Building Safety - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 3:58 pm ar 27 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 March.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the continuing work to fix buildings with unsafe cladding across England, and the Government’s increasing determination to enforce against those who fail to take responsibility.

Since the beginning of 2023, there has been a step change in all aspects of remediation in England, from a limited programme to full coverage of all residential buildings over 11 metres; from developers not taking responsibility to their now being responsible for £3 billion of remediation across more than 1,500 buildings; from just over 1,600 buildings in remediation programmes last year to over 4,000 now; from 783 buildings having started or completed work in February 2023 to over 1,800 now; and from only 461 having completed last February to 863 now. Every month more buildings are identified, and more are beginning and completing works. That means that for some, albeit not all, the end is in sight.

From the start, we have prioritised the remediation of the highest risk buildings. Ninety-eight per cent of high-rise buildings with the most dangerous Grenfell-style aluminium composite material cladding have either started or completed work. Of the 10 occupied buildings remaining, two will start work this month and enforcement is being taken against a further six. Substantial progress can also be seen for buildings over 18 metres, with over half of known buildings having either started or completed work. The much more extensive work required for buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres is well under way. Since the full launch of the cladding safety scheme last July, over 400 buildings in the scheme have live applications. Grant funding agreements have been completed or are being signed for 152 buildings, and works have started on site for the first building. A further 4,000 buildings are being investigated and, where necessary, will be invited to apply to the scheme in the months ahead.

Further transparency is being brought to the social housing sector. Registered providers report that work has started on 525 buildings as of the end of November 2023, up from 394 at the end of August 2023. A further 200 have now been completed. For the first time, last Thursday we published detailed information on a provider-by-provider basis, which will be updated quarterly to ensure that residents can track what their individual provider is doing on remediation. While many buildings are being fixed or, better still, have completed remediation, there remains a reducing core of building owners who continue to hold up remediation. That is unacceptable. The Government continue to do whatever is necessary to change that.

All building owners must step up, do the right thing and fix their buildings without delay, or face the consequences of their inaction. The Government are leading the way on enforcement, with strategic interventions by our recovery strategy unit targeting the most egregious actors who are unwilling to make their buildings safe. The RSU was key to forcing Wallace Estates to agree to four remediation orders, ensuring that 400 leaseholders will be safe in their homes. Our legal action forced Grey GR, a subsidiary of Railpen, to fix building safety defects at Galbraith House within three weeks. The first trial against Grey GR for Vista Tower in Stevenage is imminent. Nine remediation contribution orders were taken out against three further organisations last week, including developers, to recover funds paid out by both taxpayers and leaseholders to fix buildings. We will continue to take action against those who do not step up to their responsibilities.

Colleagues in the fire and rescue services and local councils are critical to the fight to ensure that residents are safe, and we are working with them to increase action. Many councils and fire and rescue services are doing a good job, but some need to do more. Over the last year, the additional funding that we have provided for councils has meant that the pace of enforcement has stepped up markedly. Councils are informing us of enforcement action at a rate of four per week, compared with one per month in 2022, and we expect that to accelerate further. To support that, today we are publishing our first league table, outlining where enforcement is being taken so that residents can see exactly what is happening and where. We will regularly update the league table to ensure that the public remains sighted on their authorities’ enforcement activity.

Our focus now is on more, and more consistent, enforcement. Last week, I met the building safety regulator and sector leaders to discuss how we can build a shared plan to increase the pace of remediation further. Today, I am announcing a number of initiatives to boost enforcement: a further £6 million to council enforcement teams, the development of a new regulatory protocol for greater consistency and a new fund that partners can access for legal support in complex cases.

For a task as big as this, remediation of buildings with issues was always going to take time. There is no doubt that in some parts of the sector it is still taking far too long. Yet already, almost 60,000 home owners have peace of mind that remediation is complete, and a further 300,000 dwellings are well on the way to the same. Every week that goes by, more is done: there are more starts and more completions and, vitally, more of those who are unwilling to do the right thing are being exposed. We will not stop until we have fixed cladding issues. Today, I hope the House can see the real and accelerating progress that is being made”.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:27, 27 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, as this is the last business, I wish all noble Lords a restful and peaceful Easter.

