. It is possible, it is simple and it is fast, and we are working hard to limit the judicial review risk to the Government. We will be sending Mr Pincher and his team a new draft from Daniel Greenberg as soon as we can and hopefully getting something in to them, and then we can update you.

Alison Hills:

I alluded to this earlier, but this is a very complex issue. There is liability against a number of parties—not just the Government for poor regulation, but developers, manufacturers, people such as Kingspan who mis-sold their products, insurers, Buildmark warranty providers. There are so many people involved here, but it is glaringly obvious that this Bill contains no repercussions at all for those people. The only people who have been legally held to account are the innocent leaseholders. As I see it, the fundamental role of Government is to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account, but this Bill does the exact opposite of that, and it is unacceptable.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q This is a building safety Bill; it is not about redressing the cladding or the issues with that. If anything, on the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government it was said that the introduction of the building service charge brought about the highest level of anger and scepticism they had ever experienced. That is all that the people affected can see in this Bill, so it goes nowhere near addressing anything like that. If anything, it has caused a concern: would they—could they—use the building service charge to recover historical costs from the leaseholders? We have heard from witnesses that they think it is not clear that that is not the case.

It seems to me that polluter pays is the only suggestion that can go forward. We are not saying that the present Government are responsible for all this, but do you know of any other way than the polluter pays mechanism? Is it New Zealand that has the public safety emergency, where the Government have addressed that? It does not seem able to be addressed. Has anyone put forward to you any other schemes or other ways of addressing this? There are hundreds of thousands of family units in these properties—I do express my sympathy; I sincerely empathise and sympathise—but this simply must be addressed.

Alison Hills:

Yes, thank you. It does have to be addressed. Obviously, there are the McPartland-Smith amendments, which protect leaseholders to some degree. There are some very helpful amendments—for example, the imposition of implied terms in residential building contracts to ensure that all buildings are adequately designed, comply with building safety regulations and use materials of satisfactory quality. New clause 5 also creates accountability for future builders by importing consumer rights protection into housing law. I fully support the amendments and new clauses, and I think they should be implemented in the Bill, but in terms of how to get the most amount of money from those responsible, the polluter pays Bill is the way forward, because it ensures that the right people are held to account and building safety regulations are adhered to in future. Obviously, Steve has worked very hard on this over the last nine months, so I will pass over to him at this point.

Steve Day:

I think the building safety charge is another sign of not trusting building regulation compliance. The heart of polluter pays is not just to solve the crisis now; it is to restore trust in building regulation compliance. We have a set of functional regulations. B4 requires that

“the external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire”.

It should be very possible, then, with the approved documents, to show and to prove whether someone is liable for those defects.

We are getting very confused in this crisis. We need to bring it back to the two boxes of developments. We have one where the builders just did not keep to the regulations. We do not need to worry about the quality of the regulations—they just did not keep to them, not using the right fixings. Metal should be on firebreaks but they used plastic. Some are missing firebreaks. It is very simple stuff, which is very unappealable and very easy—low-hanging fruit. That is the box of not conforming to the regulations at the time—guilty. Not guilty, for the developers and the manufacturers, is the other box where the regulations were complied with at the time, but post Grenfell those regulations have changed. It is almost a retrospective liability, changing the goalposts. That is a failure of regulation, so that is where the public money would come in.

All we want is £5.1 billion of public money. We do not want to go to the Treasury unless we have to. We want to get that pot as big as possible for all those defective buildings—it is simple stuff, remember, such as fixings, adhesive pattern, firebreaks and so on—to make that £5.1 billion go further. That is what we are doing. I hope that our proposal shows that we have thought about how this might work with existing precedents. There is some discussion on whether the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the apportionment process could be open to judicial review, because you might say, “If you’ve got a set of percentages and you’re just giving x per cent, y per cent, and so on, that could be open to challenge.” We have listened to that and we are working with Daniel Greenberg on a different, and much simpler, approach, which we will make you aware of, that will not be open so easily for judicial review.

We also heard Mr Pincher’s comments in the Chamber on how many determinations we have to do. Remember that we are proposing that it is a public body, potentially under Homes England, and we have a de minimis limit. We do not have the reports that MHCLG has but we have a mechanism. It can set what the de minimis limit is before we have those determinations, and then basically there is a control mechanism for how this works. We have created the scheme so that in the primary legislation the scheme requirements are set out. It has to be in place six months after Royal Assent, but we do not prescribe exactly all the parts of the legislation; that will be done in subordinate legislation. We are prepared to do that work as well, because that is how much we believe in this.

