Government asked to intervene over leaseholder costs

Government asked to intervene over leaseholder costs

A CROSS party group of MPs called on the government to ‘intervene’ for leaseholders in tower blocks who face ‘huge bills to remove dangerous cladding’.

Inside Housing reported on the group’s call for intervention in a parliamentary debate this week, with several Conservative, Labour and Scottish National Party MPs asking the government to ‘take responsibility for the costs of removing cladding from private tower blocks’. Residents in the Citiscape complex in Croydon were told recently that they would have to pay £31,300 per flat to fund cladding removal and replacement.

The building is owned by Proxima GR Properties, which stated it is ‘not its responsibility’ to pay for the removal and replacement of cladding that failed the government’s fire safety tests undertaken after the Grenfell Tower fire. The £2m bill works out at £31,300 per flat, and the company has ‘denied responsibility’ in paying towards the work, stating that the recladding will only take place ‘once full funds are in place’. Last October, residents had received letters saying that they would have to pay £5,000 to £6,000 per flat to replace the cladding.

Five months ago the government told the company to remove the cladding, while last month Sajid Javid, the housing, communities and local government secretary, said that the landlord ‘was responsible for ensuring resident’s safety’. A tribunal relating to the building heard in February that cladding would not be removed until costs were paid ‘either by residents or the government’.

Robert Neill, Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said that leaseholders in his constituency were ‘forking out in the region of £6,000 a month’ for a ‘waking watch’, and added: ‘If there was a failure of regulation, whoever was the government at the time, it’s a failure of governance and then ultimately I would suggest that government needs to stand behind this, rather than expecting that to be picked up by individuals who have done nothing whatsoever and have no control whatsoever over what has happened.’

Reflecting on Housing Secretary Sajid Javid’s previous statement that freeholders had a ‘moral responsibility’ not to let leaseholders cover costs, Dan Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, stated: ‘Moral responsibility is not going to work and there’s got to be legislation from the government that’s needed to sort this problem out.’

Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP for Worthing West, also noted that freeholders of private blocks ‘where cladding is unsafe’ should stop ‘hiding behind offshore entities’, while Labour’s Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North and the politician who called the debate, said it was the government’s responsibility to remove the cladding ‘because it’s the government’s flawed regulatory system that allowed it to go up in the first place’.

Housing Minister Dominic Raab responded that the government had been working alongside councils to identify private buildings with cladding, as well as starting the review into building regulations. He noted that ‘the suggestion that we’re somehow sitting on our hands… is quite wrong and I think the reaction to the Dame Judith review shows that.

‘Just for the record, just as a matter of balance in this debate, it is right to point out that the shadow housing secretary, when he was the housing minister, actually refused extra funding for fire safety measures because he didn’t deem them necessary. I’m not saying this to score any political points – I’m making the argument that any honourable member in the position of a minister would look at this carefully, responsibly and take the expert advice. That’s what the honourable gentleman did, that’s what we have done’.

He said that the government believes all public and social housing blocks with unsafe cladding have been identified, with the government ‘very clear’ that removal ‘should be done as swiftly as possible, but it must be done properly. Let’s be clear, the remediation of buildings with aluminium composite material cladding is a complex process; it involves major construction work which needs to be planned, consulted on and carried out professionally and carefully. Planning alone can take up to a year. It’s not just a case of ripping down the cladding then deciding what to do next’.

He concluded that ‘allocation of the responsibility’ for who pays costs in private blocks ‘depends on the terms of the leasehold arrangements’, and stated that ‘where building owners are seeking to pass on remediation costs to leaseholders, it’s important [leaseholders are] able to get specialist advice’.