Cladding scandal: Building Safety Bill explained, amendments made - and why protesters are calling for changes

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One woman who will protest today says her youngest child has ‘nightmares of fires’ since finding out they have flammable cladding

Hundreds of people impacted by the cladding scandal will protest in Westminster today (20 April), as MPs are set to vote on amendments to the Building Safety Bill.

Campaigners say it is their last chance to call for changes to the proposed legislation which would protect all leaseholders from the cost of fire safety defects which were not their fault.

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What has the impact been of the cladding scandal?

After the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, heightened scrutiny of building safety regulations and the use of cladding led to thousands of properties across the UK being declared unsafe.

The vast majority of these buildings contained leasehold residential apartments, which in light of their new unsafe-status became unsellable and saw costs for insurance and safety measures skyrocket.

As well as these ongoing costs, leaseholders were also told that they would need to pay to have the cladding removed and for other non-cladding fire safety remediation, despite not owning the buildings and not being responsible for the safety flaws.

This left many people across the country facing bills of tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds, while trapped in unsafe and unsellable homes.

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After a number of years the Government has now put forward its proposals to resolve the crisis, which will mean that many leaseholders will have the costs of cladding removal met - although those who’ve already paid will not be reimbursed.

However, campaigners are still concerned that the Building Safety Bill has many caveats which will leave some leaseholders on the hook for remediation costs which are ultimately not their fault.

The End Our Cladding Scandal (EOCS) campaign recently carried out a survey of more than 2,200 impacted properties in buildings over 11 metres, which found that the majority of leaseholders will not be protected from non-cladding fire safety costs.

It found that 64% of leaseholders outside London would have to pay for some remediation work, as would 83% of those in London.

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What is the Building Safety Bill?

Joanna from the Action for Fire Safety Justice campaign group said that leaseholders are grateful for the positive steps taken recently by the Government, but that many people are still liable to pay some or all costs of fire defects remediation, including all leaseholders in buildings under 11m.

She added: “Despite the developers pledging funds for remediation, those pledges are not legally binding and they do not contain any timescales or any other details.

“The Government has to legislate and ensure that remediation starts happening asap to set leaseholders free.”

The Government’s proposals also mean that in instances where the developer, product manufacturer or freeholder cannot pay, leaseholders will be expected to contribute £10,000 outside London and £15,000 in the capital.

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However, EOCS has called on the Government to take responsibility and replace leaseholders as the last-resort contributors under the scheme.

The Building Safety Bill is set to become law in the coming weeks, as MPs are set to consider a final round of amendments from the House of Lords today (20 April).

Campaigners point to two Lords amendments which would extend the scope of the bill and offer all leaseholders full protection against the cost of any remediation works.

Baroness Hayman has tabled an amendment to reduce leaseholder contributions to zero, while the Earl of Lytton, supported by Conservative ex-Chief Whips Lord Blencathra and Lord Young, has tabled an amendment to extend leaseholder protections to buildings of all heights.

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In a statement, EOCS said: “Unfortunately, the Bill has not had sufficient time for proper scrutiny in both Houses, especially given the number of amendments tabled in the Lords at report stage. As a result, we fear the Government will offer only minor compromises and force through the Bill.

“Mr Gove may say that leaseholders are now the last resort to pay what are still life-changing costs for most ordinary people. However, in cases where the developer does not exist, and the freeholder is of limited  financial means, this is simply not true.

“If no party can be identified to pay for remediation, leaseholders will be liable with many leaseholders not qualifying for the Government’s protections. As most will not  have sufficient funds, this means that buildings will not be made safe.

“Leaseholders are the only innocent party in what is a collective state and industry failure spanning over two decades. Successive governments and the senior civil servants in charge of building regulations have allowed the UK’s regulatory system and national fire standards to remain inadequate and gameable despite repeated warnings.

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What has the reaction been to the Building Safety Bill?

The Building Safety Bill will protect leaseholders living in their own homes, or with up to three UK properties, from the costs associated with building safety defects.

This will apply to those in medium and high-rise buildings, or from 11m and up.

Certain leaseholders, including those with buy-to-let properties and in RMC (Resident Management Company) or RTM (Right to Manage) buildings will not be fully protected.

Although Glenn’s property in Birmingham has had Building Safety Fund approval, he nonetheless has been left with non-cladding bills of “up to £40,000”.

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He told NationalWorld: “Our building is an RMC. It’s a group of owner leaseholders managing our property on a voluntary basis.

“[Housing secretary, Michael] Gove has announced we are not protected because it is an RMC. So caps of £10,000 won’t be applied to us. It’s outrageous, we are the same leaseholders as any other building of flat owners.

“I’m seething with rage at this sickening exclusion.”

Lucy, who lives in London and will attend the protest today along with her daughter, told NationalWorld that since she found out her apartment had flammable cladding it has been “two years of non stop worry - both about safety and the bills”.

Due to the value of her property, she will still need to pay at least £50,000 toward remediation costs, despite the flat now being in negative equity.

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After some promising developments under the housing secretary, Lucy says the Building Safety Bill still allows too many leaseholders to fall through the holes.

She said: “We’ve been in the Building Safety Fund process for 21 months - our freeholder and our Managing Agent won’t sign the agreement. They won’t tell us what fire safety defects we have - just that the cladding is flammable

“My youngest has nightmares of fires and hasn’t slept in her own bed since she found out we had flammable cladding.”

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