Bid to save leaseholders from huge bills to remove cladding defeated by government

Bill branded ‘morally unacceptable’ by Tory MP

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 22 March 2021 22:44 GMT
A view of Grenfell Tower, where a severe fire killed 72 people in June 2017.
A view of Grenfell Tower, where a severe fire killed 72 people in June 2017. (Getty Images)

The government has defeated a bid to save householders from bills running into tens of thousands of pounds to get rid of combustible cladding of the kind blamed for the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Despite a rebellion by 29 Tories, ministers comfortably saw off an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill by a margin of 322 votes to 253.

But a leader of the rebels, Conservative backbencher Stephen McPartland, insisted the battle against “shameful” arrangments would go on, declaring: “It is not over yet! Government must come forward with compromise for leaseholders.”

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick was accused of betraying thousands of leaseholders when he announced that £3.5bn of cash to replace cladding would go only to towers over 18m in height, with those in smaller buildings required to take out loans.

Furious leaseholders said they were being asked to stump up tens of thousands to be repaid over many years, potentially knocking large sums off the value of their homes.

The amendment passed by the House of Lords earlier this month would instead have seen the state pay the upfront cost of removing the dangerous materials, imposing a levy on cladding producers, contractors and developers to recoup the cost.

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The Bishop of St Albans, who co-sponsored the amendment in the Lords, was joined by the bishops of London and Kensington in voicing “disappointment” at tonight’s result.

In a joint statement, the Church of England bishops said: “Leaseholders face crippling bills of astronomical proportions for a problem they had no hand in creating. 

“It is a source of regret that the government has dismissed proposed solutions to the cladding scandal without bringing forward its own solution to sufficiently deal with this injustice. Without a genuine solution, there is a real risk of bankruptcies, homelessness and possibly worse.

“Leaseholders should not pay for problems created by developers and cladding providers, all of whom have profited in the preceding years. 

“We urge the government to bring forward a fair resolution to protect innocent leaseholders without delay.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The government has once again sold out leaseholders and millions of people trapped in the cladding crisis through no fault of their own.”

The UK Cladding Action Group urged leaseholders to express their anger with the government in the upcoming local elections on 6 May.

“Disappointed with the vote today? Feel let down, abandoned, hopeless,angry?” said the group.

“Please don’t be. This fight is not over! Local elections are around the corner. Don’t mope, vote. Make sure anyone who does not support protecting the victims of this crisis, does not get your vote.”

Pleading with MPs to back the amendment, Mr McPartland said: “Leaseholders are screaming for help, they are screaming in pain and what are we doing? Today we are saying to them ‘Thanks for paying the interim costs, once you’ve finished that we’re now going to load you up with remediation costs on top’ - tens of thousands of pounds that people just don’t have the funds for.

“We’re nearly four years on from Grenfell and it appears to me that the government has given up on those who should be responsible for paying and just pushing the cost onto leaseholders. It is morally unacceptable.”

Fellow-Tory Royston Smith brandished an invoice for more than £78,000 received by a constituent, telling MPs: “Imagine for one moment you’re trapped in a flat you’ve been told is unsafe. Night after night you go to bed with the fear of fire. You can’t sell your flat because it’s worthless.

“Everyone knows none of this is your fault and then an envelope drops through your letterbox. When you open it, there is a bill for £78,000 to put defects right that are not of your making.

“Bills like this one have already started to arrive and they’re not going to stop.”

But housing minister Christopher Pincher said that the proposals could be “self-defeating” by motivating landlords to activate insolvency procedures and walk away from the problem.

The bill now returns to the House of Lords.

- Tory rebels on the Fire Safety Bill were: David Amess, Caroline Ansell, John Baron, Peter Bone, Peter Bottomley, Christopher Chope, Elliot Colburn, Philip Davies, David Davis, Roger Gale, Chris Green, Damian Green, Stephen Hammond, Philip Hollobone, Tom Hunt, Pauline Latham, Julian Lewis, Jason McCartney, Stephen McPartland, Esther McVey, Anne Marie Morris, Robert Neill, Matthew Offord, Mary Robinson, Andrew Rosindell, Royston Smith, Tom Tugendhat, David Warburton and William Wragg.

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