I thank the Government for this update, given yesterday in the House of Commons. There are more than 4 million people in the UK living in buildings over 11 metres tall, including 1.3 million in buildings over 18 metres. That is why it is of the utmost importance that this building safety issue moves forward without any further delay.

As my noble friend Lord Kennedy and other noble Lords pointed out in the debate this afternoon, we are now more than seven years on from the tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower and the loss of 72 lives. It seems, at last, some progress is being made to address the multitude of issues that arose from that catastrophic fire and previous dreadful fires, such as that at Lakanal House in Camberwell—which I remind noble Lords was in 2009.

I pay tribute to the determination and commitment of the survivors of Grenfell and other campaigners, such as the Manchester Cladiators, the National Leasehold Campaign, End Our Cladding Scandal and the UK Cladding Action Group. Their powerful voices and front-line witness have kept the issue right at the top of the agenda and enabled the progress of which this Statement forms the latest step. However, it is just not good enough that they have had to wait so long. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government are now going to set a deadline by which remediation work must be completed?

It is important that both Houses are updated regularly on progress to tackle the scandalous building safety crisis, and this Statement indicates some progress. However, I hope there is no complacency in moving this forward at greater pace, because the figures produced by the Government last week showed that only 21% of high-rise blocks have been fully remediated and that hundreds of thousands of families are still stuck in flats with dangerous, flammable defects, whether that is cladding, missing fire breaks or wooden balconies. We cannot underestimate the seriousness of the impact on their lives. Dreams of home ownership are shattered as they battle with freeholders to get this remediation carried out, and family finances are broken by remediation costs, exorbitant insurance and the nightmare of being trapped in flats that people are too scared to live in but cannot sell.

What progress is being made in working with lenders to ensure that properties caught up in the cladding scandal can be sold or remortgaged? Even those that have had remediation done are suffering from problems with this. Progress remains slow. What progress has been made, for example, on the registration of building control inspectors? The deadline had to be extended by an additional 13 weeks from the original deadline of 6 April. What assurances can the Minister give that that extended deadline will be met?

This building safety Statement refers only to buildings over 11 metres. I know from the discussions on the Building Safety Act and subsequent statutory instruments that your Lordships’ House remains concerned about buildings up to 11 metres in height. Indeed, it was raised again today in the debate on leasehold. I would be grateful if the Minister could reiterate to the department that we still have outstanding concerns in this regard and would appreciate a full response in due course. Although in the leasehold debate the Minister said that the Government were taking the risk to life most seriously, lenders and mortgage providers are taking a much more risk-averse approach than the Government.

The Minister will know that I have mentioned before the dreadful situation that residents of Vista Tower in Stevenage face, so I was pleased to see the Minister in the other place specifically mention in this Statement that legal action against Grey GR in that respect is imminent. We note that other legal action is pending, but can the Minister please let us know how quickly leaseholders who have been forced to use their own money for remediation, and that spent by taxpayers, will be able to receive recompense following remediation contribution orders? Will there be any accountability for the manufacturers involved in building safety defects, so that all those responsible for the building safety crisis have to face the financial consequences of their actions?

Can the Minister update us any further on the long-awaited second staircase guidance? I note the Minister in the other place said it would appear this week, but as we are right on the last sitting day before recess I thought it worth flagging up again that it is still due. Absence of this guidance is holding up the construction of thousands of safe homes across the country.

At last, we are moving to a point where the respective responsibilities for resolving the crisis between the construction and development industry, freeholders, statutory agencies and the regulator are becoming clearer. Importantly, we are moving to a point where those responsible for failure can be held accountable for their actions, although we must keep our eye on enforcement processes, as it seems they are not the strongest part of the new regime. For example, although additional funding for councils to undertake enforcement is welcome, we must not forget the backdrop of the extreme funding pressures councils are under, which continues to make the increasing regulatory and enforcement burdens an added strain. I hope the whole burden of this will not be forced on councils and that the department will continue to play an active and robust role.

