In December 2020, we reported on the vote by the House of Lords on amendments to the Fire Safety Bill relating to the remediation costs associated with the replacement of the dangerous cladding panels and other fire safety defects. Both the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill are anticipated to come into effect early this year.
By a narrow majority, the House of Lords agreed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that would prohibit those costs being passed on to tenants. A vote has now taken place in the House of Commons and we report on the outcome and its likely effects.
In advance of the consideration of the Lords' amendments to the Fire Safety Bill by the House of Commons, further amendments with a similar intention have been tabled in the Commons, by both opposition members and a group of Conservative MPs.
In a written statement on Building Safety issued on 19 January 2021, Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, reported on progress with new safety measures following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, calling on "companies who manufacture, sell or distribute construction products to do the right thing and address the rotten culture and poor practice that have come to light".
In a further development, on 31 January 2021, Robert Jenrick announced the opening of the Waking Watch Relief Fund which will provide £30 million to support residents in relation to the "waking watch" costs, whilst they await remediation work to make their buildings safer. Also being referred to as the Fire Alarm Safety Fund, applications can be made for financial support for appropriate fire alarm systems. To be eligible, a high rise building must be privately owned, over 18m high with an unsafe cladding system and a waking watch scheme in place that is being funded by leaseholders.
House of Commons debate
Prior to the debate yesterday entitled "Protecting tenants and leaseholders from unsafe cladding", Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said that this "…needs to be a turning point for those affected by the cladding scandal… For many leaseholders, the dream of home ownership has become a nightmare. They feel abandoned, locked down in flammable homes and facing ruinous costs for repair work and interim safety measures".
Labour has demanded a national taskforce to take charge of the remediation works and strong measures to protect leaseholders, whilst pursuing those responsible for dangerous cladding.
The debate centred on Labour's motion that the Government should:
- urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk;
- provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately;
- protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis; and
- update Parliament once a month in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement by the Secretary of State.
During the debate, Housing Minister Chris Pincher said that the funding of the remediation works was a complex issue but that the Government would be making further announcements on this "very shortly".
Conservative MPs were asked by their party to abstain from voting. The motion therefore passed unopposed, but, as an "Opposition Day Motion", the result is not binding on the government.
Whilst the outcome of the vote is not binding, the pressure on the Government to find a swift resolution to the funding of the remediation votes is increasing. We will keep you updated on developments in this area.
If you have queries on this alert or any construction issue, please contact Sue Ryan.