I cannot answer all your questions on this today, but Daniel Greenberg has said that when the conference season is over, we will book a meeting room in Parliament and invite MPs and peers to come and hear our proposal, with the depth required so that you can scrutinise it properly. Perhaps the Earl of Lytton might come and help as well.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q Thank you both for coming. You are very compelling witnesses, and you have a great skill in being able to talk about something that is incredibly emotional to you, for understandable reasons, and give us a really clear account of what you are seeking to achieve and why.

I want to move you slightly off the redress issue. We have heard witness evidence today that, over two decades, multiple Governments of all colours have failed to address building safety issues. That is high rises and all sorts of things.

This Government are genuinely trying to do their best with the Bill, and we have had evidence that says that it is moving quite a few mountains and is proportionate. You are so expert in this area—although I am sure neither of you want to be such—what do you know about the accountable person part of the Bill? It is suggesting that for a block there would be somebody who would be in charge of things such as fire safety certificates and the gas certificate. They would be the point person. We have heard evidence today from the Fire Brigades Union that was really positive about such a role in terms of the person that they can contact, and similarly the management agent said it was really good to have a single person as a point of contact. We have also heard evidence that no one will take on that role—because it has so many duties and responsibilities that no one will be interested. What is your view? I fear that you two may be that role because you are so expert. Knowing your kind of neighbours, do you think somebody would take that role on if the Bill is enacted?

Alison Hills:

First and foremost, there is a lot of information in the Bill about an accountable person, a responsible person, but there does not seem to be a clearly defined role for each of those roles and responsibilities. I think that needs to be done. Secondly, our management agents already have a certain amount of responsibility in terms of building safety. As leaseholders, we do not want to be in a position where we are potentially paying twice for the same service. The Bill needs to contain clear definitions of the responsible person, the accountable person, the management agent and the role of the leaseholder. In my view, each of those roles needs a clear definition.

Steve Day:

I know that I am coming back to what I have said before, but for me it is about trust. If we are having a building safety charge, that is because we do not trust that our buildings are safe. It was fine before Grenfell, and maybe that is not a great thing to say, because the regulations and enforcement were not there. If the enforcement is there, I am really hoping that we can go back to paying a very reasonable service charge and getting a very reasonable service.

I think we really need to look at this Building Safety Bill from the point that if we put in for redress, if we had that big stick to whack all those responsible for not installing things right, can we restore trust in our building? This Building Safety Bill could then be made a little simpler and a little cheaper for those who are living in blocks, and maybe we can just reform everything. That is my view.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q If the fire brigade felt it was useful to have a single point person, do you think in your block and other blocks that could be achieved, subject to the definition of roles and responsibilities that Alison talked about?

Steve Day:

I think there is a role for having someone responsible. A lot of these blocks have a concierge. I would say first, “Is there an onsite concierge?” If there is, maybe something could be done there. If not, a lot of blocks have a small committee of four or five people who might take on that role collectively. It seems a lot to put on one person—that’s my initial thought. If we want leasehold to survive—I am not sure where I stand on leasehold and commonhold yet, but I do not think commonhold solves the bills, and I think they will still come. If I am going to try to get someone to cover, I don’t know, say fire door replacements and so on, I have got to go and negotiate that if I am in commonhold. Let us make sure that we make leasehold as economically viable and fair as possible, and I think you can only do that by coupling that with building regulation.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q I asked a really basic question of our witnesses in the first panel on Thursday last week about living in a household in a high-rise building. There is so much fear now, understandably, because of Grenfell and because of what you have all been through. It is hard to be quite rational. You are getting into the detail. As part of getting to trust the buildings that you live in, do you think more needs to be done to put out communications about safety of buildings and resident responsibility? We heard some quite compelling evidence that high rises and normal houses are equally problematic if certain things happen. Do you think there should be communication to build faith and trust, and a sense of safety as well?

Alison Hills:

Yes, I have to say that I think that would be helpful. When we found out about all the defects in our building, it was in the middle of lockdown, so we were stuck for 24 hours a day in a flat that was potentially unsafe. All these videos started coming out on Twitter about Grenfell, the fires and Kingspan. It was absolutely horrific, from a leaseholder’s perspective: people were genuinely frightened to send their children to sleep at night.

I cannot reiterate enough just how difficult that period was. That was one of the reasons that I made the decision to move out; I am lucky that I had that choice, but many others do not have it. Many are still putting their children to sleep at night in a building where they do not feel safe. Leaseholders absolutely need more support with that. They also need more mental health support, because we are just relying on each other at the moment. There is a very good cladding community, and the leaseholders have been a brilliant support—my MP Daisy, who is on the Committee, has been a brilliant support as well—but I think that the Government need to take more responsibility to support their constituents with the mental health impact. I cannot reiterate enough how difficult it has been.

