New Clause 22 - Assessment of the impact of building safety issues on shared ownership

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 26th October 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out a review of how the following issues impact on leaseholders of shared ownership leases—

(a) building safety issues,

(b) the amount of funding provided to the social housing to remediate buildings with combustible cladding, and

(c) rules surrounding shared ownership schemes and subletting, and the impact of advice given by his Department on building safety given since 14 July 2017.

(2) The review shall assess whether the issues listed in subsection (1)(a) to (c) has impacted on—

(a) costs incurred by leaseholders of shared ownership leases for remediation and other building safety related costs,

(b) access to mortgage finance by leaseholders of shared ownership leases, and

(c) the mental health and wellbeing of leaseholders of shared ownership leases.

(3) The review must make a recommendation as to whether Government action is necessary to—

(a) ensure adequate transparency is readily provided for leaseholders of shared ownership leases in relation to building safety issues,

(b) ensure future confidence in shared ownership schemes, and

(c) encourage increased rates of leaseholders purchasing remaining shares of their shared ownership lease home.

(4) A report setting out the conclusions of the review as set out in subsection (1) must be laid before each House of Parliament no later than 3 months after the day on which this Act is passed.

‘shared ownership lease’ has the same meaning as in section 76(3) of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.”—(Mike Amesbury.)

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.

The very notion of shared ownership implies to me—and I am sure to others in Committee—an element of joint responsibility. Yet it is abundantly clear that, when it comes to picking up the remediation costs to fix a plethora of faults throughout the landscape of shoddy development, there is nothing shared about it. I know that Ministers and departmental officials will have seen the emails, letters and case studies, many of them exposed by the media, that shine a light on the desperation of many residents in shared ownership properties. I was recently made aware of one such building in London, which was covered in flammable cladding and has wooden decking. It is under 18 metres, so leaseholders are not covered by the Bill. They are not classed as high risk. A bill for £85,000 per household from their housing association has just landed through their doors. Some residents own as little as 25% of their flat, but risk being responsible for 100% of the cost.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree—from what he was saying, I think he does—that the Government must address this iniquity in shared ownership, where shared owners own only a proportion of their flat yet are responsible for 100% of the cost? Does he also agree that for constituents such as mine, fire safety has been a crisis? They were evacuated from their homes at a week’s notice by their social rent landlord from a property built by Berkeley Group. They are homeless, and they cannot get on the housing ladder, even though the housing association has been able to repay them the market cost of the share they own. Does he agree that that is wholly iniquitous?

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

I do agree with my hon. Friend. That is a horrendous case and I hope things are resolved in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, elsewhere in the country, people who own as little as 10% of their flat face astonishing costs. Again, this is despite the Government’s statement that buildings under 18 metres do not generally meet the definition of high risk. This situation requires a rethink of not only how the current crisis is impacting shared ownership leaseholders, but how our shared ownership system is set up and how risks are communicated to shared ownership leaseholders. Shared ownership should mean shared responsibility, not a grotesque responsibility put on people, often on low incomes, that will prevent their being able to join the housing market in other ways, trying to get a foothold on the property ladder, or indeed staircase, into full ownership.

This new clause would ensure that the Government look holistically at the impact of the crisis on shared ownership and their response to it. It would also ensure that the Government provide transparency on the potential building safety implications of shared ownership contracts and reinstate confidence in the shared ownership system.

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

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising an important point. He is right to draw attention to the effect of building safety issues on leaseholders who purchased their home on a shared ownership basis. However, I do not think that this new clause is necessary, as the Government are already taking decisive action to support building owners to make their buildings safe without passing unavoidable costs to leaseholders of whatever type or tenure.

The Government, as the hon. Gentleman will know, are committed to providing grant funding for the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings of 18 metres and over in England. Shared ownership leaseholders can benefit from that funding on the same terms as other leaseholders. Fire risk is lower in buildings under 18 metres, and costly remediation work is usually not needed, as we have heard from the evidence provided by Dame Judith Hackitt and Sir Ken Knight, the former chief fire officer, earlier this year. Where fire risks are identified, they should always be managed, but managed proportionately.

We are looking closely at the specific issue of the 11 to 18-metre cohort to ensure that everything is being done to protect and support leaseholders, including those who purchased their home on a shared ownership basis. We will bring forward further detail on the support offer for leaseholders in those residential buildings once all the options have been fully considered; we have collected more data, as I may have said previously here and certainly mentioned in the Chamber yesterday.

I appreciate that not all building safety issues relate to unsafe cladding. However, long-standing, independent safety advice has been clear that it is unsafe cladding that poses the greatest risk to buildings because it can fuel a fire. The Government’s approach prioritises action on the risks of unsafe cladding as the costs of remediating it are high and the risks posed are also very high.

That does not mean, however, that we absolve building owners of their responsibilities to ensure that their buildings are safe—far from it. They should continue to pursue all routes to meet the costs, protecting leaseholders from costs where they can. We voted on and agreed to that following our discussion of earlier clauses. We have introduced proposals for a residential property developers tax and for a levy—also a means of ensuring that those who can and should pay do pay.

The new clause refers specifically to the rules around subletting. Let me tell the hon. Member for Weaver Vale that I will be happy to consider how we might make it easier for shared owners affected by building safety issues to sublet their homes when that would help them. That will, of course, depend partly on the acquiescence of their mortgage lender, if they have one. I will have a look at that issue for him.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue of access to mortgage finance. Earlier this year—in July, I think—the Department published an expert statement saying that we do not think there is any systemic risk of fire in buildings under 18 metres, so EWS1 forms should not be required by lenders for those buildings. We have had positive feedback from a number of lenders on that.

The Government introduced a new model of shared ownership in April; it is being delivered through the 2021 to 2026 affordable homes programme that I referred to earlier. That will ensure that shared ownership is more consumer friendly, easier to access and fairer, and leads to a better experience for a future generation of shared owners. The new model of shared ownership reduces the minimum initial share required for purchase to just 10%, down from 25%, and implements a 10-year period during which the landlord will support shared owners with the costs of maintenance and repairs on new build homes. That will certainly encourage shared ownership.

In the roll-out of the new affordable homes programme, the first £8 billion of the strategic partnership funding has been successfully allocated, which suggests that our strategic partners—local authorities, but largely housing associations—see the opportunities that the new model provides and are prepared to build new shared-ownership properties at affordable prices for more people.

We believe that shared ownership will continue to play a vital role in helping more people to realise their ambition to own their own home; that is why we are investing heavily in it and reforming it. It is also why we are determined to make sure that funding is available to protect shared owners from the unaffordable costs arising from the need to replace unsafe cladding.

In light of the assurances and reassurances that I have tried to provide the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will withdraw the motion.

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

I welcome the Minister’s assurance and comments on actually doing an assessment of the subletting landscape; opportunities may exist in future. We might come back to the whole area of shared ownership, not only on Report but at other stages of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.