Thank you for contacting me regarding the Building Safety Bill . I will do all I can to ensure that leaseholders do not have to pay unjust, huge costs for building remediation works for issues that are not your fault.
I have repeatedly urged the Government to move further and faster to address building safety concerns and support people up and down the country who have been caught up in it. I remain concerned that the Government has been too slow to act. Nearly four years after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, around 700,000 people are still living in high-rise blocks with flammable cladding. Leaseholders have been trapped in this impossible position for far too long.
As you know, Labour has long campaigned for leaseholders to have cast iron protections in law that ensure that you do not foot the bill for fire safety works. We tried to achieve this through the Fire Safety Act, but unfortunately the government voted against this. The Building Safety Bill offers us another opportunity to press the government to keep their promises to leaseholders.
However, despite multiple promises from the Government, the Bill as drafted does not contain promised protections for leaseholders. In fact, legal advice commissioned by Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, Lucy Powell MP says that the rights of leaseholders are made worse, not better by the Bill.
I appreciate and deeply sympathise with the cost, anxiety and stress many leaseholders have endured due to issues for which they bear no fault. I know that leaseholders in blocks with combustible cladding and other dangerous materials have experienced problems in selling their homes and re-mortgaging.
My Labour colleagues and myself repeatedly tabled and supported amendments to the earlier Fire Safety Bill to try to force the Government to honour its promise that remediation costs will not be passed onto leaseholders. Disappointingly, Ministers rejected these amendments. I am similarly disappointed that the Building Safety Bill does not legislate to ensure leaseholders cannot be billed for fire and building safety remediation works.
While the Government has established the Building Safety Fund to support residents in removing dangerous cladding, there are issues with the scope and timeframe of the fund: many residents are ineligible; only 7% of applications have been approved; and remediation has been too slow.
I believe the Government must protect innocent homeowners and amend the Bill to give leaseholders the protections in law that have long been promised by Ministers. I urge the Government to establish a new Building Works Agency to decide what works are necessary, commission and pay for them, and then sign the building off as safe at the end of the process. It would also have the legal powers to pursue those responsible through the courts.
I will continue to press Ministers to support leaseholders with the costs of remediation now before pursuing building companies and developers who are responsible. I will also support any amendment or Bill that works to support those living in unsafe cladded buildings and guarantees the removal of this cladding from all homes across the UK. For the memory of those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government must right these wrongs, learn the lessons and protect the hundreds of thousands who face daily uncertainty, fear, and bills. Their inactivity is both financially crippling for individuals and most worryingly could cost lives.
I am committed, as are the Labour frontbench team, to working cross-party throughout the passage of the bill, including with McPartland and Smith and others, to get a cast iron guarantee in law that protects leaseholders from unfair, unjust costs.