Almost four years on from the dreadful Grenfell disaster the Government has failed to get a grip of the cladding crisis.
Despite repeated promises that leaseholders would not bear the cost of fixing this problem, there are countless families across the country still living in flammable buildings, facing colossal bills for repair work and increased service charges to pay for interim safety measures.
Inaction has gone on too long and on Monday 1st February Labour forced a vote in Parliament calling on the Government to provide upfront funding and to protect leaseholders from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis. I spoke in this debate and raised the moving cases of a number of my constituents affected by this.
A week later the Government committed an extra £3.5 billion to the £1.6bn announced last year for the removal of unsafe cladding. This will help, but it will not cover all buildings needing work and it does nothing to account for the extra costs leaseholders have faced through waking watches, increased insurance premiums and repairs of fire safety defects.
But of even greater concern is that any building below 18m high will not be eligible for this fund. Instead, leaseholders of these buildings will have to take on low-interest loans to remove the cladding as well as face the extra costs due to interim safety measures.
These are innocent residents footing the bill for problems they did not cause. This is completely unjust especially as the Government has repeatedly promised that they would not have to pay for this. There are a number of buildings in my constituency that are below 18m and need remediation work and I raised this point in the Government’s statement last week.
For example, residents of Austen Apartments in Penge are facing an estimated £30,000 per flat to remove the cladding. They also face the prospect of increased service charges for a fire marshal and have received a notice from the building owner that the installation of a new alarm system costing £81,000 will be billed to residents.
My constituents bought their flats in good faith, only to then find out their homes are a potential fire hazard. The Government should be doing everything possible to protect leaseholders from these costs and pursue those responsible for the cladding crisis but instead, they are forcing my constituents to take on debt to make their homes safe.
Going forward along with my Labour colleagues we will be pushing for and supporting amendments to the Fire Safety Bill that will hold the Government to their initial promise and help ensure that leaseholders are protected from unfair fire safety costs.
For the sake of my constituents and the thousands like them across the country, I hope the Government will finally listen and take meaningful action to resolve this injustice.