CONCERN about a lack of government action to help home-owners to meet the high cost of replacing cladding on tower blocks was voiced by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, last week.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate on the price of safety improvements for leaseholders in these buildings, Bishop Mullally said that peers were “becoming impatient at the lack of action, and I hope that next time this matter is discussed in the House, the Minister [Lord Greenhalgh] will have something new to present”.
The Government had promised that the problem of protecting unsafe buildings would be dealt with in the Building Safety Bill (News, 18 June), she said, but it was yet to set out how it intended to deal with unaffordable costs faced by leaseholders.
The residential-property-developer tax provided little comfort for leaseholders, the Bishop said. Rather than help those struggling to pay for interim safety measures and non-cladding remedial costs, the Government had chosen to use the £2 billion as a funding source for the building-safety fund.
“Unless more funding is found, leaseholders will be forced to pay bills running into tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, for non-cladding remedial costs,” she said. “In many cases, leaseholders cannot raise these sorts of sums, and will therefore lose their homes and be forced into bankruptcy. Of course, this is already impacting on their health and well-being, through no fault of their own, and will continue to do so.
“I understand the Government’s reluctance to commit additional taxpayer funding to resolve this crisis. The taxpayer should not be required to pay for the failures of an industry that has paid out billions in dividends over the past decade.”
The only comprehensive solution of which she was aware was the policy “polluter pays”, which would require developers and builders of blocks of flats that did not comply with building regulations that were in force at the time of construction to pay for their remediation.
“If the Government are not satisfied that the ‘polluter pays’ represents a solution, I know that many in this House will be eager-eared to hear the Government’s own solution that will deliver us from this crisis,” Bishop Mullally said.
On Monday, the Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, indicated that the Government was rethinking its approach. He told the Commons housing committee that he would “pause” a loan scheme for leaseholders.
“I’m still unhappy with the principle of leaseholders’ having to pay at all, no matter how effective a scheme might be in capping their costs or not hitting them too hard at any one time,” he said.