Lastly, I raise the issues relating to the extraordinary burden being placed on leaseholders because of shocking increases in insurance premiums—up to 1,000% increases in some cases—even after buildings have been remediated and made safe. Can the Minister update us on what discussions the department has held with the insurance industry to set out the Government’s expectations in this regard and how they plan to mitigate this awful further burden on leaseholders?

We are grateful to the Minister for her constructive approach to working with opposition parties on this issue. It is clear that the will across your Lordships’ House is to move this on at pace and to continue to press for full remediation for all building safety defects to be completed as quickly as possible. Everybody deserves to feel safe in their own home, and it is taking too long. Those who have profited from not paying enough attention to that safety need either to put matters right or to be brought to justice without any further delay.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, in reference to the Statement, I have to say how irritating it is that statistics are selected to project a positive picture of progress made on the remediation of building defects as a result of the Building Safety Act and how refreshing it would be if the Government were able to reflect on the poor rate of progress, instead of trying to spin a success story. Spinning the progress made is not doing anybody any favours. It is certainly not helping the thousands of leaseholders who are still stuck in limbo in flats where work has not been started and where even an assessment of whether work is needed has not been made. Perhaps an honest appraisal of the situation would put some government energy into trying to resolve this issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, has just asked, what is the timetable? How long have leaseholders to wait while this scheme is making snail-like progress towards some remediation?

In Inside Housing last week, a piece by the investigative journalist, Peter Apps, provided some very different numbers from those given by the Government in the Statement. I am not accusing the Government of having inaccurate figures, but they were very selective. I have no reason to challenge the report in Inside Housing, which says:

“As it stands, of 3,839 buildings above 11 metres being monitored by the government due to the need for cladding remediation, 2,286 have not even started works yet”.

The terrible Grenfell Tower fire was nearly seven years ago, and 2,000-plus buildings have not even had work started yet. But the report in Inside Housing went on to say that

“the 3,839 figure could eventually rise by as much as 5,000”. based on the Government’s own estimates. We really do not know how many are in desperate need of remediation.

So my question to the Government is: can we have a full and final estimate—which surely should be possible nearly seven years after Grenfell—of how many blocks of flats are in need of remediation? How many of them are over 18 metres and most at risk? How many are over 11 metres? What consideration is being given to those under 11 metres, given that many thousands of leaseholders and tenants live in such flats, which the Government regard as being relatively safe but which insurance companies and service charges and all the rest do not? They are in total limbo, waiting for some action to unlock the situation that they are in. That is my first question.

Secondly, in January, there was a fire in Petworth Court in Wembley, which is a social housing building. The social landlord knew that work needed to be done and the original builder accepted that work needed to be done, but they have been in dispute ever since about how much responsibility each should take for it. That is another issue which desperately needs to be addressed because, at the end of it, it is leaseholders who are stuck in this awful situation of going to bed every night knowing that their buildings are unsafe and vulnerable to very serious fires. So another question that I want answered, please, is about how the Government are going to resolve the disputes between what are sometimes leaseholders and sometimes social landlords and the developers and builders.

My third point is this. According to the Statement, the Government are going to drip another £6 million of public money into council enforcement action. Now, I am absolutely fed up with the answer to any problem being that the Government will spend another bit of money trying to do something about it, instead of accepting what the fundamental issue is here. If you do not fund the public services on which we all rely—such as building regulations and building enforcement—properly in the first place, when there is a problem we are forever going to have the answer, “We’re going to drip another £2 million or £3 million in to try to solve it”—and it will not. It will deal with a little bit this time, but nobody can plan with little bits of money being dripped into public services in this way. So, please, at least take this back to the Government: fund the thing properly rather than dripping in money.

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Pinnock, that too many residents in England continue to live in unsafe buildings, while irresponsible building owners fail to set things right. Last year saw a fundamental step change in our programme to fix unsafe buildings, with the launch of the cladding safety scheme last July. All private sector residential buildings above 11 metres in England now have a pathway to fix unsafe cladding. Following intensive talks with the homebuilding sector, we have also secured a solution that will see the original developers of defective buildings take responsibility to pay for and fix historical safety defects. Where developers are building owners and not currently funding cladding remediation, the Government have committed more than £5 billion to ensure that residents are safe—and feel safe—in their homes. However, there is still more that we can and will do.

