Cladding scandal victims 'betrayed' by £3.5bn Government package which still leaves them in tens of thousands of pounds of debt

The Housing Secretary has been accused of a "betrayal" of hundreds of thousands of leaseholders after he unveiled a new £3.5 billion package to end the "cladding scandal".
St George's Building is one of the residential blocks in the region affected by the scandalSt George's Building is one of the residential blocks in the region affected by the scandal
St George's Building is one of the residential blocks in the region affected by the scandal

In a Commons statement, Robert Jenrick said the "exceptional" intervention means no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England will face charges for the removal of unsafe cladding.

But his announcement drew a furious response, with critics - including some Tories - warning it fails to address the problems faced by residents living in unsellable flats in unsafe blocks.

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Leaseholders in buildings below 18 metres tall were not included and would instead be offered a loan to pay for the work.

The funding does not cover other safety issues which have arisen following the Grenfell fire tragedy in which 72 people died, such as flammable timber or an absence of fire breaks.

Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central told the Yorkshire Post it was “a bit of progress” but that it would not help many of the victims of the cladding scandal.

He said: “It's completely unfair to say that if you live in a building that is six inches taller than another building, the government will pay to remove all of the cladding. But if it's six inches lower, or foot lower, then you're going to have to pay back a loan.”

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Mr Jenrick said the loan would amount to no more than £50 a month for leaseholders and it would be provided with a low interest rate.

Mr Benn said the ten of thousands of pounds it would cost each household to make their homes safe was a lot of money.

He added: “Why are the people who didn't cause the problem being asked to pay?

“There is no justification for it at all.”

Rachael Loftus, who owns a flat in Leeds affected by the scandal, has already spent £12,000 on improved alarm systems in the building, which is under 18 metres, and insurance.

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She said the measures would not help and described them as “perverse”.

“Nobody who is responsible for this is taking any responsibility,” she said.

“Giving me loan for the defects they put into my home is just unbelievable. I paid for a safe apartment.”

She said the costs of making the building safe would wipe out all of the equity she has put into the property and mean that she would be unable to move.

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She added: “I’m 43. I’ll be in my 70s when I have paid back the loan to make my ‘starter home’ safe.”

Anna Newport, property lawyer and director of Wakefield-based Newport Land and Law, said: “Whilst £50 a month is not a lot in the overall scheme of a Tory Minister’s day, maybe paying for a half-decent bottle of wine, it can be the difference between eating or heating your home in the budget of a low-income family, not a great choice to make in the middle of winter.”

The Grenfell United pressure group said it is "too little, too late".

"We needed something to deal with this mess once and for all - we didn't get that today," they said in a statement.

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"Residents living in unsafe homes will go to bed tonight worrying if their building will qualify or be left out once again. And bereaved and survivors of Grenfell will lay awake fearful that what happened to us could still happen again."

Tory MP Stephen McPartland - a prominent critic of the Government's handling of the cladding crisis - dismissed the plans as "all smoke and mirrors".

He said Mr Jenrick had ignored the continuing need for "waking watches" and the "excessive" insurance premiums which represent the main costs for many leaseholders.

"I am listening to Robert Jenrick's announcement with my head in my hands. Wondering how he can have got this so wrong. It is a betrayal of millions of leaseholders," he tweeted.

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He later told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "There is incompetence at the heart of this now and it's time to call that out. Number 10 now has to get involved and take a grip of this situation."

In his statement, Mr Jenrick said the Government will fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on tower blocks in England more than 59ft (18m), or six storeys.

He said it will also develop a long-term scheme to ensure that those in lower to middle-rise blocks never have to pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal.

To help meet the costs, he said the Government is imposing a new levy on developers of certain high buildings in England and a £2 billion UK-wide tax on the residential development sector.

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Mr Jenrick said that, without the Government's intervention, many building owners would have continued to pass on the costs of cladding remediation work to leaseholders.

"That would risk punishing those who have worked hard, who have bought their own home, but through no fault of their own have found themselves caught in an absolutely invidious situation," he said.

"I'm therefore, today, making an exceptional intervention on behalf of the Government and providing certainty that leaseholders in high-rise residential buildings will face no costs for cladding remediation works.

"This will ensure that we end the cladding scandal in a way that is fair and generous to leaseholders."

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However, shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said the Government is still under-estimating the scale of the problem.

"They still don't know how many buildings are unsafe, where they are or what danger they pose," she told the Commons.

"Government inaction and delay has caused the building safety crisis to spiral. People cannot continue to live in unsafe, un-sellable homes. Home-owners shouldn't face bankruptcy to fix a problem they didn't cause.

"Unfortunately, these proposals will still leave too many people struggling and facing loans instead of being given justice."