Leaseholds will no longer need to pay a maximum of £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding they did not install into their homes. But it does not include non-cladding work
Housing Secretary Michael Gove has axed cladding loans for flat owners in a huge Tory U-turn – but victims have been left frustrated by a trail of unanswered questions.
Leaseholders living in buildings between 11 and 18 metres high in England will no longer need to pay the £50-a-month proposed by the Tories last November.
The loan scheme – which could have lasted for decades – would have contributed to the removal of unsafe cladding the leaseholders did not install into their homes.
But the government’s new proposals do not include plans to protect people needing non-cladding work.
And Mr Gove could not confirm if leaseholders who had already paid towards fixing cladding will get their money back.
Mr Gove told the House of Commons: “We will scrap the proposal for loans and long-term debt for medium-rise leaseholders.
“I can confirm today to the House that no leaseholder living in a building above 11 metres will ever face any costs of fixing dangerous cladding.”
Instead, Mr Gove told developers to agree to start contributing this year to cover the “full outstanding cost”, which he estimates to be £4 billion.
He told MPs he will hold talks with firms in the coming weeks and has threatened to introduce a developers’ tax, including on those responsible for dangerous cladding, if there is no voluntary action to fix the problems.
But Shadow Housing Secretary Lisa Nandy highlighted a letter from Treasury minister Simon Clarke which she said raised doubt over whether a tax will happen.
Ms Nandy told the Commons: “(Mr Gove) was told ‘you may use a high level threat of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers’… ‘but whether or not to impose or raise taxes remains a decision for me (the Chief Secretary) and is not a given at this point’.”
Mr Gove said a spokesman for the Home Builders Federation had struck a “very constructive and open tone” since the proposals had been announced.
He went on: “But we do need to have additional backstops and it is clear that taxes can, if necessary, play a part.
“I don’t want to move there but we do have the absolute assurance that we can use the prospect of taxation in order to bring people to the table.”
Earlier today, the Housing Secretary admitted there are other fire safety issues to consider but that removing dangerous cladding had to be “the first and most urgent issue”.
Charlotte Meehan, a cladding victim, said there are three things missing in Mr Gove’s measures and accused him of taking a “half baked” approach to tackling the fire safety crisis.
Speaking to the BBC earlier today she said: “It doesn’t even look at buildings under 11 metres and we know that there are tonnes of those in the UK.
“It doesn’t look at all of the issues with fire safety… two thirds of our bills come from fire safety issues outside of cladding and also it doesn’t approach interim costs, as I mentioned my development and is approaching a bill of £500k.
“People simply can’t afford to pay those costs, people are going bankrupt and losing their homes based on interim costs.”
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Giles Grover, a member of the Manchester Cladiators campaign group told the Mirror: “It’s been three years now. We have been feeling trapped, emotionally, physically and financially.
“The reality is we’re living in unsafe homes we bought it thinking they were safe and secure but have been told there is deadly material wrapped around them and we’ll need to pay thousands to fix.
“There has been some funding announced but we have been here before. If the Government listened to us years ago, we could have ended this by now.”
Mr Gove paid tribute to people who had campaigned “so passionately on the subject”
“[Leaseholders] don’t have to fix the problem they didn’t cause all while the firms that make a profit on these developments sit on their hands, so we will take action to end the scandal and protect resources.”
Earlier, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the action on cladding was welcome but “very late”.
“Anything that helps the people who are in this awful position in relation to cladding is welcome,” he told reporters from his home, where he is self-isolating following a positive Covid-19 test last week.
“It’s very late – it’s four years or more since the Grenfell disaster, there have been many, many broken promises along the way.
“So anything now that moves this forward is welcome, of course it is.
“I would prefer there was a plan rather than just a promise, because the terms of what’s going to happen are still very vague.”
He suggested legislation would be required “rather than more promises”.
Mr Gove’s plans come four years after the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which killed 72 people.
Before announcing his cladding proposals, Mr Gove announced a leak inquiry after Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle expressed his fury with proposals being leaked to the media before the House.
Apologising to MPs for the leak, Mr Gove told the Commons: “I can confirm that I have asked the permanent secretary of my department to conduct a leak inquiry.
“It was a matter of considerable regret to me that details of the statement that I am about to give were shared with the media before they were shared with members of this house and indeed those most affected.”
Green Party co-leader and Bristol City Councillor, Carla Denyer said Mr Gove is “relying on the goodwill of developers far too many of whom have already shown themselves to be irresponsible and motivated by profit rather than safety”.
“There has been no acknowledgement of the stress and anxiety the government has put thousands of households through by delaying action.
“The government focus is on cladding and it is unclear how non-cladding fire hazards such as wooden balconies and missing fire doors will be addressed.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.