New Clause 13 - Assessment of the impact of Act on access to mortgage finance

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 26th October 2021.

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“(1) Within one year of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must carry out a review of the impact of the provisions of this Act on access to mortgage finance for leaseholders.

(2) The review shall be laid before each House of Parliament.

(3) The review must consider the impact of building safety issues, confidence in the building safety industry and the impact of Government advice on building safety given since 14 July 2017 on—

(a) the availability and cost of mortgages and related financial services for leaseholders in the UK;

(b) difficulties accessing mortgage finance on the wellbeing of leaseholders; and

(c) the impact on the housing and housing finance markets.

(4) The review must recommend what industry changes and Government action are necessary to improve accessibility to mortgage finance for leaseholders.”—

This new clause would ensure that the Government publish an assessment considering the impact of the building safety crisis on leaseholder access to mortgage finance and its impact on the wider housing market.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 13 would ensure that the Government look into the impact on access to mortgage finance and make recommendations to Parliament on policy changes. Some estimates of the number of properties affected by this scandal put it at 1.3 million flats, and some indications suggest a cooling effect on the market for flats—up to 60% compared with three years ago.

Over the weekend, the Bank of England announced that it is looking into the potential impact on mortgage providers and their ability to cope with the crisis should leaseholders be unable to keep up their mortgage payments—something leaseholders across the country have told me they are increasingly worried about given the costs pushed on to their shoulders by the crisis. It is therefore vital that the Government and the Minister seek to properly understand the impact of allowing the current situation to continue, in terms of both the effect on the overall property market and the devastating consequences for individual leaseholders. The Minister will point to the Government’s interventions—several interventions now—that announced the unlocking of the market by trying to create restrictions on which buildings need EWS1 forms and require remediation. The evidence suggests that those announcements have not worked.

It is clear that the market is still making its own decisions, with the media reporting only weeks ago that several of the UK’s largest mortgage lenders still require some buildings under 18 metres to obtain the EWS1 surveys. Some lenders have previously stated that they are waiting for the Government to withdraw advice note 14—something that the former Secretary of State promised would be coming within weeks at the start of last month, alongside everything that the Government need to do. However, it has not arrived.

The impact of the market impasse on the lives of individual leaseholders can be huge. Without being able to move, leaseholders are putting off having families, as has been documented throughout the passage of the Bill so far. Some are forced to sell their property at a discount to predatory cash buyers, and some even declare bankruptcy. Thanks to the slow roll-out of the building safety fund and the fact that the Government have still not announced the details of the loan scheme, more than eight months after it was first announced, leaseholders are trapped worrying that they will be left paying remediation costs—many are getting the bills as we speak.

The new Secretary of State has said he will look afresh at the situation, to ensure that the Department is doing everything it can to support leaseholders. I urge Ministers to accept the new clause, so that a full review can be carried out on what decisive Government action must be taken to fix this mess.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

To respond to something that the hon. Gentleman said earlier—that we might return to some matters in the future—the future, like the past, is another country. We will see what the Report stage has to offer us.

I can assure the Committee that the Government are working with industry to unlock the mortgage market for those in leasehold flats, to ensure that lenders act in a proportionate and sensible way. We are conscious that there are flat owners who cannot sell their properties and who remain stuck in them because of the excessive industry caution. Such people should not feel that they are living in homes that are unsafe.

To assess the effect of EWS1 on the market, we have secured an agreement from banks and building societies to publish aggregate lender EWS1 data, so that homeowners can see how the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ EWS1 guidance is being applied and the effect of the process on mortgage applications, and we will continue to challenge industry on the inappropriate use of EWS1 forms. We have seen the expert advice that we received earlier this year from Dame Judith Hackitt and Ken Knight, who said that the use of EWS1 forms has got out of proportion. The degree of risk aversion is out of proportion, and it needs to be brought back into proportion—for example, EWS1 forms should not be used for buildings beneath 18 metres in height.

That advice has been accepted by a number of lenders to whom we have spoken, but to support the sector as we transition into a new regime, we have commissioned the British Standards Institute to produce a publicly available specification, the PAS 9980, which is a code of practice for professionals undertaking external wall assessments. That will provide a standard for professionals to follow, encouraging a consistency in approach that we have not seen to date. When it is published by the BSI, it will set out a methodology for professionals to follow and explain when a detailed assessment of an external wall is necessary. That code of practice will set out a methodology for professionals to follow, enabling us to withdraw the consolidated advice note to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The flexibility that we want is in line with our overall message on proportionality and the work that we are doing to ensure that more proportionate assessments of the external wall are carried out.

The Committee is well aware of the funds that the Government have allocated to high-rise buildings above 18 metres, and of the support that we are proposing to provide for buildings below 18 metres and above 11 metres, on which more detail will follow. Support will also be provided as a result of the Bill’s passage. We are considering how residents’ voices can be further strengthened in the remediation process. I will perhaps be able to say more about that at a later date, but we are minded to increase the voice of residents.

The Government also recognise and understand that construction professionals are struggling to obtain adequate professional indemnity insurance. We will continue to encourage the market to provide greater availability of adequate PII, and we will also make sure that our in extremis backstop measures are in place.

In view of the measures that we have already undertaken to encourage a more proportionate approach by industry, and the Government funding that we have made available so that residents and leaseholders have the peace of mind that they desire, I trust that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale will recognise that the new clause is unnecessary and that he will withdraw it.

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

Although we will withdraw the new clause, we may come back to this issue on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.