The new housing secretary Michael Gove has promised to revisit the cladding scandal with a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ and see how thousands of leaseholders – including many landlords – can be helped out of the unending nightmare many find themselves in.
Gove (pictured) made the comments during a grilling by parliament’s housing select committee yesterday, in which he responded positively to criticism that his department’s actions to help marooned leaseholders appear to have stalled.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure buildings are safe but we also have a responsibility to relieve some of the obligations that are being faced by leaseholders at the moment, who are innocent parties in this and are being asked to pay disproportionate sums,” he told the select committee’s MPs.
In summary, he promised to:
- Publish up-to-date figures on the number of buildings with unsafe non-ACM cladding and the number of buildings under 18 metres tall that require remediation.
- Bring the developers and cladding suppliers to book who allowed unsafe cladding to be fitted to buildings in a way that was catastrophic and ‘manifestly illegal’. “There is an urgent need to ensure that justice is done,” he said. “There are individuals still in business who are guilty men and women.”
- Ensure his department issues fresh guidance for buildings under 18 metres originally covered by the controversial ESW1 form that will enable lenders to recommence lending on and remortgaging properties within them these towers ‘before Christmas’. Gove recognised that these types of buildings feature fire safety risks that are ‘less than feared’ and that action is needed to free up leaseholders and return the properties to the housing market.
- Clamp down on the organisations who are ‘profiteering’ from the cladding scandal, including some who are offering exorbitant ‘waking watch’ services to building leaseholders.
- Revisit the cladding costs that many leaseholders are being asked to pay even though it is evident they have no hope of being able to pay them. He told the MPs that he understood how leaseholders are seen at the ‘easy people to sting’ while builders, developers, freeholders and cladding suppliers were to hard to chase for the remediation costs – but said this approach is not acceptable.
Gove also said his department has yet to fully bolt down the difference between buildings with cladding that is ‘ultra-risky’ and those where the risk is negligible.
But he also said that suppliers and developers involved who claim they are ‘squeaky clean’ in the matter of building safety are ‘wrong’ and said he now wondered whether some had put cost reduction ahead of safety while others had manipulated cladding tests in order to ‘evade responsibility’.
“It will be welcome news for hundreds of thousands of leaseholders that Michael Gove is showing a willingness to address the cladding scandal that has engulfed the property industry since the Grenfell tragedy,” says Tim Frome (pictured), Director at the Property Redress Scheme.
“The triple whammy of being responsible for the costs of replacing unsafe cladding, increased service charges for 24 hour fire watches and also problems with remortgaging or selling their properties have weighed heavily recently.
“Our members have had the tricky job of having to explain these issues to leaseholders either through their property management work or when leaseholders have looked to sell their properties. We look forward to further policy developments and will assist the government with communicating any changes.”
Gove promised to update the committee on progress. Watch the full session.