Steve Day:

I think that leaseholders supporting each other is one thing, but you have to remember that the building safety fund has asked us to create all these reports showing all the defects. Unless someone comes and fixes those defects, the horse has bolted. The building safety fund reports show all these missing fire barriers, cavity barriers and internal fire stopping. If you check approved document B, getting the fixings wrong has a material impact on the fire rating of the external wall system.

Unfortunately, you have turned millions of people into fire experts. We now know what ADB says, and we now know that a small difference in the render thickness of our external wall systems can have a material impact on the fire rating. We know, when we look at the safety certificate from the British Board of Agrément for 100 products across the UK, that not meeting the exact specifications contravenes the certificate; the head of the BBA confirmed that, and I am grateful to him.

We know all that and we have all that information, yet not only have we been left to pay for it all, potentially, but we have all the worry of it. You cannot put that back in the box unless this is remediated. Unfortunately, in the leasehold community, we have been exposed to an awful lot of fire safety evidence that would lead us to believe that we are not in safe homes. Until the remediation is done, I just do not think that we can put it back in the box.

Alison Hills:

I have not specifically been asked a question about this, but another problem is that the building safety fund process has been very difficult. The fund only covers some defects in some buildings. We have been told that we are eligible, but we still cannot get any of the fund because there are a number of onerous contract terms. MHCLG and our managing agent have been at loggerheads over the contract terms for almost the past year, and we are in limbo with a huge potential bill of £200,000 hanging over our heads. That is just not an acceptable position to be in—we simply should not be in that position.

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

Q I think that you have started to answer my question, and thank you for your presentation on the polluter pays principle, but I want to go back to what is in the Bill for existing buildings. The new building safety regime applies to buildings of at least 11 metres in height or at least seven storeys. Do you think that it is right that in effect there is a height limitation defining the risk, or do you have an alternative suggestion? What else is not in the Bill’s scope that you think should be?

Alison Hills:

First of all, I do not think that there should be any height restrictions to the building safety fund. We have seen videos in which the 18-metre figure came up because the people making the decision did not have time to come up with a better figure. There does not seem to be any reason behind the 18-metre rule. The materials are still flammable in buildings under 18 metres; they can still catch fire, as we have seen.

In my view, the building safety fund needs to cover all heights of building and all defects, not just cladding. I have spoken to a shared owner in the London Olympic park who does not have any cladding on his building, but who is facing an £80,000 bill just for missing fire breaks and insulation. That is just an unacceptable position to be in. There are a number of fire safety defects that do not relate to cladding, and they should absolutely be covered.

Steve Day:

I would say, “Have a look at the materials.” We all accept that ACM cladding, linked to Grenfell of course, is dangerous, but you may not have realised that the Victorian Building Authority conducted a test last year and concluded that expanded polystyrene, because of very rapid vertical fire spread, ultimately creating fire pools that go down as well as up—not the pools, but the fire—was as dangerous as ACM. Why do we have this categorisation that ACM is the only dangerous cladding when EPS has been proved by the VBA to be as dangerous? That has implications on the 8414 tests because everyone knows that the grate is at the bottom of the rig. How do you test downward fire spread if the grate is there? It will just test upward, so there are issues there.

This is why I am always talking about trust. We need to get back to trusting our materials. We need to get back to having a large stick if the cladding manufacturers mis-sell products. In the aftermath of the Grenfell fire,181 samples failed combustibility tests. We need a big stick. The building industry and the construction industry are showing that they cannot be trusted, unfortunately. That is why we need full redress.

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

Q We have heard from both the housing associations, which of course manage both shared ownership and leasehold blocks, as well as social rent blocks, and from one of the private sector management organisations that there is a concern about access to flats. Of course, some leaseholders live in their flats and some have tenants in them. Do you think that the Bill does enough to ensure the safety of electrical and gas appliances in flats in non-communal parts of the building, or does this raise issues around privacy and rights for tenants and leaseholders?

Alison Hills:

Again, I think there needs to be clear definition in the Bill of how often access will be granted and for what reasons, how much notice will be given, and who will come into the property. There are so many unanswered questions in leaseholders’ minds at the moment, and it needs clear definition in the Bill, in my view. Otherwise, it potentially brings up privacy issues.

Steve Day:

Get rid of the gas boilers as quickly as we can. They are not great on high rises.

