Four years after 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire, between 760,000 and 1.36 million people in the UK are caught in the cladding crisis, facing the prospect of having to pay to make their buildings fire safe while living in unsellable properties.
Despite political and media pressure, the government is pushing ahead with plans to burden leaseholders of flats in affected apartment blocks with the cost of remediation work.
Who pays for cladding bills?
While there are government funds set aside to contribute to the cost of removing dangerous cladding from residential buildings above 18 metres in height in England and provide relief for running a “waking watch” in such buildings, ineligible leaseholders whose freeholder or developer will not foot the bill are liable for fixing fire safety defects – as well as the huge insurance cost and waking watch bills.
This injustice is increasingly becoming a political problem for the Conservative Party, since the affluent “cladding classes” – identified by the New Statesman last month – and their families may turn on the Tories at the ballot box.
There has already been a back-bench rebellion of 31 Tory MPs on related legislation in April, and further rebellions are expected to come. Over the past ten months, influential right-leaning newspapers such as the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail have launched campaigns on behalf of affected leaseholders.
More than a fifth of applications to the Building Safety Fund (22 per cent) for cladding remediation cover come from Tory-voting council areas, including Westminster, Wandsworth, Surrey and Hertfordshire.
According to exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies*, just 2 per cent of the general public believe the leaseholders who live in these buildings should pay the costs of making their building fire safe.
The public is split on who should pay, with 32 per cent saying the government, 32 per cent the original developer of the building, 27 per cent the current building owner, and 7 per cent saying they don’t know.
Who should pay for fixing dangerous cladding?
What should worry the Conservatives is that Tory voters share this view. Just 2 per cent of survey respondents who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election believe “the people who live in the building” should pay for the work (the same as the public average). Some 36 per cent say the original building developer should pay, 36 per cent the current building owner, 21 per cent the state, and 6 per cent don’t know.
Around 1 per cent of Labour voters say residents should pay, 46 per cent the government, 28 per cent the original developer, 19 per cent the current building owner, 1 per cent answered “other”, and 5 per cent said they didn’t know.
While housing in general is relatively low down on the list of important issues for Tory voters at the moment, the impact of the building safety crisis is likely to have a knock-on effect on the housing market beyond frozen high-rise flat sales, affecting more of the population.
As Nigel Glen, from the Association of Residential Managing Agents, told a parliamentary committee earlier this year:
“We should be very concerned. We have a perfect storm here. It is ghastly what is happening to the market… Sorry to sound like a bit of a doom-monger here, but it could be very significant across the whole property market.”
*Polling conducted on 29 July 2021, with a sample size of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain.