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Dangerous cladding: The government must end this crisis now

As Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, I am extremely concerned about the remediation of unsafe cladding on residential blocks and the impact this is having on leaseholders.

I have been contacted by pregnant women trapped in dangerous flats, elderly people unable to move into retirement accommodation and families on the brink of bankruptcy after receiving five-figure bills for a problem they did not cause. These are just a few of the heart-breaking stories now common across the country.

Because the government response has been so painfully slow, hundreds of thousands of leaseholders across the country remain trapped in unsafe blocks during a third lockdown, facing increasing interim costs. When you look at the knock-on effects, including those unable to sell or re-mortgage their property, the number of people affected is much higher.

Broken Tory promises

This week, the government announced another package of measures to try to fix the cladding scandal. While headline-grabbing figure of £3.5 billion is a huge victory for Labour and the campaigners across the country who have worked tirelessly on this, it will not protect many leaseholders from mounting debt.

For many of the people affected by this crisis, this latest announcement will feel like a betrayal. On at least 17 occasions, government ministers promised that leaseholders will not be left with the bill.

Sadly, these promises have been broken by this week’s announcement, which includes the detail that funds to fix buildings will only be given to those over 18 metres tall – and the residents of lower buildings will be forced to take out loans to pay to fix fire safety problems. You can watch my speech here.

This is not the first time that leaseholders have been let down in this this crisis. A year ago, the Chancellor said, “all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed from every private and social residential building above 18 metres high.” This has not happened. Buildings haven’t been able to access the fund. Nine of every ten pounds has not been paid out.

Many of these problems stem from a refusal to properly evaluate the risks. Three and a half years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster, the government still has not done a proper investigation of the number of buildings involved, the risks or the cost of reducing that risk. Until we know the scale and nature of the problem, any response will be ineffectual.

Labour’s plan

I am leading Labour’s response to this problem and am working with campaigners and specialists from across this country – and in other countries too – to get justice for those affected.

Last week I forced a vote in Parliament calling on the Government to: urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk; provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately; and protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis. I am disappointed the government did not back the motion, they chose to abstain – despite many backbench Tory MPs speaking out to protect leaseholders in their constituencies.

I believe the UK Government must establish a National Cladding Taskforce to address unsafe cladding and protect leaseholders from the costs of remediation. The Taskforce should be underpinned with strong powers to establish the full extent of dangerous materials on buildings, prioritise them according to risk and ensure there is enforcement against those who refuse to undertake works. It must be backed with up-front funding and include a legally enforceable deadline of 2022 to make all homes safe. There is more on Labour’s plan here.

What’s next?

I spoke about the problems faced by leaseholders on Question Time last week, when a member of the audience spoke about how she is trapped in an unsafe flat, with no end in sight. I will be doing all I can to keep the pressure up and spur the government into action.

The next opportunity to force further changes out of the government will come on 24 February, when the Fire Safety Bill comes back to the Commons.

This date will be a chance for the Government to reflect on the failing of their latest announcement and bring forward a set of legally binding commitments to deliver on the promises they made to leaseholders. 

I am hopeful that Conservative backbenchers will also see sense and vote with us. I am particularly encouraged by the response from some Tories this week, who were vocal in their disappointment with Robert Jenrick’s latest announcement.

Last week, Keir Starmer challenged Boris Johnson on this during Prime Minister’s Questions. Justice for all those affected will continue to be one of my top priorities over the coming weeks and months.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Thangam Debbonaire </span></strong>
Thangam Debbonaire

Thangam Debbonaire is the Labour Member of Parliament for Bristol West and
Shadow Secretary of State for Housing.

6 replies on “Dangerous cladding: The government must end this crisis now”

It is important that campaigning to remove dangerous cladding continues. You would not keep anything bought that had a recall notice or something
that is not fit for purpose or dangerous would you? So why is dangersou cladding suddenly exempt from recall notices and not fit for purpose/dangersou goods laws.

Unfortunately replacing dangerous cladding is only the tip of the iceberg. Lack of effective enforcement has resulted in the majority of housing built over the past 50 years not complying fully with building regulations. The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership has proposed the government issue a bond to cover the cost of remedial works, to be funded by a levy on housing developers. Is it not about time that home buyers were given an appropriate level of consumer protection enforced by a truly independent ombudsman?

This started as The Cladding Scandal. It has evolved into so much more. With the known fire-safety defects (eg. absent or compromised firebreaks, flammable insulation, wooden balconies and more), it’s now The Building Safety Crisis. The longer the government delays, the greater the interim costs (eg. waking watch, hiked insurance premiums) become. The longer they delay, the more leaseholders will fall into financial ruin and suffer mental welfare issues. LKP (Dean Buckner supported by Sir Bob Neill) has made a funding proposal which places the cost on those who should pay and those who can afford to pay. Loans for freeholders who will pass repayments onto leaseholders via the Service Charge is not a viable solution – it will only serve to devalue properties on that rung of the property ladder thereby devaluing properties on the rungs above.

Good luck with your efforts to make this myopic government see sense.

There are several businesses already setup that could rapidly gather the relevant data and assess the risks, New Build Database and Building Safety Register are two such businesses that have been offering to support for a while, would be happy to work together and would greatly reduce the lead time to launch this initiative.

It pays sometimes to think outside the box but I don’t know if I have strayed too far……..
Given that the high rise developments with flammable cladding are “worthless” whether for the leaseholders or the freeholders, it seems ridiculous to pour money into the coffers of the developers or freeholders.
SO…
Why should they all not be “nationalised” without compensation (they are worthless after all) and placed in a “high-rise trust” company which could then undertake the work at pubic expense. The lease rentals would be paid into the trust without any premium at leaseholders could convert to tenants if they preferred.
This way the cost of the upgrading of the buildings would be offset by the rental or lease income and eventually the properties could be transferred to housing associations or the local councils.
If this idea could go anywhere after much more consideration and examination it might provide the Labour Party with an alternative and radical policy??

Fist time buyers thought they had their first foothold on the property ladder. They have made a herculean effort to scrape together a deposit for a mortgage and are not rich, and will probably have a taken advantage of the Help to Buy Scheme along with student loans to pay back. It is criminal to think that the Government is proposing to burden them with even more dept. They are not a Sinking fund for the Governments incompetence. Don’t let all their hopes and dreams turn into ashes!

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