Where building owners are failing to fix unsafe buildings quickly enough, enforcement action by our regulatory partners is critical. That is why we are announcing a new comprehensive package of support for regulators to boost enforcement. We continue to accelerate our remediation programmes. Over 4,000 buildings of over 11 metres are now in our remediation schemes; this is double the number of buildings in our schemes a year ago. The number of buildings reported to have started or completed remediation work has also more than doubled since February 2023.

From the start, we have prioritised the remediation of the highest-risk buildings. The ACM cladding remediation scheme, which funds the removal of the most dangerous Grenfell-style cladding, is nearing completion, with 98% of those buildings having started or completed works by the end of this month. This figure rises to 100% in the social sector. Over 50% of high-rise buildings in our building safety fund, which deals with buildings over 18 metres in height with non-ACM cladding, have also started or completed work. I apologise for the statistics, but these are real numbers, so I think the House deserves to know. For 346 buildings identified as requiring works under the developer remediation contract, remediation work is expected to start by January 2025.

Registered providers of housing also report that remediation work is complete or due to be completed for 87% of identified buildings with cladding related to defects by September 2028. The bulk of the outstanding buildings requiring remediation are between 11 metres and 18 metres in height. These medium-rise buildings now have a funded route to remediation, following the launch of the cladding safety scheme in July 2023. We expect the number of medium-rise buildings starting and completing remediation to increase as applicants enter and progress through the scheme.

Our focus is now on getting more buildings into our funds and accelerating their remediation process, including through robust enforcement action where needed. The data published this week in our new enforcement league table shows that levels of enforcement activity vary by regulator and region. Some regulators are doing a commendable job. For example, Newham Council recently won a landmark case and successfully prosecuted a building owner for delaying vital remediation work on unsafe cladding. However, as today’s data shows, some councils and fire and rescue authorities need to do more to ensure the safety of residents in their area.

Last year, the department published a joint statement with building safety bodies committing to see buildings made safer faster through a robust regime. The building safety regulator, the Local Government Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council all put their names to this statement. This week, we are delivering on this commitment by announcing our next package of support for our regulatory partners.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I support allocating the further £6 million for the next financial year in grant funding to councils, in addition to establishing a new grant funding scheme to support councils and fire and rescue services with complex enforcement. It is needed; the work is additional work, and therefore we are putting in the money to enable them to do it properly.

To ensure that regulators have the tools they need to harness this funding and drive remediation, we are publishing a new suite of guidance this spring. New enforcement data also increases transparency for the public and empowers communities to see how their authorities are using their funding and powers to keep them safe.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, asked about a number of things, including progress made on registration of building control inspectors and other safety measures. Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, she asked about buildings below 11 metres. I will seek to answer as many of those questions as possible. If I miss any, I apologise and will write to the noble Baronesses.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, asked what progress has been made on the registration of building control inspectors. The deadline for registering with the building safety regulator is 6 April. All building inspectors must be registered at least class 1 by that point. However, the building safety regulator has taken the decision to extend the registration period for experienced building inspectors in England who have not yet completed their competency assessment. To benefit from the extension period, they must be registered as class 1 before 6 April and be enrolled on a validation scheme in order to have their competency assessed at the level at which they intend to practise. They will have until 6 July to complete the assessment process. It is crucial that the sector continue to undertake the validation and registration processes in order to meet the competence requirements set by the building safety regulator.

Regarding second staircases, following public consultation and liaison with expert bodies, there is a recommendation that all new tall residential buildings over 18 metres have a second staircase. This will provide an additional means of escape for residents, and I am sure it is supported across the House. We will publish the updated approved document and guidance. I am told, with some authority, by my department, that that will still be by the end of March. Therefore, I am assuming that it will be in the next day or two. I will report to the House if that does not happen—but I hope that it will.

With respect to buildings under 11 metres, it is generally accepted that the safety risk is proportional to the height of the buildings. The risk to life from historic fire safety defects in buildings lower than 11 metres is less. Therefore, building safety-related remediation works are required in a very small number of buildings under 11 metres. A fire risk assessment and accompanying fire risk appraisal of external walls, conducted in accordance with PAS 9980 principles, will often find that lower-cost mitigations are more appropriate in low-rise buildings.

