Leaseholders ‘trapped’ in flats due to the cladding crisis could soon be able to sell or remortgage their properties after a government intervention announced today.
Robert Jenrick said a Government-commissioned review by experts found there was “no evidence of systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats”, citing evidence suggesting only 9% of blazes were in blocks of flats of four storeys or more.
He said in a speech to MPs that the review had resulted in five recommendations to stop what he called the “disproportionate reaction” of lenders to the cladding crisis.
A key recommendation is that an EWS1 form, which assesses the safety of external cladding, should not be a requirement on buildings below 18 metres.
Major lenders such as HSBC UK and Barclays said they are supportive of this position and they will review their practices on the process following the recommendation from the expert panel.
Previously lenders were requesting the safety form and many properties were failing due to concerns about cladding, leaving leaseholders trapped and forced into expensive safety measures such as “waking watches”.
The Government said it hopes this intervention will reduce “needless and costly remediation in lower rise buildings” and restore market confidence allowing flat owners to buy, sell or re-mortgage homes.
On the reasoning behind the proposals, Mr Jenrick said there had been “extreme risk aversion” in the housing market in recent years as a result of concerns about the costs of replacing cladding.
In his statement, Mr Jenrick detailed wider reforms and said: “It is my expectation that these actions will significantly ease the challenges faced by the vast majority of leaseholders looking to buy or sell flats in high-rise buildings and ensure that leaseholders do not face huge bills for unnecessary remediation works.”
The update came as the House of Commons considered the Building Safety Bill, which gives a new building safety regulator powers to prosecute rule-breaking developers and take their properties off the market.
The legislation is part of plans to strengthen regulations for high-rise buildings and avert a further tragedy like the Grenfell Tower blaze, which killed 72 people in 2017.
Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell accused Mr Jenrick of treating the Commons with “contempt” by releasing details of the new announcements during his speech given MPs have spent weeks preparing for the Bill’s second reading debate.
She said: “We support the majority of what is in the Bill, which at last strengthens regulation of high-rise buildings – although it could go further.
“However, we do have serious concerns about what is not in the Bill. It abandons those leaseholders already trapped in the building safety crisis, and we will seek every avenue to provide cast-iron legal guarantees that have long been promised.”
A statement released by End Our Cladding Scandal said it “cautiously welcomes today’s shock government announcement on EWS1 and the need to inject some much-needed common sense into how building safety is being handled for low- and medium-rise apartment buildings.”
But added that “we’ve been here before” and that in November “MHCLG triumphantly announced that blocks with ‘no cladding’ would not require EWS1 certification.”
However the statement adds “it took just hours for the news to be shot down by UK Finance, which represents mortgage lenders, and the Building Societies Association, both of which said they had not given their sign-off”.
They added: “Having spent years dealing with the way this Government tries to pull the wool over our eyes, we fear this may only be another face-saving exercise to try to stop more and more Conservative MPs from taking action against their self-styled party of home ownership from letting leaseholders pick up the tab for collective state and industry failure.”
Additional reporting by PA