Blog Post

Labour’s Plans to Increase Home Ownership & Abolish the Leasehold System

The Labour Party will gather shortly at Liverpool to discuss the National Policy Forum’s report which is likely to form the basis of the manifesto for the next General Election.

Labour is seeking the support of aspirant home owners with proposals to guarantee the deposit of those who can obtain a mortgage. The party is concerned that the number of home owners is falling especially among young people.

The Leadership wants to see the proportion of all households who are home-owners reach 70%. The current rate is 65%. The last time it was 70% was in 2003. This target is therefore ambitious given the decline in wages and is dependent on a growing economy.

Labour will retain the Right to Buy for council tenants, though the discount rate will be reviewed. Council leaders will argue that this policy will not help their efforts to reduce the record numbers of homeless households in temporary accommodation.

Labour supports leasehold reform

The report sets out helpful polices to attract the support of the 4.86 million leaseholders who live in England and Wales. Scotland abolished their leasehold system in 2004.  Many leaseholders live in marginal constituencies.

Leaseholders do not own any bricks and mortar in their homes. They own the right to live in their property for a limited period. Once their lease runs out, they will become mere tenants if they do nothing. Service charges disputes are commonplace. Freeholders can recover their legal costs from leaseholders even if they lose at court. Virtually all the former UK colonies no longer have a leasehold system.

In 2002 Labour introduced the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act. This was designed to replace the leasehold system with commonhold. It failed due to opposition from many vested interests. 

There are only a handful of commonhold sites in England and Wales. Commonhold is not just for flats. It also applies to interdependent buildings with shared facilities and common parts. On the Isle of Shepey in Kent, the owner of a mobile home site gave the land via a commonhold company to the site residents who now manage the site themselves.

The Law Commission’s proposals to replace the feudal leasehold system with the modern commonhold tenure will be implemented in full at minimal cost to public funds. Commonhold will become the default tenure for flats.  Such proposals are very timely as the Government has decided to drop their own plans in this area. The Conservatives will deny that this is linked to nearly 40 % of their donations coming from developers.

Fire Safety

All leaseholders will be protected from the costs of remediating fire safety defects for cladding and non-cladding defects. All dangerous buildings will be identified, registered, and made safe. In September 2021 there were over 1000 unsafe buildings in London alone. The current government still does not know how many blocks are unsafe. The rate of remediation is painfully slow and there are non-qualifying leaseholders who are ineligible for help  under the 2022 Building Safety Act. Such proposals are welcome.  

The report refers to the rate of remediation being accelerated. However, there is no mention of who will pay for such work or how it will be carried out. This area needs to be sharpened up though the financial implications are challenging. 

Flat sales are falling due to the complexities around the Building Safety Act. Some conveyancers  will not act for leaseholders who are forced to sell at a loss at auctions. 

Further work needed

There are other problematic issues for home owners that need addressing. Shared ownership needs to be reformed. How can this be considered as a form of ownership when such residents can be evicted for two months’ worth of rent arrears and lose all any equity that they have built up?  There is currently a Commons Select Committee inquiry into shared ownership. It is likely to be critical.

The estate charges that house owners pay on unadopted private estates to volume builders are controversial. Home owners can lose their homes if they ignore such charges. These are known as fleecehold. The former Labour MP for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman produced an excellent 10-minute rule Bill in 2017 (see her YouTube video here).  Her Bill is outside the scope of the Law Commission’s work though the  Competition and Market Authority are in the process of investigating such charges.  

The situation for the owners of mobile homes is crying out for reform. They own the property but not the land it sits on. They have to pay 10% commission to the site owner if they wish to sell.

Attitude of Party members

Labour outside Westminster appears at times to have a cultural problem with owner occupied housing. Although leasehold reform has been in nearly all Labour election manifestos since the war, this issue has seldom been discussed at Labour conference. None of the progressive think tanks have produced reports on leasehold reform, though see this report by the Welsh Government. 

One of the reasons for the failure of the 2002 Act was the lack of support outside Parliament. Unfortunately, the work of the leasehold reformers such as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the National Leasehold Campaign and Commonhold Now are seldom discussed in Labour circles.


Labour will introduce a Take Back Control Act. This will devolve power away from London. It is not clear what the implications are for housing. The NPF envisage that new development corporation will lead in partnership with developers and local councils in the drive for building new homes. Will Sadiq Khan be empowered to require developers to introduce a commonhold scheme as envisaged in previous manifesto? Will “fleecehold residents “be able to require local councils to adopt communal facilities on their estates? 