To give some assurance, in rare cases where remediation work is required in buildings under 11 metres, the Government have retrospectively extended the limitation period under Section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972. This enables legal action to be taken against developers and contractors where works completed in the last 30 years make a dwelling not fit for habitation.

With regard to the accountability of manufacturers involved in building safety defects, the Defective Premises Act has been amended to cover refurbishment and refitting work for works completed after the Building Safety Act came into force on 28 June 2022. Civil claims can therefore be brought against manufacturers for defective or mis-sold construction products where these products contributed to the dwelling being unfit for habitation. This provision applies to all dwellings and has retrospective effect for cladding products within a 30-year period. The Building Safety Act also gives courts new powers to extend liability to the associated companies of developers.

With regard to the way in which leaseholders and taxpayers will retrieve money they have paid towards a remediation scheme, under the Building Safety Act 2022 we have granted leaseholders the power to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for remediation contribution orders. The First-tier Tribunal has the discretionary power to decide a timeframe in which the money must be paid to the specified person. In the first ever RCO issued, the respondent was required to pay the amount specified in the order within 14 days of the decision date. If the respondent does not pay the specified person within the deadline set by the tribunal, the order can be enforced through the county court system.

Discussions have been taking place with the insurance sector. A lot of discussions have happened and, indeed, where buildings comply with building regulations or align with the industry-accepted PAS 9980 standards, insurers should now offer affordable premiums and should not prescribe additional remedial works. The Association of British Insurers and its members have stated that premiums should reduce where buildings have completed remediation or have become PAS 9980 compliant in the external wall assessment and have therefore shown a marked risk reduction. We expect insurers to honour their commitments and ensure that premiums are priced fairly and appropriately, given the level of work that will have been done.

With regard to selective statistics, monthly data is now being released that can be seen by all, and the progress can be seen; therefore, rather than selective data, the whole dataset will be available for people to observe. Indeed, when taken together with the transparency and enforcement measures through the enforcement league table, I hope that will allow not just this House and its Members but the wider public to keep up the pressure on remediation, making sure that it all happens at pace.

With regard to additional estimates, the numbers have not changed since they were released as prevalence estimates. The publicly available data suggests that 4,092 residential buildings of 11 metres and over with unsafe cladding are being monitored by DLUHC. This comprises just over 2,500 18 metre-plus buildings and 1,500 buildings of 11 to 18 metres. We will continue to bring more buildings into the remediation scheme and provide monthly updates on that progress as and when we have it.

I thank the two noble Baronesses for their comments and look forward to working with noble Lords to try to make sure that we continue at pace to make sure that people live in safe homes.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees 4:53, 27 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the additional information, but can I press her a little further on the key issue raised by the two noble Baronesses: the pace of remediation? I welcome the action taken last year by the Government to compel 50 major developers to sign the developer remediation contract, but it does not have a timescale. One large London-centric developer, Galliard, says that its remediation plan could take another eight years. That will be 15 years after the Grenfell tragedy. Does my noble friend think that is acceptable? Related to that, under the contract, developers are obliged to report their target dates for each building to my noble friend’s department in their quarterly returns data. So far, the department has not published that data, meaning that leaseholders are unaware of what progress is being made. Can she consider publishing that data, which the department has, so that people know the pace agreed by the developer and her department?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my noble friend for that question. To start with the second question first, yes, I shall take that back to the department. Given that transparency is a tool that we are using, it would make sense to make that communication transparent. I shall report back to my noble friend on progress on that.

