Deputy Lib Dem party leader Daisy Cooper MP (pictured) yesterday proposed a Bill to establish an inquiry into the government’s responses to the crisis, describing the situation as “a national scandal of epic proportions”.
On Monday, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government introduced the Building Safety Bill giving leaseholders 15 years to take action against developers on fire safety defects.
But Cooper said: “Do the government really think that it is acceptable for leaseholders facing bankruptcy and mental ill health to have to start legal action against huge, powerful housing companies, builders and others when they know that the legal bills could cost more than the remediation work itself and then delay that remediation? This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.”
The leaseholder fire safety crisis began in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which killed 72 people. The building’s external cladding system was found to have helped the flames spread when fire broke out.
The Lib Dems’ call came ahead of today’s High Court hearing where 800 bereaved and survivors from Grenfell Tower, and 102 firefighters, are bringing their case for tens of millions of pounds in compensation against defendants including the cladding manufacturer, contractor and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The tragedy has had a ripple effect on leaseholders across the country as lenders pulled back from offering loans on flats discovered to have similar cladding systems to Grenfell’s or other potential fire safety issues.
The Sunday Times started a campaign a fortnight ago setting out its own five-step manifesto for a fairer system for flat-owners. The newspaper said: “Decades of regulatory failure and shoddy construction have left leaseholders living in 200,000 dangerous high-rise homes.” One of the campaign’s aims was to put a single official in charge with a brief to remove all unsafe cladding by 2022.
However, the government has not developed a policy that applies in all cases as to who ought to pay to remove unsafe cladding or fix other fire safety defects.
In February, housing secretary Robert Jenrick unveiled a £3.5bn fund to pay for remediation works for leaseholders in residential buildings of 18 metres or higher. For buildings of 11 to 18 metres, he outlined a government-backed financing scheme.
Meanwhile, the EWS1 form created by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors was supposed to smooth the path for lending on leasehold flats, but their efficacy has been muted as lenders continued erring on the side of caution.
The Lib Dems’ proposed Bill will be read for a second time on 10 September.