The NPF report is strong on the need to build more homes. Potential home owners will be attracted to the Labour Party by the thought of a guaranteed deposit. However, doubts remain whether young people can obtain a mortgage when the average property in London costs over £600,000.  Reinvigorating commonhold will attract political support. The Labour leadership needs to provide support to Labour parliamentary candidates on how to campaign on leasehold reform.

Dermot Mckibbin is on the Executive Committee of Labour Housing Group, and will shortly become a member of the new Beckenham & Penge CLP

Blog Post

Review: Show me the Bodies – How we let Grenfell happen by Peter Apps

This is an excellent and harrowing account of the events of the night of 14 June 2017 and the relevant policy framework by a leading housing journalist. 72 residents lost their lives in the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower. We know from Part 1 of the now-published Grenfell Tower Inquiry that this tragic event should never have happened. Part 2 of the inquiry is in the process of being written. Once the final report is published, the police will announce what criminal charges if any will be brought. 

In successive chapters the author takes the reader through what happened on the night of the fire and the historical reasons for the fire. Below are summarised the key staggering conclusions that the author reaches. 

Peter correctly identifies the failure to properly respond to the fire at Lakanal House in South East London with fatal consequences. The inquest exposed major fire safety failures. The coroner wrote to the Government to ask for a review of the official fire safety guidance. She wanted the government to encourage greater use of the fire sprinkler system. The Coalition Government was too concerned with deregulation to take effective action: had they done so this tragedy would not have happened.

The Building Research Establishment were not asked by Government to carry out tests on the paneling at Lakanal House. However, the Metropolitan Police and the Fire Brigade approached the BRE to do so in December 2009.  The result of these tests was that the panels used on the walls burnt fiercely and did not meet the relevant safety standard.

Fire Brigade Commanders struggled with managing the fire on 14 June. Communication systems failed which had been at fault in 2009. A paper system was relied upon to communicate between incident commanders and firefighters. The Brigade had no effective plan to deal with a major fire at this 24-storey block.

There was an over-rigid reliance on the “staying put “policy whereby residents were told to remain in their flats until fire fighters could rescue them. The fire and the smoke were too intense and toxic to allow firefighters to get to all floors in this 24-storey tower block. Nor was there an effective Plan B if the staying put policy failed. 

Part 1 of the inquiry has recommended the introduction of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. 37 of the Tower block residents when the fire broke out were disabled: they could not be evacuated unaided. Fifteen of them died in the fire. Despite Ministers saying that they would implement all Inquiry recommendations, the Government will shortly have to defend its refusal to make such plans mandatory in the High Court. 

There were numerous failures by the landlord, Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation. Warnings from residents were ignored as were various fire safety notices served on the Tenant Management Company by the London Fire Brigade There were major problems with the self-closing mechanisms for the fire safety doors that an independent fire safety consultant failed to spot.

The tower block was fitted with Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) cladding. ACM is effectively two thin sheets of aluminum held together by a plastic core. The plastic bonding the metals together is polyethylene. This is made from petroleum. It is highly flammable. The manufacturers knew from tests carried out in 2004 that this was the case. They concealed these results from their customers and lobbied Government for less regulation.

There was one civil servant, Brian Martin, who was responsible for fire safety policy in residential buildings. He knew all about the dangers of ACM cladding. He had the difficult job of trying to advise Ministers who were committed to deregulation and austerity cuts. Prime Minister David Cameron pledged in a speech in January 2012 to ‘wage war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British business’.

At the inquiry on 30 March 2022, Brain Martin is quoted as saying there were ‘a number of occasions where I could have potentially prevented this [ the fire] from happening.’ ‘What I will say is that the approach the government-successive governments had to regulation had had an impact on the way we worked, the resources we had available, the mindset that we’d adopted as a team, and myself in particular. I think, as a result of that, I ended up being the single point of failure in the department… For that I’m bitterly sorry.’

But for covid, fire safety would have been the major political issue of the day. The Government has partly improved the fire safety regime via the 2022 Building Safety Act. Remarkably the United Kingdom still appears to be only one of two countries in the world that still allows planning permission to be granted for blocks with only one stairwell

All Labour activists should read this book. It shows up the failure of Government policy to have effective fire safety policies due to an ideological commitment to deregulation. It will make you angry.

Dermot Mckibbin is a member of the National Leasehold Campaign, a supporter of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and writes a blog on He is also a member of LHG Executive Committee.  

Blog Post

The battle for evacuation plans, so we can live safely in our homes

Who Are CLADDAG and Why Were We Set Up?

