Why we fight for cladding justice - Baroness Pinnock
Imagine: you have saved hard for your first home, a flat high up overlooking the city; all the independent expert checks have been cleared; you have a mortgage and service charges to pay but all is within your budget.
Then, following the awful Grenfell tragedy in 2017, you discover that your home is not safe at all. The external walls have been covered in cladding that is not fire proof. In fact your four walls are literally a fire hazard.
The consequences for buyers of these leasehold apartments is, in every possible way, life-changing. I have been in contact with hundreds of leaseholders who tell me of their daily anxiety, sleeplessness, and for some this has led to serious mental ill health and worse.
Living in a home that is deemed by Government not to be safe is bad enough. To then be told, that all the costs of putting right the building defects is to be yours, is a huge and bitter blow. It is also totally and morally unjust.
The leaseholders in this construction scandal are the only ones who have done nothing wrong and everything right. Yet they are the ones being asked to pay the price. It is both a construction crisis and a Government scandal.
It is a construction crisis because as the dangerous cladding is removed other construction errors are being revealed. Building regulation requires fire breaks to be built between the cladding and the shell of the block. In many cases these are simply not there. Insulation was affixed to the outer walls that is not fire proof, again contrary to regulations.
Whatever the reasons for these building defects, those culpable are the developers, contractors, sub-contractors, manufacturers, and building inspectors appointed by the developers. Who are being asked to pay? Shockingly, the innocent victims.
Last November, in a debate in the House of Lords, I attached an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that simply stated that leaseholders and tenants must not be asked to pay for any of the remediation that makes their homes fire safe.
This was successful. It posed a challenge to the Government to address this scandal head on. I argued that only the Government has the access to funding to pay the £16 billion estimated cost of removing dangerous cladding from all the blocks. This can then be recouped from those who are responsible.
There is no time to be lost in finding a just and fair solution because while Government fiddles about, leaseholders are being required to pay for 24/7 so-called “waking watch” as a look out for any outbreak of fire. This, and the re-assessed and sky high insurance costs, are adding thousands of pounds to their monthly service charges.
For one estate of 200 flats the annual service charges have rocketed from £250,000 to nearly £1 million. Leaseholders are not being compensated for any of these costs which result from construction failures.
The Government has slowly responded to this crisis and created a £5 billion grant fund for cladding removal only. Meanwhile the housing developers, who are ultimately responsible, are to pay a levy of a mere £200 million a year. This leaves a £9 billion black hole which leaseholders and tenants are being expected to fill.
What’s worse is that the Government fund is not enough to cover all blocks and only applies to high rise blocks. There is a loan scheme of £50 a month for blocks of six storeys and less but this only covers cladding removal.
Dropping through leaseholders’ letterboxes now are bills for £30,000 and more to be paid within 28 days for non-cladding remediation. Their choices are very limited. Their property has no value and they are not able to borrow such large sums. The choice then is bankruptcy and homelessness when they lose everything they have worked for, and through no fault of their own.
This is both a crisis and a scandal. This crisis is the consequence of a huge failure in Government policy towards the building industry. For too long the major developers have had a very light touch regulatory regime.
They have been found out. Policy and regulation has to change. Meanwhile, there is still time for the Government to do the right thing and pay for all the building remediation costs up front.
It is a scandal that those who have done everything right are being asked to sacrifice all they have worked for to pay the price for others’ glaring failures. I and others will continue to challenge the Government to find a conscience and the funding to put this wrong right.
Kath Pinnock, Liberal Democrat, sits in the House of Lords and is Baroness Pinnock of Cleckheaton. You can find her on Twitter @kathpinnock.
*The Yorkshire Post supports innocent leaseholders caught in the cladding scandal and is backing calls for justice so they bear none of the costs of remediation and higher insurance.
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