The Commons has passed – with 263 MPs voting in favour and none against as Tories abstained – a Labour motion calling on the government to protect leaseholders across the country living in homes with unsafe cladding.
Introducing the motion this afternoon during an opposition day debate, Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire described the situation facing leaseholders in thousands of homes across the country as a “human tragedy”.
Opening the debate this afternoon, she told MPs: “All big players in this crisis have spent the last few years pointing fingers and avoiding responsibility. The government has called on building owners to ‘do the right thing’.
“There is nothing to prevent building owners from passing costs on to leaseholders, and in many cases they have a fiduciary duty to do so. Leaseholders simply can’t afford it and shouldn’t have to.
“If you bought a new car which turned out to be dangerous, you wouldn’t expect to be told to take out a loan of tens of thousands of pounds to pay for it. And this is people’s homes.”
The motion calls on the government to establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk, provide upfront funding for cladding remediation and protect both leaseholders and taxpayers from the costs.
Debbonaire stressed that leaseholders should not bear the costs of works. “They bought their homes in good faith only to find themselves victim to years of corporate malpractice, government inaction and a broken leasehold system.
“Ministers have promised at least 15 times leaseholders would not bear the cost. Recently, this language has shifted to say they shouldn’t bear “unaffordable” costs and talk of loans.”
She used her contribution to the parliamentary debate this afternoon to argue instead that the government should pursue the “dodgy developers, cowboy builders and manufacturers” responsible for fitting the cladding.
The Fire Brigades Union last year criticised the government for doing “the bare minimum to fend off bad headlines” after it was revealed that only a third of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-style cladding have had the material removed.
Reacting to the vote tonight, Matt Wrack said: “Almost four years have passed since the Grenfell Tower fire and those of us who have campaigned to tackle the building safety crisis are at the end of our tether with government inaction, delay, and incompetence.
The FBU general secretary added: “The voices of residents and firefighters have been treated as little more than an annoyance throughout, while hundreds of thousands are left trapped in dangerous homes.
“This debate should be a wakeup call to complacent ministers and their friends and donors in the housing and construction industry. As we have said from the beginning, the costs of this crisis cannot and should not be laid on the shoulders of residents.”
The Prime Minister admitted at the time that the failure to remove dangerous cladding was “disgraceful”, as he told the public that he was aware of the problems facing residents unable to sell or remortgage their properties.
Many are paying thousands on top of the costs of removing the flammable cladding for private companies to patrol their buildings, check for signs of fire and sounding the alarm if a fire is detected.
The government is facing pressure to act from within the Conservative Party. Housing, communities and local government committee member Bob Blackman argued today that leaseholders “should not have to pay a penny”.
He said: “Three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy, we are in a position whereby we still now have leaseholders living in unsaleable, unmortgageable, uninsurable, unsafe properties, and that is a disgrace that we have to put right.”
More than 30 Tory backbenchers have signed an amendment to the fire safety bill, now being passed between the Commons and Lords, which would stop freeholders passing the costs of removing cladding or other fire safety work to leaseholders.
Asked what he is doing to help leaseholders ahead of the debate this evening, Labour leader Keir Starmer explained to listeners on LBC last week that his party aimed to protect residents from “intolerable” costs and unsellable properties.
Labour has called on ministers to establish an independent taskforce on the cladding crisis as the opposition party launched a push for the government to take steps to help those affected by the national scandal.
Debbonaire said today: “After Grenfell, the government could have… set up a taskforce to establish the extent of dangerous cladding, prioritise by risk and ensure enforcement against those who refuse to undertake works. We’re calling on the government to do this today.”
Under the proposal, the taskforce would be empowered to establish the extent of the cladding crisis, decide which buildings are attended to first and take enforcement action against building owners who refused to undertake works.
Labour has also demanded that the government set a 2022 deadline for all homes to be made safe, to provide funding for the work to remove dangerous cladding, and to make efforts to recover costs from the companies responsible.
Opposition day motions are non-binding on the government. Boris Johnson has started to ignore the votes as Theresa May did as Prime Minister, though Johnson has a majority of 80 in the Commons.
Labour has repeatedly used opposition day votes to highlight difficult issues for the government – such as, in October, with the extension of free school meals or last month on the planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits.
The 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, and the following inquiry exposed deficiencies in the building safety regime and the potential abuse of safety tests by companies supplying cladding and insulation across the UK.
Laws and regulations introduced to ensure that dangerous cladding is identified and removed have instead left many homes unsellable, with leaseholders being forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds to fix the issues.
According to Labour analysis of figures from the New Build Database, a national record of issues that affect homeowners, as many as 4.6 million properties home to 11 million residents could be affected by the cladding crisis.
Below is the full text of the motion tabled by Labour and passed by MPs today.
Protecting tenants and leaseholders from unsafe cladding
That this House calls on the government to urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk; provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately; protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis; and update parliament once a month in the form of a written ministerial statement by the Secretary of State.