Once again, on Wednesday 24th February 2021, actions spoke louder than words as Conservative MPs voted against an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that would have provided legal protections for leaseholders. The proposed amendment would have prohibited remediation costs from being passed to leaseholders, who currently face life-changing costs to remediate unsafe cladding and other fire safety defects. The final vote was 345 ayes to 226 noes.
On 17th November 2020, when news of the devastating effects of the cladding scandal reached the House of Lords during discussions regarding the fire safety reforms, Baroness Pinnock moved that the following amendment be added to the Fire Safety Bill. The intent of the amendment was to prevent freeholders from passing on the remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants.
13: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Prohibition on passing remediation costs on to leaseholders and tenants (1) The owner of a building may not pass the costs of any remedial work attributable to the provisions of this Act on to leaseholders or tenants of that building.(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a leaseholder who is also the owner or part owner of the freehold of the building.”Member’s explanatory statement The purpose of this new Clause is to prevent freeholders passing on remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants, such as through demands for one-off payments or increases in service or other charges.
As leaseholders affected by the cladding scandal wrote to their MPs, many received a stock response from Conservatives claiming the amendment was unacceptable for technical reasons. Thankfully, two End Our Cladding Scandal supporters, backbench Conservative MPs Royston Smith and Stephen McPartland, took it upon themselves to address these issues with a further amendment keeping the core principle of the Lords amendment: that leaseholders should not pay to remedy historic building fire safety defects.
Armed with a technically sound, Conservative-proposed amendment, millions of leaseholders across the nation watched and listened in anticipation as members of the Commons gave their views on the matter. Despite the support of over 30 Conservative MPs, the McPartland-Smith amendment was not accepted for a vote. When it came time to vote on the original Lords amendments, the majority of Conservative MPs voted against protecting leaseholders and tenants despite numerous claims by Robert Jenrick, Christopher Pincher and Lord Stephen Greenhalgh that leaseholders should not pay.
The McPartland-Smith amendment will be reintroduced in the House of Lords on Friday 26th February. In the meantime, leaseholders and tenants are all too aware that fire will not wait. They will go to bed tonight with a familiar weight of threat to life and financial ruin.
Leaseholders did not lie about the safety of cladding materials. They did not cut corners to make more profit during building construction by leaving out critical fire stopping. They bought in good faith and must not be made to pay so that others can profit.
Leaseholders have purchased flats in good faith with building surveys, mortgage insurance and building warranties in place. They have done the right thing. Now, through no fault of their own, they are being threatened with additional service charges of several hundred pounds each month to pay for the so-called waking watch, a 24/7 in-person lookout for potential fires. On top of that, they are being asked to fund the considerable costs of remediation work to remove the dangerous cladding and replace it with a safer system.
There is no doubt that today’s vote will have repercussions for the Conservative Party for decades to come. MP Royston Smith warned the Government that leaseholders – all 11 million of us – “will not forget or forgive”. End Our Cladding Scandal will continue to campaign for a solution for all those unjustly affected by the building safety crisis.
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