What has the government announced about the cladding crisis four years after Grenfell?

File photo dated 16/02/21 of Grenfell Tower. Bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell fire say the timing of when the tower is demolished needs to be decided by them and not the Government. Issue date: Tuesday February 16, 2021.
The government have announced new plans to tackle the cladding crisis affecting millions of Brits. (PA Images)

The government has announced new measures to tackle the cladding crisis and to help leaseholders trapped in dangerous and unsellable homes.

The announcement comes nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which 72 people were killed, and which laid bare the widespread use of flammable cladding on tower blocks in the UK.

Despite ongoing public outcry following Grenfell, it is estimated some 3m leaseholders still live in unsafe flats, according to The Times.

In a significant U-turn, housing secretary Michael Gove said that leaseholders living in mid-rise flats would no longer be forced to take out loans to pay for remediation, announcing plans to compel developers to cover the costs.

While welcoming new action on the issue, Labour branded the move “very late” and questioned how feasible it is.

What was announced today?

A crucial change is that leaseholders will no longer have to cover the cost of removing dangerous cladding on buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres tall. Previous plans would have seen people forced to take on loans to cover the costs, saddling people with vast debts.

Gove has said he is going to try to force developers to pay, and is considering legislation to that effect – a significant change of course from his predecessor, Robert Jenrick.

The government have warned developers that they must begin paying to fix the properties now, or risk new legislation in March forcing them to.

Watch: What is the cladding scandal and how is the Government trying to fix it?

Gove says these plans will raise £4bn, and that he was "prepared to take all steps necessary" to end the "scandal".

"We will scrap proposals for loans and long-term debt for leaseholders in medium-rise buildings and give a guarantee that no leaseholder living in their own flat will pay a penny to fix dangerous cladding," Gove said on Monday.

"Working with members of both Houses, we will look to bring a raft of leaseholder protections into law through our Building Safety bill.

"And we will restore much needed common sense on building safety assessments, ending the practice of too many buildings being declared unsafe."

Read more: Minister: Developers with big bucks to pay for cladding changes

Gove's department also say £27m will be available for leaseholders allow fire alarms to be installed in all high-risk buildings in place of costly "waking watched" which involve 24-hour patrols of buildings to check for fires.

What action had already been taken?

A multi-billion pound package was announced in February 2021 to protect leaseholders of high-rise flats in England from paying for the removal of cladding.

However, leaseholders who lived in blocks of flats between 11 metres and 18 metres were excluded from the support and the government offered them loans instead.

Jenrick, housing secretary at the time, said: "Under a long-term low-interest scheme, no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding, many far less."

A man watches smoke pouring from a fire that has engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London.
72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 after highly flammable and unsafe cladding lead to the building being rapidly engulfed by flames. (PA Images)

However, campaign groups warned this was not good enough, and left leaseholders shouldering costs reaching the hundreds of thousands, plunging many into debt.

Furthermore, initial funding did not cover the costs of non-cladding safety issues such as flammable balconies and missing firebreaks, meaning leaseholders were having to pay for these repairs.

What has been the response?

Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy said Gove's announcement as a "welcome change of tone and some good steps forward" but also questioned how realistic it was.

"It’s now clear Gove doesn’t have permission from the Treasury to raise taxes on developers. So how will he get them to pay up? He can’t say," she wrote on Twitter.

"If they don’t pay up who does? Will he raid his levelling up budget instead? Or take money away from affordable and social housing?"

She also pointed out that leaseholders that have already paid to have their cladding removed will not be reimbursed - despite the government's saying the current system is unfair - and questioned what will be done about buildings with safety defects other than cladding.

Read more: Minister: Developers with big bucks to pay for cladding changes

"Four years after the appalling Grenfell tragedy, hundreds of thousands of people are still trapped in unsafe housing, millions more are caught up in the wider crisis and 72 families are waiting for justice," she said.

"No more delays. We need a credible plan to fix this, in full."

Grenfell United, a group of survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell tragedy, described the announcements on Monday as "long overdue".

"Government’s shift towards protecting leaseholders, forcing those responsible in the construction industry to pay is long overdue," they wrote on Twitter.

Workmen remove the cladding from the facade of a block of flats in Paddington, north London.
Workmen remove the cladding from the facade of a block of flats in Paddington, north London.

"But the success of this change of tact remains to be seen.

"When the reliance is put on those responsible to come forward & provide funds to fix it, our experience gives us little faith.

"We continue to stand with cladding campaigners, who have fought tirelessly to relieve the enormous burdens from innocent leaseholders."

And a spokesman for the End Our Cladding Scandal said they were “cautiously optimistic” over the plans, but noted the “devil is in the detail”.

“It’s a welcome step in the right direction but there’s still a long road to travel,” he said.

Watch: Gove warns unscrupulous cladding profiteers ‘we are coming for you’