Many people across the country are desperate for help to remove the unsafe cladding on their homes. They have contacted me as Shadow Housing Secretary to help draw attention to this problem. They had no say in it being put there but are being made to suffer the consequences. The government has failed to understand this and failed to get a grip on the problem.
There are many aspects to living with unsafe cladding – from the cost of the so-called ‘waking watch’, often hundreds of pounds a month on top of housing costs, to the problems with the External Wall Cladding survey (EWS1) for people wanting to sell their home but unable to get the necessary surveys. Responsibility has been passed between freeholders, the developers responsible for the cladding (often impossible to track down) and government. But unless the government takes responsibility, the burden falls on residents who are left with anxiety, costs and ultimately, an unsafe home.
This week my colleague Mike Amesbury and I, wrote to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick to ask him for urgent action. We also brought this up in questions to the Secretary of State in Parliament. We will follow this up.
The Rt. Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham St,
London, SW1P 4DF
2nd October 2020
I am writing to express my extreme concern over the ongoing difficulties facing leaseholders, and the Government’s failure to intervene in the broken EWS1 form process.
Three years on from Grenfell, hundreds of buildings are still covered in dangerous ACM cladding, and thousands more are clad in non-ACM flammable material. The Government missed their target of removing all ACM cladding by June of this year, and the deferred deadline to remove all ACM cladding by the end of 2021 is now only an ‘aspiration’.
Thousands of leaseholders are trapped in unsafe homes, which they are unable to sell or re-mortgage. A recent report in the Sunday Times found that as many as 1 ½ million flats, 6% of England’s homes, could be un-mortgageable.
The EWS1 process is not working and millions of families across the country are in limbo as a result. There is a lack of lack of qualified, insured surveyors to carry out the inspections. This shortage has been exacerbated by the fact that qualified fire assessors have been unable to obtain Professional Indemnity Insurance to undertake their work.
Surveys are expensive, and in a nine out of ten cases, remedial work is found to be required. A mortgage won’t proceed until remedial work is completed and a final survey is carried out. Too often, these high costs are being passed onto leaseholders.
The EWS1 form was designed to cover buildings of over 18m, however they are being required for buildings of any height. This has been exacerbated by unclear Government guidance.
The Government’s lack of action over the last three years to tackle the building safety crisis has left thousands trapped unsafe homes. The only thing that will fix the issue is a long-term solution to the remediation of buildings. It is increasingly clear that the size and scope of the Building Safety Fund is nowhere near sufficient to ensure that all tall buildings are made safe. The Government must urgently bring forward a long-term solution for external wall remediation which protects leaseholders.
In the meantime, the Government must wake up and get a grip of the EWS1 system, and put in place a much faster and fairer process. Minister must work with industry to speed up the rate at which buildings are being checked, clarify which buildings are in scope and correctly prioritise them.
The Government must urgently answer the following questions:
- How will you step up the pace of remedial works, so that leaseholders are no longer living in unsafe, unmortgageable flats?
- How will you limit and prioritise which buildings require an inspection, so that leaseholders aren’t trapped in unsafe flats for years to come?
- How do you plan to support leaseholders who face long delays to receive an inspection?
- What are your plans to increase capacity among the competent professionals needed to carry out inspections, and to carry out remediation works more broadly?
- How are you working with the surveying and insurance industries to improve access to professional indemnity insurance for professionals involved in building remediation?
The Labour Party will work closely with stakeholders and specialists and will scrutinise and amend the Building Safety Bill to keep people safe and protect leaseholders from unmanageable costs.
Thangam Debbonaire MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Housing