Prohibition on passing remediation costs onto leaseholders and tenants

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 25 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:15, 25 Mehefin 2020

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 3, by my own admission, is a rather blunt instrument—I put that down to the fact that I joined the Committee at rather short notice last week. I would not want to invite the law of unintended consequences, which the new clause does slightly, and prohibit people from paying towards something that might actually help them to move house if they wanted to do so. The purpose of the new clause is to seek to draw the Government’s attention to the question of who has financial responsibility. It is one that we discussed this morning, and to which there were no clear recommendations or answers from those who gave evidence.

The Bill puts the onus for fire safety on the building owner, but not enough has been said about who should take the financial burden of the measures that follow. The fact is that, despite the responsibility of the freeholder, building insurance premiums that residents may have paid for years, valid nuclear new build warranties, financial burden—all those things—it has been shifted and shirked, and ultimately the financial burden seems to land upon their tenants and leaseholders.

In my constituency of St Albans, one residents’ association has been told that every individual leaseholder will probably face extra charges of around at least £20,000 each per flat. Some of their service charges have already increased sixfold since the tragedy of 2017. Those service charges have increased in preparation for the necessary works, and I hope that the Government will agree that in a property market that is already so financially challenging, with the pandemic recession just ahead of us, to be hit by a further bill of £20,000 is completely unacceptable and, for some, completely impossible.

More needs to be done to protect those leaseholders, and others like them around the country, from being totally and utterly financially crippled. We heard from the National Fire Chiefs Council that disputes over the liability for remediation costs are very likely without access to funding. We heard from the L&Q Group this morning that the Government should exhaust all options before passing the costs on to leaseholders, and that that needs to be done ideally through Government support. There seemed to be a lot of consensus that without Government support we will end up with very complicated lease arrangements.

My constituents, and many others around the country, are in a completely impossible position. They are struggling to, or cannot, extend their mortgage to pay this large one-off fee. However, they also cannot sell their flat without the EWS1 certificate. They feel trapped in an unsafe building, while having to try to find the funds to pay the escalating service charges that they simply cannot afford. That simply cannot be right.