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

Q Your evidence, and the level of expertise that you have, has been astounding. I am glad that you mentioned the mental health aspect of it as well, because during covid we cannot imagine how it must have been. We took evidence on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, and what we have heard about what people have been through has been heart-rending, obviously with the pandemic on top of what has been going on.

I want to touch on residents’ engagement. It is hugely important. We saw that with Grenfell, and what was missing. Earlier witnesses said that the residents’ engagement section of the Bill is potentially one of the weakest parts. How do we strengthen residents’ voices, and the imbalance of power that exists? How would you reflect what residents need within the Bill to ensure that their voices are heard?

Steve Day:

We need to have very good transparency from our managing agents. Often we cannot see the reports that are about the safety of where we live. We cannot see the accounts to see that they are spending the money correctly. We are given a very high-level aggregate view that often does not check out to what we are paying, so that side of things needs to be transparent. There needs to be a lot of thought towards how residents are engaged as well. Not all residents have the inclination to get together and form a committee. How do you handle that? Do the managing agents pick on one person and say, “You’re responsible for it”? I think that could all be strengthened.

Alison Hills:

Luckily, in our block, our managing agent has been very forthcoming. We have regular meetings with them every two weeks. That position is quite lucky, but it took a lot of work to get to that point. A lot of leaseholders across the country have managing agents who do not share information, fire risk assessments and even evacuation plans. We have seen, particularly for disabled leaseholders, that some blocks do not have any evacuation plans at all. I think that is completely unacceptable.

Information sharing is the key point. Residents do have a right to see this information. It affects their lives; it affects their health and safety; and it affects their mental health. They need to know what to do in the event of a fire; they need to know what the defects are; and they need to know what the next steps are. As I said, my managing agents have been good with that, but many others have not.

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

Q My question has been slightly anticipated by the last one. I was going to ask about the residents’ voice and some of the challenges that you face, and you have already touched on the fact that you have found it hard to get accounts, reports and evacuation plans. One proposal that was put to us earlier, by another witness, was a suggestion that residents should have the right to have their voice heard, in some shape or other, on every single site. Would you support that proposal, and if so, how would you envisage that happening?

Alison Hills:

Yes, I think that would be very useful for residents. There are residents from all walks of life in all heights of building, and it is important that all their voices get heard. We are lucky: in our particular block, we have a very active residents committee; we are a very engaged set of leaseholders. But others might not understand about their building’s defects; they might not realise the whole situation that is affecting leaseholders. There are some, even in different blocks in my development, who do not realise the repercussions of the Building Safety Bill. I think this is just about information sharing and making sure that every block has a voice and every leaseholder has a chance to have their say. That is absolutely crucial.

Steve Day:

One thing that would have helped me with my investigations was the BBA certificates. It is charging hundreds of pounds to get that, and it is often very difficult. I think we have a right as residents, if we have this massively large building, to know what the safety certificate says about our external wall system, so I say: let’s put it all online. The BBA, I am sure, can get its money in other ways. Also, if we are trusting the construction industry to keep to regulations, and if a development does get judicially reviewed with our redress scheme, I would say: let’s have Parliament put the information online, perhaps in a brief form—the judgment and the fact that that developer thinks that plastic fixings are fine on firebreaks. Let’s put it online, on a parliamentary website or some form of official site, so that a development has the ability to shame the developer, the construction or the cladding manufacturer if they choose to basically say that something unsafe is safe. I think we do need something like that.

Alison Hills:

One of the positive aspects of the Bill is that there is a clause about mandatory keeping of records. That is absolutely crucial. It needs to be done—absolutely. Our developer cannot find the plans, for example, for our building. And that has happened across the board. There are so many leaseholders I have spoken to where they cannot contact the developers and they have just lost all the paperwork. How do you lose the building work paperwork? It just does not make any sense. But if there is a centralised system, it cannot get lost; it is all there, in black and white. And any leaseholder who wants to see it should have that right, because it does affect them. It is their home at the end of the day, and they need to know what the building safety issues are with their flats.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

If there are no further questions, may I, on behalf of the Committee, thank the witnesses for their evidence today? That brings us to the end of today’s sittings. The Committee will meet again on Thursday, for line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill. May I ask Committee members to leave the room promptly by the exit door and while observing social distancing? Thank you very much.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till Thursday 16 September at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

BSB21 Zurich Insurance

BSB22 Association of British Insurers (ABI)

BSB23 London Fire Brigade

BSB24 Long Harbour Ltd and HomeGround Management Ltd

BSB25 Steve Day (campaigner on the Polluter Pays principle)

BSB26 The Institute of Residential Property Management Limited