Millions of leaseholders’ hopes for cladding funding have been dashed by the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick.
In a much-anticipated announcement this afternoon, Jenrick announced a new £3.5bn fund to fix dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings in England. While this may sound substantial, it is far from the £15bn recommended by a committee of MPs last June to fix all fire safety defects on “high-rise and high-risk” buildings.
Jenrick’s pledge is very narrow. The extra funding announced today is only for high-rise buildings over 18 metres, or six storeys, high in England – an addition to the £1.6bn made available last year.
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Leaseholders in buildings over 18m tall in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and those in buildings under 18m tall across the UK are excluded from this support. Loans alone will be available for the latter in England to cover the costs of removing unsafe cladding. The amount set aside for these loans was not specified – with only an assurance that repayments would cost leaseholders no more than £50 a month (it is unknown how long for).
With similarly scant detail, Jenrick also announced there would be a levy on developers seeking to build certain high rises in England, and a tax on the residential property development sector in the UK from 2022, in an attempt not to burden taxpayers with all cladding removal costs. The rates of these taxes remain unknown.
The focus on cladding alone is also a concern for leaseholders. Removal of unsafe cladding is just one in a list of punitive costs they are facing: rocketing buildings insurance premiums and service charges, running waking watches and installing other fire safety systems, to name a few. The first person bankrupted by the cladding crisis was facing fire warden costs as high as her mortgage repayments, for example.
Shocking testimonies from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is currently in its second phase, reveal how aluminium composite cladding panels alone did not cause the fire: the cladding and insulation system within which this material was used is being scrutinised as a whole.
This means insulation materials, cavity barriers and other building features must be addressed to make people’s houses fire-safe – another cost falling on leaseholders.
The New Build Database suggests 4.6 million properties could be affected overall, which means around 11 million people could suffer the consequences of a problem that is in no way their responsibility.
Almost 40 Conservative rebels have demanded leaseholders shoulder no costs at all for remediating fire safety defects, according to the Times. Stephen McPartland, the Tory MP proposing this in an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, has accused Jenrick of “betrayal of millions of leaseholders” and “shocking incompetence”, having listened to his announcement “with my head in my hands”.
He is calling on No 10 to intervene. Back-bench anger, a campaign to end “the nationwide cladding scandal” in the Daily Mail, and millions of leaseholders trapped in dangerous homes should cause it to take notice.