Abolish cladding loan scheme! demands Housing, Communities & Local Government Select Committee

The children of Grenfell Tower survivors assemble for the Notting Hill Carnival – the Housing, Communities & Local Government Select Committee has demanded more funding to get rid of cladding

THE CURRENT government-proposed cladding loan scheme must be abolished – and it should be replaced with a ‘comprehensive’ fund, a cross-party group of MPs has insisted.

And meanwhile the Building Safety Fund ‘should now be extended,’ the same group of MPs has stressed.

At the same time the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee has now urged the government to scrap a highly controversial loan scheme that would see affected leaseholders paying up to £50 per month for remediation works.

The MPs on that Committee have agreed that the loan scheme ‘fails to satisfy the principle that leaseholders should not have to pay for fire safety remediation work’ – which is something that ministers have repeated on a number of occasions.

They insist: ‘Instead, costs should be fully met by a comprehensive Building Safety Fund, paid for by the government and the industry,’ as the report said.

And Labour MP Clive Betts, the chair of the HCLG Committee, has said that while the £3.5bn funding for buildings taller than 18m is welcome, it may still be ‘swamped by the sheer scale of fire safety issues’.

In fact, the committee have said previously that fire safety remediation could cost up to £15bn in all.

That followed the Fire Safety Bill finally passing through parliament – after the government had previously defeated four attempts to include an amendment protecting leaseholders.

According to the findings of a National Housing Federation (NHF) poll, meanwhile, 75 per cent of MPs want the government to fund building safety costs ‘in full’.

The HCLG report had also urged the government to move away from prioritising buildings taller than 18m, and focus instead on buildings where residents are most at risk – assessed through ‘holistic, evidence-based processes’.

The HCLG’s Committee also said that social housing landlords should be given full access to the Building Safety Fund and the Waking Watch Relief Fund.

The exclusion of social landlords risks negative consequences for the wider social housing sector, according to the committee.

Nevertheless, earlier this week the Inside Housing organisation warned that the government’s loan scheme – which was first announced last February – may still not be successfully up and running for at least a full year.

The HCLG has also said it is supportive of the proposed developer levy, which Whitehall has said could raise up to £2bn. But the MPs said the government should ensure no costs recovered from the levy are passed on to home-buyers, including housing associations.

The government is not collecting sufficient data to understand the full scale of the fire safety crisis, and therefore cannot know the true costs involved, said the MPs.

Recent analysis by industry experts, meanwhile, claims to have found that the full costs could be as high as £50bn.

Betts said: ‘In the years since the Grenfell tragedy, we have been shocked by the reality of the danger that flammable cladding poses, by how pervasive these materials are in modern buildings and by the frequency with which fundamental fire safety measures, including fire breaks and sprinkler systems, are simply not there.’

He also stressed: ‘The government’s recent proposals fail to adhere to the fundamental principle that leaseholders should not have to pay to fix these problems.

‘That is why we have called on the government to enhance support and develop a Comprehensive Building Safety Fund that targets support to where occupants are most at risk, rather than the current height and product-based approach.

‘Proposals to implement a loan scheme for leaseholders to pay for cladding remediation on buildings below 18m should also be abandoned.’

But Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, has warned: ‘The absence of government funding to remediate social housing has essentially resulted in a stealth tax on social landlords and their residents which far exceeds any action against those responsible, and is affecting the ability to maintain existing homes and build much-needed new social housing.’

And a spokesperson for the ‘End Our Cladding Scandal’ campaign of affected leaseholders said: ‘The cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee is warning the government, in the strongest possible terms, to completely rethink its whole approach to the building safety crisis.

‘Boris Johnson needs to listen to the advice of his own MPs, and abandon plans for the cladding tax on hardworking leaseholders, many of whom are first-time buyers.

‘The prime minister has already broken his promises to make sure no leaseholder pays to make their home safe. We won’t let him break that promise again.

‘We didn’t design these unsafe buildings, we didn’t approve the buildings, we weren’t the ones who built shoddy flats – we shouldn’t have to pay for a mess billionaire developers and the wider construction industry created.’

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the HCLG report is ‘deeply flawed’, whilst arguing at the same time that the government is already prioritising the tallest buildings with the most dangerous cladding.

The spokesperson added: ‘We have been clear throughout that owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will ensure they pay for the mistakes of the past with a new levy and tax to contribute to the costs of remediation.

‘For lower-rise buildings which have a lower risk, our generous capped finance scheme will ensure bills are a maximum of £50 per month.

‘Our approach strikes the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers.’