We are a Leaseholder Disability Action Group, campaigning on issues impacting disabled leaseholders trapped in the cladding and building safety crisis scandal. In the absence of any group representing disabled leaseholders, we set up CLADDAG in December 2020. This was after Sarah Rennie saw a blog I had written for Greater Manchester Housing Action, about disabled leaseholders not being included within the conversation. At that time, it seemed that our existence wasn’t recognised.

We campaign hard and aim to improve disabled representation, within campaigning, discussions and the media. This is about increasing visibility, as well as highlighting issues specific to us.

We use the term ‘disabled’ loosely in the aim of being inclusive. Many people with health conditions don’t identify as disabled. This might include deaf or older people for example.

Whilst we are disabled leaseholders and there are specific issues related to leasehold, we recognise that many impacts us the same as other leaseholders. Also, that some issues that impact us, affect disabled people across housing tenures. So as allies, we work with individuals, groups and organisations, across all categories with common aims. We learn from each other and by uniting, our combined strength increases our influence. 

Our Campaign and Our Asks

In May 2022, the Government announced it would not be implementing Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs), although it had previously committed to doing so.  A PEEP is a plan that helps people who cannot self-evacuate in the event of a fire, which could include a knock at their door or equipment such as a device alerting a deaf person that the fire alarm is going off. The Grenfell Inquiry made important recommendations for their implementation and they also received overwhelming support (87% in favour) from the Government consultation on PEEPs. The Home Office had secret meetings with private lobbyists who raised concerns which led them to this decision, based on ‘practicality,’ ‘proportionality,’ and ‘safety,’ but with no underpinning evidence.

Following the announcement, another consultation on Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS) was launched, which doesn’t resemble PEEPs and is clearly an inappropriate standalone alternative. This closed in August 2022. 

So not only was anyone given the opportunity to respond to these concerns, but the Fire Minister, referred to disabled people as ‘getting in the way of others’ during evacuations. Such throwaway comments have been used by many throughout these consultations. Others include, ‘you should be living on the ground floor,’ being referred to as ‘those people,’ ‘evacuation chairs get in the way of everyone,’ ‘equipment is too expensive,’  ‘the Grenfell fire was rare, so the risk is low’ They aren’t easy spaces to engage in generally and is why many disabled people are reluctant to or refuse to. 

Focusing so much on cost, with no projected evidenced based costs, is a typical tactic, to make us appear unreasonable, reinforced by flippant comments, so that not only do we feel inconvenient and a burden, but others about us do too. How much is a disabled life worth?

When you look at the timeline from the Grenfell fire in 2017 (which caused the deaths of 40% of the disabled residents living in the tower at the time), it was in 2018 that the Grenfell Inquiry recommended the Government enact PEEPs. Now we’re still in a situation where nothing has been decided, following three consultations. The relatives of Sakina Afrasebi, a disabled woman who died in the Grenfell fire, took the Home Office to Judicial Review in 2020, as the first consultation was on a watered down version of PEEPs. This led to the second consultation on PEEPs. 

It feels that the human aspect is often overlooked, especially when discussing such issues often coldly in online meetings and some questions on forms being tick box questions. 

For over five years the fight for fire safety equality continues. So there was no alternative, but to request a judicial review, as the only way of holding the Government to account on their decision, which we find discriminatory. On equality grounds, people should not be prevented from evacuating a building if they wish to, at the same time as their neighbours, only because they have a disability or are pregnant for example.

Our application was granted, stating that we have an arguable case, and the hearing is due to be held later this year. In order for us to be able to do this, we need to reach our crowdfunding target towards legal costs, in case we lose. Our legal team are working on a ‘no win,’ ‘no fee’ basis. 

Equality in evacuation has become our current main focus, while most of us are currently in limbo, waiting to see if the Building Safety Act will cover our homes. This is going to take years to complete, so the most urgent issue is equality to means of escape. 

In our overall campaign, we join with our allies to demand three actions:

  1. Ensure disabled leaseholders live in accessible homes of their choice, unimpeded by the building safety crisis.
  2. Protect disabled leaseholders from the costs resulting from remedial safety works.
  3. Provide disabled leaseholders with aids and equipment for safe evacuation.

Escalated related costs are wholly infeasible for all leaseholders. However, disabled and older people are more likely to be supported by state benefits or pensions. Such restricted incomes massively impact ability to fund remediation costs, including insurance hikes. Some of our flats are more than a home and in a sense are also a care setting, as they’ve been adapted for our needs, e.g. wet room installation, ceiling tracking for hoists. For others, their conditions have progressed, meaning they need to move somewhere accessible, but they are stuck, unable to sell.

The majority of disabled people we represent do not have PEEPs to evacuate their homes, many of which are in highly dangerous blocks of flats. Managing agents are reluctant or refuse to discuss disabled leaseholders’ needs.    

