Leaseholders caught up in cladding crisis call for homegrown solution to sky-high bills
Leaseholders will protest this weekend over huge cladding bills as they call for the government to adopt their own solution to the cladding crisis. They say the £5.1bn fund and the levy confirmed in Rishi Sunak’s Budget aren’t enough.
The Polluter Pays Bill has been developed by residents to offer a mechanism that will make property developers pay to fix unsafe housing they developed. Image: Reece Lipman
Leaseholders have warned ministers a £5.1bn fund and a new levy won’t be enough to solve the cladding crisis and urged them to back their homegrown solution.
The Building Safety Bill passed through the committee stage in Westminster on Tuesday after eight days of debate over the government’s solution to the long-running problem of who should pay to fix unsafe homes.
The government has come up with a £5.1bn Building Safety Fund, confirmed in Rishi Sunak’s Budget, to replace dangerous cladding plus a residential property developers tax expected to raise £2bn and a building safety levy to raise £500m to pay for a solution. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee estimates full remediation costs could reach £15bn.
With some leaseholders facing bills of more than £100,000 to fix their homes, residents living at Royal Artillery Quays (RAQ) in Woolwich, south-east London, have been working on the Polluter Pays Bill to protect themselves and others from bankruptcy and homelessness.
RAQ residents have looked to the polluters pay principle which would enable the government to pursue remediation and interim fire safety costs from developers and other responsible parties without time limitation while saving taxpayers from the bill to fix homes.
Steve Day, a representative of the RAQ residents, told The Big Issue ongoing talks with the government has given him hope their solution will work.
“Regarding the Polluter Pays amendment, we have made great progress working directly with Lord Greenhalgh and his officials last week,” Day told The Big Issue.
“The levies left on their own won’t bring in enough money to resolve the crisis. Levies are also unfair as builders that keep to regulations pay alongside those that don’t, continuing the race to the bottom in the industry which we desperately need to stop.
“Polluter pays will ensure going forward that building regulations are adhered to or the wrongdoers will pay in full. There isn’t another option on the table without making the taxpayer and leaseholders pick up a tab they shouldn’t be paying.”
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh has previously told the House of Lords the government is “looking very carefully” at Day’s solution and the Polluter Pays Bill has attracted further support from other quarters.
That support includes Daniel Greenberg, a lawyer responsible for drafting government bills, who said the Polluter Pays Bill is “hopefully on course to bring in a workable legislative solution”.
Day added: “We’ve had wide support from industry, the Church of England, the Sunday Times and many MPs and Peers. It may involve more work than implementing a tax, but let’s get this done and ensure we reform construction for generations to come.”
However, housing minister Christopher Pincher showed the government is keen to stick to the guns over their own solutions as he rejected another amendment tabled by Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper in Tuesday’s debate.
The minister shot down the proposal, calling it “slow and costly”.
“I’m afraid to say I won’t be able to accept the clause today because I believe it is unnecessary as the intention of the amendment is already being met,” said Pincher.
“We certainly believe that those who have the broadest shoulders and those who are responsible for the defects affecting a great many buildings will pay their way.
“We believe this amendment will not work because implementing it will be costly and slow, disproportionate to the financial returns and their timely receipt and the government will need to create a new administrative board to manage the fund. The amendment also risks significant and protracted legal challenges brought by the mortgage and insurance industries.”
The government’s £5.1bn Building Safety Fund has so far seen remediation works underway or completed on 689 high-rise buildings to remove ACM cladding – the combustible material that was instrumental in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, according to Pincher.
The housing minister added that work is currently underway to evaluate how many buildings between 11-18 metres in height also need support and that will inform the “final solution we land upon”.
As well as the Polluter Pays Bill proposed by residents, Labour have suggested their own solutions to the issue and called for a Building Safety Work Agency to speed up the remediation process.
Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Mike Amesbury said the “crack team of building safety experts” must go “block by block” before pursuing those responsible for using the cladding in the first case.
Amesbury added: “The Government’s toothless enforcement is letting building owners off the hook for failing to fix unsafe cladding.
Angry leaseholders will hold demonstrations all around the country in a national day of action on October 30 calling for a solution to the crisis.
Action for Fire Safety Justice is leading the movement, warning that the mental strain residents are facing over cladding and fire defect bills and living in unsafe homes is pushing many to breaking point.
Steph Pike, an affected leaseholder who is organising the rally in Bristol, said: “Each night, I go to sleep terrified of the thought of a fire breaking out, wondering if I’d be able to escape and even more terrified by the prospect of impending bankruptcy.
“Because if I get a bill for £70,000, I won’t be able to pay it. I am by no means unique in this situation. This is happening all over the United Kingdom right now, to hundreds of thousands of flat owners who are leaseholders.”