Building safety bill a “betrayal” of leaseholders, Labour tells ministers

Elliot Chappell
© Ian Vogler

Labour has declared that the government’s building safety bill is a “betrayal” of leaseholders after legal advice commissioned by the party said the legislation would make it “more certain” that they bear the costs of remediation works.

Commenting on the advice this afternoon from the Society of Labour Lawyers, which warned the bill would likely mean payment for works will be included in service charges, Lucy Powell argued that leaseholders have been “betrayed” by ministers.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives are on hold. People are unable to have children, to retire, to get a full night’s sleep,” the Shadow Housing Secretary said.

“They were promised time and again that the building safety bill would be their way out, but this the government has made their situation worse not better.”

As highlighted by the legal advice, people living in 18m plus or ‘higher risk’ buildings will be subject to a new ‘building safety charge” to cover expenses such as the cost of an ‘accountable person’ or building safety manager.

Ministers have promised that residents will be given “more power to hold builders and developers to account”, but the advice commissioned by Labour warned that litigation or negotiation will remain an “uncertain, expensive and risky” process.

32 Tory MPs rebelled earlier this year to support an amendment to the fire safety bill to protect leaseholders from remediation costs. Others were persuaded not to as ministers committed to addressing the issue in the building safety bill.

But the Society of Labour Lawyers told the opposition party that, should the proposed government legislation pass, the position would “effectively unchanged for existing buildings and will be for future buildings as well”.

The group said the bill was “silent on remediation costs and recovery of these from leaseholders under service charges” with one exception – that a landlord would be obliged to take ‘reasonable steps’ to find other funding sources.

Powell added: “Labour’s priority is getting homeowners out of this fix, and we will work with any MP who wants to do this. The government should consider themselves on notice. If they continue to abandon innocent homeowners, they will face a battle royale to give leaseholders the cast-iron legal protections that have been promised.”

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.

Labour has repeatedly urged ministers to protect leaseholders from remediation costs and instead pursue those responsible for the cladding safety crisis. Most recently the party tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech to that effect.

The party has also called several times for the government to set a deadline for cladding remediation work. Earlier this year, the Commons passed an opposition day motion, as Conservative MPs abstained, put forward by the party.

Opposition day motions are not binding on the government. Boris Johnson has started to ignore the votes in the same way Theresa May did during her time as Prime Minister, though Johnson has a majority of 80 in the Commons.

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.

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