‘Angry’ leaseholders vow to keep fighting as Fire Safety Bill rebellion fails

·3-min read

“Angry” campaigners have vowed to continue fighting against the Government’s post-Grenfell fire safety reforms, after rebels failed in an attempt to prevent them being passed into law.

Boris Johnson faced a major Tory rebellion over the Fire Safety Bill, but a final push in the House of Lords to amend it with protections for leaseholders was defeated on Wednesday night.

Critics of the Bill say it will leave leaseholders with flammable cladding liable for costs of up to £50,000, despite it being there through no fault of their own.

In some cases, leaseholders have described being trapped in homes that are a fire risk, unable to sell because lenders will not offer mortgages until the cladding is removed.

After the defeat of the final Liberal Democrats amendment in the Lords, the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign tweeted: “Yet again government has voted to punish leaseholders – also known as ‘taxpayers’ and ‘voters’ – for regulatory failings and dodgy developers who they allowed to prioritise profits over safety.

“We have the right to be angry. But the fight isn’t over yet.”

Stephen Squires, a leaseholder who lives in a tower block in Manchester bearing dangerous cladding, said ministers’ reluctance to compromise was “hugely disappointing and really makes us feel like the Government do not grasp the severity of the situation we all find ourselves through no fault of our own”.

“Our service charge account is running out of money whilst the freeholder delays things. Eventually we could end up with having the lifts switched off or the electric being cut off to a 20-storey building, which would make it uninhabitable,” Mr Squires, 43, told the PA news agency.

Fireworks let off near combustible cladding
Stephen Squires is a resident of a tower block in Manchester (Stephen Squires/PA)

The Bill was introduced as a response to 2017’s Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 people’s lives.

Earlier this year, the Government announced a new £3.5 billion package, with ministers insisting no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England would face charges for the removal of unsafe cladding.

However, opponents argue this will not cover the costs faced by leaseholders, including a proposed loan scheme that would see them contribute up to £50 a month for works on buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres high.

After the vote the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee issued a report calling on ministers to abolish the loan scheme and commit to protecting leaseholders from any of the costs of remediation.

Committee chairman and Labour MP Clive Betts said: “We call on the Government to revisit its proposals and develop a scheme that truly matches the scale of fire safety issues.

“It must prioritise support to where the safety risk is greatest and rebalance the financial burden so that it falls on the Government and industry, and not on leaseholders.”

Housing minister Christopher Pincher earlier said: “The Fire Safety Bill is an important first step in our legislative programme delivering these recommendations and I cannot stress enough… the vital importance of this legislation and the ramifications if it fails as a result of outstanding remediation amendments.”

The Bill is expected to receive royal assent on Thursday ahead of the current parliamentary session being concluded.