On whether I personally think that developers taking eight years to fix this is acceptable, absolutely not. These are people’s homes; they need to feel safe. The reason why that new money has become available for regulators is to ensure that enforcement action can happen and to increase the pace of the change that is required, ensuring that remediation takes place as soon as possible. Therefore, I suggest that, if there are specific instances, noble Lords should speak to the department so that we can make sure that pressure is put on.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench

In connection with building remediation, has the department any estimate of instances of potential freeholder insolvency? If a freeholder charged with building safety remediation becomes insolvent, what provisions will the Government make to ensure that those costs do not fall on the leaseholders?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for that question. I shall have to write to him with the answer, on the basis that I do not have the data with me.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Llafur

My Lords, did I hear the Minister say that, in respect of buildings higher than 11 metres, 87% had a remediation plan that would be delivered by 2028? Could she clarify what she said?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The 87% refers to the registered providers of social housing, which report that remediation work is due to be completed in 87% of buildings with cladding-related defects by September 2028.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Llafur

So that is for buildings of 11 metres that are social housing. There are two questions that arise from that. First, if it is in respect of social housing alone, what about non-social housing blocks? What is the equivalent figure there? The second, stark issue raised, given that, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, it is already seven years after Grenfell—so in 2028, it will be 11 years after Grenfell before that 87% is dealt with—is the other 13%. It is a sizeable number, and that is in respect only of the most pressing cases, in social housing, which may have been less well maintained. What is the position for the other 13%? Are there schemes agreed that will take longer, or is there still a proportion for which there is no scheme? Either of those situations is, of course, completely unsatisfactory.

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I have numerous statistics in terms of the number of buildings that are involved in this programme. Of course, what we know is how many of those buildings over 18 metres are left without a programme or have completed their programme. Some 10 are left, and they all have programmes in place, so they will be completed as soon as possible. The highest-risk ACM cladding buildings are being dealt with, so we will get very close, in that 98% of them have now started or completed their works.

On buildings of lesser height, of 11 to 18 metres, because the fund was established only last July some of those buildings will not be known to us. We are still working on an estimated number for those requiring remediation. In England, that number is somewhere between 6,220 and 8,890. That figure is based on an estimation and, therefore, a methodology behind it. We expect those numbers to come forward as that fund is called on; as people utilise it to put pressure on the owners of those buildings to deal with this, we expect that number to rise.

I shall come back to the House regularly to update it on progress. We believe that pressure is the right way here, and pressure across the House is definitely the right way to keep up the work and get this done at pace.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, the Minister has indicated a number of times that the Government are focused on buildings over 11 metres in height and suggested that other buildings are not really a priority. Is she aware of the Moss Hall Grove fire in Finchley, north London, a few weeks ago, where four terraced houses went up in flames astonishingly quickly? There were 70 firefighters there and a significant number of engines had to be called to this blaze. Luckily, it happened at 10.30 am, so eight people were able easily to flee the circumstances, but this has led Barnet Council to recognise that there are significant problems particularly with timber-framed homes with plastic cladding on the outside. This one council in north London has identified 580 low-rise homes in need of urgent remediation. These are mostly 1930s to 1960s-built timber-framed homes with uPVC panels fitted in the 1980s. Are the Government looking into this issue? The identification of 580 homes in one London borough suggests a very large problem across the country.

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the noble Baroness for her question; however, I do not have any data with me on that. I will make sure that the department looks into it and I will write to her with an answer.

Photo of Baroness Twycross Baroness Twycross Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I declare an interest as deputy mayor for fire in London. With respect to the Minister, using such terms as “at pace” and “as soon as possible” when things are taking so long after the Grenfell Tower fire seems a little tardy to some of us in this House. Building safety in London and across the country is still a fundamental issue. There is still shoddy practice and that is not just historic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, the time of day matters in this. I raised the fires in Barnet in the debate earlier today and previously with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I would be really grateful if the department could respond to Barnet Council on the issue of the properties referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, but the time of day should not matter in terms of building safety or risk to life. Do the Government include the time of day that an issue might happen in their fundamental assessment of risk to life in relation to building safety? It really does matter in practice.

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Again, I will ensure that the department briefs us and we will be able to come back in writing on the situation in Barnet. I will check what the independent individual has told us with regard to that risk to life and whether that involves an assessment of the time of day. I am afraid I do not have that information, but I am sure somebody in the department does.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Llafur

My Lords, I seek a little more clarity on timelines. Do the Government have a deadline by which remediation must be complete? If they do, what is it? If they do not, does the Minister think it is sensible to set one?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

At this point, “as soon as possible” is the deadline and therefore no excuse is a good enough excuse for this not to be happening in any identified building right now, in order to ensure that people are safe. As to whether it needs to happen as this progresses, we have doubled the number of buildings that have been made safe in the last year. If that does not continue to progress and, indeed, potentially quicken, then, on that basis, I imagine that the department will start to investigate whether other measures are needed.