Local and National Campaigning

From grassroots to national organisations, we’ve worked with numerous campaign groups, fire experts, politicians, fire and rescue services, unions and will continue to do so. We’ve had huge media coverage, partnered with organisations including Grenfell United, Disability Rights UK and Social Housing Action Campaign, as well as End Our Cladding Scandal and local groups under that umbrella, such as Manchester Cladiators. We’ve also met with local councils.

This has all come at a huge negative impact on our physical and mental health, but we do what we can, when we can. We know what it’s like to live in unsafe homes, which currently isn’t physically or financially secure, but the opposite. Combined with the fact that most disabled people are denied access to a PEEP, means our situations are confounded. It’s on your mind constantly, no matter what you do and where you go. There is literally no escape. People advise you to take time out, switch off and rest, but how is that realistic? 

Trust in all associated companies and services has been lost, which will take decades to repair. I live in a midrise block, informed of fire safety issues in 2019, including timber cladding and balconies and compartmentation issues. 

For too long ‘stay put’ as a strategy has not even been discussed publicly. It’s taken a devastating fire where so many lives were lost for this to come to light. I hadn’t previously questioned it, even having a disabled mother, in all the jobs I had working with disabled people and unexpectedly becoming disabled myself as an adult.

People contact us with all sorts of harrowing experiences. They are scared and also angry that this is even a fight. It should never have come to this. 

Our asks for Labour’s policies 

Therefore, within this crisis and alongside others, including the cost of living crisis, our contribution and focus, as part of all this, is mainly in the fight for PEEPs. Sadly, fire safety inequality is yet another example of how the government views our lives as less ‘worthy.’ Finally, I urge the Labour Party to incorporate our three demands into policy and support our legal battle.

We #DemandBetter #EnoughIsEnough

Please donate if you can.

Twitter: @Claddag

Facebook: @LeaseholderDAG

<strong>Georgie Hulme</strong>
Georgie Hulme

Georgie Hulme is a leaseholder at the Life Buildings in Hulme and a campaigner with the Manchester Cladiators.

Georgie co-founded the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, which has relentlessly advocated in the media, in the community and in the courts for disabled and older people impacted by Building Safety Crisis

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Fire safety still a major concern for residents three years after Grenfell tragedy

The Fire Safety Bill has passed its second reading in Parliament but not without bringing the fears of multi-occupancy residents back to the centre of the housing safety conversation.

The bill seeks to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, to clarify which parts of buildings are covered by requirements to manage and reduce the risk of fire by responsible owners. Whilst the bill makes necessary changes to fire safety law, it does not go far enough to meet the Government’s pledge to prevent another Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published the findings of a survey into the progress of remediation work to improve fire safety in residential buildings.

The survey found residents continue to face bills of thousands of pounds for remedial or safety measures for a range of issues including combustible cladding, inadequate fire breaks and timber balconies or walkways. It also found that out of 1,352 respondents, 70% said they still had combustible cladding on their building.

Residents of multi-occupancy households have called on the Government to go further in its efforts to improve fire safety. Further to the £1 billion Building Safety Fund announced in the 2020 Spring Budget, residents have called for a pledge to ensure that all forms of dangerous cladding be removed and other safety defects dealt with.

During the 2nd reading of the Fire Safety Bill, I raised concerns of a constituent who had expressed fears to me regarding a tower block in a neighbouring constituency that was covered in combustible cladding which the landlord was refusing to remove.

The survey conducted by the HCLG committee has given us an insight into the reality of the fear thousands of people face across the country following the Grenfell Tragedy. As we have seen in the previous three years, where a loophole exists some will exploit it, despite the risk posed to residents.

One respondent to the survey said:

“I have highly flammable insulation, missing fire breaks, missing compartmentation, poorly fitted fire protection to the structural steel and poorly fitted fire doors. I fear for my life on a daily basis.”

As many raised during the Fire Safety Bill debate, the Government needs to do much more to ensure the safety of residents in multi-occupancy residences. Like many colleagues pointed out in the debate, the Grenfell Tower tragedy was one that should have been avoided.

As part of my role on the HCLG I will be continuing to hold the Government and industry to account over its failings to support residents in feeling safe in their own homes, so that we never have to experience such a devastating and preventable loss of life again.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Abena Oppong-Asare</span></strong>
Abena Oppong-Asare

Abena Oppong-Asare is the Member of Parliament for Erith and Thamesmead. She was elected as MP in December 2019 and has since been appointed to the Shadow Treasury Team as PPS to Anneliese Dodds.

Abena also sits on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee with specific interests in affordable housing and local government funding.