Thousands of leaseholders in a minimum of 239 apartment blocks will be unable to sue developers as the buildings are too old.
While ministers publish legislation allowing developers to pass on costs to residents, it has emerged that hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be left unprotected by the latest government attempt to manage the spiralling cost of the post-Grenfell fire safety crisis.
Although the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, introduced a bill extending leaseholders’ rights to sue developers on Monday, residents in 239 buildings will be unable to benefit because their buildings are too old. According to research by the UK Cladding Action Group, representatives in 79 blocks could in theory sue because their homes were built after 2006, but all bar a handful cannot afford to do so.
The study appears to contradict Jenrick’s claim on Sunday that the ‘lion’s share’ of the buildings identified as being fitted with dangerous cladding would qualify under the 15-year retrospective law.
Leaseholders are now outraged that the Government has apparently decided against legislation to protect homeowners from the cost of fixing fire safety defects, which in the worst cases could run to £100,000 for each household. As long as developers can show they explored ‘alternative ways to meet remedial costs before passing them on to leaseholders’, the building safety bill will entrench the existing legal right of developers and building owners to pass on costs to leaseholders.
A shambolic response from government
One leaseholder described it as a ‘slap in the face’ and another said it was devastating. Hundreds of thousands of leaseholders now face bills to repair fire safety defects that could run to as much as £15bn. The Government has set aside £5.1bn so far. Tory MP Stephen McPartland, who has campaigned for leaseholders to be protected, called the plan to help leaseholders sue as ‘another sticking plaster instead of a solution’ and urged the Government to ‘fund making our buildings safe’.
McPartland said he and his allies would put forward amendments ‘to try and protect leaseholders’ if the Government did not compromise.
Giles Grover, from the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, said ministers and two prime ministers had promised more than 17 times in parliament to protect leaseholders from costs. But it seems they have cynically formulated a way of relieving themselves of that responsibility, he said.
Rituparna Saha, co-founder of the UK Cladding Action Group of affected leaseholders, said this is a shambolic response from government four years on from Grenfell, rather than tackling the issue head on and making sure buildings that need to be made safe are made safe, so people can get on with their lives. It’s outrageous, he added.
Jenrick has said repeatedly that he wants to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs and on Sunday said it should be builders and developers who should be paying. He felt it was not right that either the leaseholder or the taxpayer has to bear the cost.
Grenfell manufacturer of panels knew of danger
Government policy has been to encourage developers to volunteer to pay for repairs, which has happened in a few cases, and offer grants when they refuse, but only for remedial work on tall buildings and not for associated fire safety faults.
Lucy Powell, shadow housing secretary, said on Monday that Labour wants the Government to keep its promise and legislate to ensure that leaseholders and homeowners will not be faced with bills for remedial work, as it’s not their fault. She said Labour would seek to build a cross-party consensus to protect leaseholders as the bill passes through parliament. A similar attempt, however, failed in spring, although it attracted more than 30 Tory rebels.
The building safety bill will also establish a regulator to oversee safety on high-rise homes and there will be a new construction products regulator with powers to ban dangerous products and prosecute companies that make them. The public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster heard the manufacturer of combustible panels used on the building’s facade knew they were dangerous but sold them anyway.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing said he didn’t recognise these unpublished figures. The new legal measures will more than double the time to 15 years for leaseholders to seek compensation from developers for substandard building work, he said. As long as a claim is initiated in this time frame, litigation will be able to continue.