Photo of Lord McDonald of Salford Lord McDonald of Salford Crossbench

As a department, DLUHC has many priorities and, necessarily, a limited budget. Can the Minister tell us where in the list of departmental priorities the cladding safety scheme features? Will all eligible buildings be covered?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Of the funds that have been made available, there are a number for different sizes of buildings; the fund for buildings between 11 and 18 metres was available from July last year. Therefore, from that perspective, everyone is open to being able to use them. Regarding how the issue sits as a priority, it certainly sits with me as a priority and, as a new Minister in the department, I will ensure that I do everything I can to monitor progress. The monthly data will be checked and we will put pressure not only on developers but on the enforcement side, with regards to the regulators and the local authorities working hand in hand.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I raise an issue relating to what has happened with high-rise buildings since the Grenfell tragedy. This week, the Independent reported that, in high-rise buildings that have been declared safe, substantial numbers of leaseholders and residents are seeing massive increases of up 1,000% in insurance premiums. To give an example, there is a one-bedroom flat occupied by a single parent and a baby where the insurance has gone up over two years from £274 a year to more than £2,600, making it essentially unaffordable. Will the Government look into why, if buildings have been declared safe, the insurance premiums are going through the roof? Surely risk to life and risk to the fabric of the building, which the insurance primarily relates to, have to be interrelated?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

If there are instances where that is the case, then you can either work with our department, or directly through the Association of British Insurers to alert them to the fact that it is happening. There is an agreement with insurance companies that, if remediation work has been done, the insurance premiums should not be excessive.

With regards to other parts of the insurance market and those buildings which have not yet had full remediation work done, they are also expected to be working with residents to ensure that insurance is affordable. There is a fire-safety reinsurance facility led by the Association of British Insurers, which reinsurance brokers can utilise. There are a number of insurance-led schemes which are supposed to be helping. If noble Lords know of any instances where they are not, please let us know.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Llafur

Can the Minister say if there is an intention in government to seek recompense for the taxpayer from the people who are responsible for this crisis?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We believe that those responsible for these buildings need to be the ones who ultimately pay for this, so the answer is yes.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Llafur

I want to press further on the business of insurance premiums. Did the Minister say that there was an agreement with the Association of British Insurers that, once remediation work had been completed, there would not be any net increase in insurance premiums? That does not appear to be happening at the moment, so what enforcement action will the Government take, if that is the case?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Sorry, bear with me for a second. I need to go back to an earlier section—I have ripped all my papers out and therefore they are in the wrong place—to allow me to help the noble Lord.

The commitment made by the ABI and its members is that the premiums should reduce where buildings have completed remediation, or have achieved the PAS 9980-compliant external wall assessment, and have therefore shown a reduction in risk. We are working with the insurers to build a better understanding of these building standards, and we expect insurers to honour their commitments and ensure that premiums are fairly priced and appropriate to the level of risk after remediation.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

Since there is time, I will follow through on that—for public information, really. If it is not happening, and if we have a case such as the one I cited, from £270 to £2,600, who does an individual or a campaigning organisation go to in the Government? What are the actual steps to say that this is not happening and the ABI is not delivering? What is the mechanism that can be implemented?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

In the first instance, I suggest that they go to their insurance company directly and notify it of the requirement that this should be fair and assessed based upon the existing current risk rather than prior risk. If that does not yield results and the ABI is unable to help, I am more than happy, as the Minister here, to have those sent to me.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Llafur

Since there is time, and on this very important point, is the department monitoring the rise in insurance premiums in these properties to allow Ministers to make appropriate policy decisions, and should the ABI not honour its commitments?

Photo of Baroness Swinburne Baroness Swinburne Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I do not know the explicit answer to that. I will check, and anything comes to light that suggests that we are not, I will come back to the House, but I imagine that we are, and if not, I will revert.