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Housing secretary offers hope for cladding victims

Written by: Emma Lunn
Michael Gove said the government will ‘pause’ plans to make leaseholders pay to make cladding on tower blocks safe.

Gove, who took over as housing secretary in September, said the government had a responsibility to help leaseholders with the huge costs of removing cladding, saying they were “innocent parties”.

Thousands of leaseholders have received six-figure bills to pay for remedial work to make their homes safe after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Building inspections found hundreds of buildings covered in similar dangerous cladding and hundreds more blocks with numerous other fire safety defects. These homes were built by developers and signed off as safe by local councils. But its leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith who have been billed for repairs and remediation.

Many have also been left with spiralling insurance costs, service charges, and bills for expensive 24-hour “waking watch” patrols in case of fire.

Gove said plans to make flat owners take out loans to pay for the work would be put on pause and that requirements for 24-hour fire patrols were “a rip-off”.

He said: “I’m still unhappy with the principle of leaseholders having to pay at all, no matter how effective a scheme might be in capping their costs or not hitting them too hard at any one time. My question is why do they have to pay at all?”

He made the comments in his first appearance at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee since taking over the housing brief.

Previous housing secretary Robert Jenrick set up a £3.5bn fund to remove unsafe cladding from buildings over 18 metres. However, the estimated total cost of making all the affected buildings safe is estimated at £15bn.

Leaseholders in flats in buildings between 11 and 18 metres have been offered a loan scheme that Jenrick claimed would mean they did not have to pay more than £50 a month for unsafe cladding removal.

However, thousands of leaseholders are still receiving six-figure bills from freeholders for the removal of cladding and other work. Many have reported mental health issues as a result, with their homes umortgageable and unsellable.

Regarding Gove’s comments, the UK Cladding Action Group Tweeted: “We thank @michaelgovefor stating the universal truth: Why should leaseholders pay anything at all for the #BuildingSafetyCrisis? Thousands of us now urgently need Mr Gove to convert these words into meaningful solutions. Thank you @CommonsHCLG for not giving up on this issue.”

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