Michael Gove has pledged to ease the “unfair burden” borne by leaseholders in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire.
The Housing secretary has set out measures aimed at persuading or “coercing” developers to pay for cladding removal from lower-height buildings.
Also proposed are changes to make it easier for owners to sell their homes.
Buildings between 11 and 18.5 metres high will not have to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding under Gove’s plans.
In place of loans taken out by leaseholders, the government will attempt to secure up to £4bn from developers towards the costs of remediation.
Taxpayers should not be forced to fork out to pay for building defects such as the removal of cladding, Gove said.
The Housing secretary plans to set up a roundtable with developers to allow them to “do the right thing”.
However, if a solution is not brought about before Easter, Gove said he would “impose a solution upon them in law”.
Removing cladding can cost millions of pounds per block, with the cost in lower-height buildings often being borne by individual flat owners, under the leasehold system in England and Wales.
The government had already promised to pay to remove cladding in taller buildings; however, thousands of people are still living in dangerous blocks more than four years on from Grenfell.
Further, many flat owners have been left with rocketing insurance costs, service charges, and requirements for ‘waking watch’ patrols; while others have been left unable to insure or remortgage their homes.
Gove said firms will be threatened with legislation if they do not pick up the bill for safety issues uncovered since Grenfell, adding that a dedicated team will be set up to pursue companies over defects.
Further government proposals include a new advice for assessing property safety and scrapping the “wrongly interpreted” consolidated advice notice, a pledge that no leaseholder in a building above 11m will face any costs for fixing dangerous cladding, and a £27m fund to pay for fire alarms and sprinklers to end waking watches.
Shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook called on the government to amend the Building Safety Bill, adding leaseholders should be “fully protected in law from the costs of fixing all historic defects”.
Liberal Democrats deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Leaseholders still need and deserve a public inquiry into the government’s handling of this crisis and why it has got it so wrong for so long.”
Cllr David Renard, Housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, said: “No leaseholder should have to pay the costs of making their homes safe and the Secretary of State’s threat to use the legal system to ensure developers meet their responsibilities to leaseholders is a positive step in the right direction.
“However, leaseholders are not the only innocent victims of the construction industry’s failure to build safe homes.
“The construction industry must also be made to fix the fire safety defects it has built into blocks owned by councils and housing associations.
“Unless the government forces the industry to act – or provides funding – we are concerned that the costs of fixing social housing blocks will fall on council housing revenue accounts and housing associations.
“This will reduce the funding available to meet the government’s ambitions for improvements to social housing, net-zero, and the provision of new social housing, leaving tenants and those on the waiting list to suffer the consequences of decades of industry failure and poor regulation.
“Like leaseholders, council tenants and those on the waiting list are innocent victims and the government needs to help them too.”
Paul Richards, group Customer and Communities director at Orbit, said: “We welcome the statement from government of the intent to protect leaseholders from the financial burden of fire safety costs relating to cladding.
“We fully support the need to accelerate the response to tackling the issue although we would also like to see much more detail on the precise proposals.
“Resident safety is at the very top of our agenda, and we have been proactively taking action to resolve these types of issues for our customers and ready ourselves for the new legislation.
“From being an early adopter of digital data management systems, to our accreditation to the UK’s foremost Fire Safety Management Standard: BS9997, we are committed to ensuring that we actively apply industry best practice to the management of fire safety across every one of our properties.
“Projects like our recent partnership with Firemark Education to create a new augmented reality fire safety tool for customers, demonstrates that we are taking steps, ahead of the forthcoming legislation, to find innovative solutions and provide sector-leading support.”
Consolidated advice notice
The consolidated advice notice – which many have complained makes it difficult to sell homes unless they can prove a perfect bill of health – is being withdrawn with immediate effect.
Gove said the notices have been wrongly interpreted and and go beyond “what is necessary”.
New guidance for assessors will be published in the coming days, Gove said.
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