Theresa May hints she will force private tower block owners to pay to remove Grenfell-style cladding

'They must do the right thing and, if they don’t, we are not ruling anything out'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 27 June 2018 13:31 BST
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PMQs: May says private sector 'being encouraged' to remove unsafe cladding

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Theresa May has hinted she will force private tower block owners to pay to remove dangerous Grenfell-style cladding, after being told the plight of residents was “intolerable”.

Under pressure in the Commons, the prime minister told MPs she was “not ruling anything out” if companies failed to act, despite ministers repeatedly urging them to do so in the year since the tragedy.

Some leaseholders have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds to make their building safe – while others have seen the value of their homes crash, after being locked in legal disputes.

Until now, ministers have said they would have to “challenge the costs in courts if they are unreasonable”, refusing to make the owners pay up.

But, during prime minister’s questions in the Commons, a Conservative backbencher told Ms May “the situation is intolerable and needs to be resolved properly”.

“The people left being asked to pay for the costs of removing cladding and replacing it are the leaseholders in private high rise blocks,” Sir Peter Bottomley protested.

In response, the prime minister said: “We are calling on building owners in the private sector to follow the example set by the social sector in taking action to remove unsafe cladding

“Some in the sector - I can name Barrett Investments, Legal and General and Taylor Wimpey - are doing the right thing and taking responsibility.

“We want others to follow their lead and we will continue to encourage them to do so.

“They must do the right thing and, if they don’t, we are not ruling anything out at this stage.”

In some cases, leaseholders have been forced make insurance claims to cover the cost of removing and replacing the cladding, sometimes with the owners acting on their behalf.

In many of the blocks, they have also been required to pay for round-the-clock patrols by fire wardens, because of the risk of a blaze.

Successive ministers had rejected calls from MPs and the mayor of London for loans to at least speed up the works, while suggesting building owners have a “moral duty” to pay the bills.

Last month, to head off a challenge from Labour, the prime minister agreed to fully fund councils and housing associations to remove combustible cladding from their tower blocks - but no help was offered in the private sector.

In a recent parliamentary answer, housing minister Dominic Raab said building owners “should pay and not pass costs on to leaseholders”.

However, the minister threw the responsibility for enforcing that onto residents, adding: “Leaseholders can challenge the costs in courts if they are unreasonable.”

One homeowner in a London housing complex with cladding similar to Grenfell was told the value of her home had collapsed from £475,000 to just £50,000.

The developer was facing a £30m-£40m bill to replace the cladding, with the legal dispute over who should pay expected to take years to resolve.

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