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£3.5 billion and loans announced to fix cladding scandal

More money announced to fix cladding crisis, but burden on homeowners will last years as they are saddled with loans.

3 minute read

cladding scandal

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday announced an “unprecedented” £5 billion investment in building safety, including a new £3.5 billion to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres (6 storeys) and over in England. This is in addition to £1.6 billion pledged last year.

But, for lower-rise buildings below 18 metres with dangerous cladding, the government has pledged only loans for leaseholders with repayments capped at £50 per month “or far less.” This has not been welcomed by thousands of homeowners stuck in unsafe buildings.

The government has also said it will claw back some of the costs through new taxes on developers. This will raise at least £2 billion over a decade to help pay for cladding remediation costs. The tax will ensure that the largest property developers make a fair contribution to the remediation programme, reflecting the benefit they will derive from restoring confidence to the UK housing market. Details are to follow.

What’s the issue?

Since the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 2017, 176 private residential buildings were discovered with similar, dangerous cladding systems.

While money had been provided for remedial work on social housing blocks in the following months, there was no funding to remove this material from private buildings.

This has resulted in the cost being passed to leaseholders who continue to face the double threat of financial ruin and living in a fire trap.

Mid way through 2020, the government finally announced its £1.6 billion building safety fund and remedial work and said recently that work was  “either completed or under way” on 95 per cent of the residential high-rises identified as having Grenfell-style flammable cladding.

But an estimated 700,000 people are still living in blocks with flammable cladding. Many of the affected blocks have round-the-clock fire patrols – ‘waking watches’ – funded mostly by collectives of flats owners. And homeowners are unable to sell their flats.

What’s wrong with this new proposal of increased funds, a tax on developers and loans for homeowners?

While a larger fund is welcome, campaigners say it still falls short of the £15 billion required.

There has been a backlash from flat owners in 80,000 medium-rise apartment blocks, between 11 and 18 metres tall, who would only be offered loans to remove cladding.

Flat owners in these medium-rise blocks will have to make loan repayments capped at £50 a month. Costs would be passed on to anyone purchasing the flats, making them instantly unattractive to prospective home buyers.  It would take 66 years to pay off the average £40,000 debt interest-free.

There is also no new funding to fix other structural fire safety defects such as missing fire barriers and wooden balconies which cost the average flat owner £25,000. An estimated 70% of buildings with unsafe cladding have other fire safety defects.

Here at the HomeOwners Alliance, we don’t think leaseholders should have to cover the costs – through a loan or otherwise – for any remediation work while cladding firms, developers and freeholders feel none of the repercussions. It’s not fair to treat leaseholders differently: those who live in 18+ metre high rises do not have to pay; yet those who live in slightly smaller blocks will be saddled with paying an extra £600 a year in loans that will be passed on to future owners.

We also don’t think a tax, where developers simply cream-off the very top of their profits and carry on unimpacted by the cladding scandal, while individual homeowners suffer the financial burden and worry for years to come, is a fair and proportionate response.

What’s the solution?

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign argues that the government should not force thousands of residents to bear the costs of a cladding scandal that they did not create. The government needs to provide an upfront fund to pay for repairs, funded by those responsible for the cladding scandal.

In the beginning, the government urged freeholders to do the right thing and pay for the remedial work needed to make these buildings safe. This fell on deaf ears. The government could do more now by requiring freeholders to pay now or else they lose the freehold and the title will be passed to the leaseholders.

If you agree, put your name to the latest petition here.

 

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