TWO CONSERVATIVE MPs have written to all other government MPs who are not ministers to ‘take a stand’ and ‘press’ the government to take action to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs related to remediating combustible cladding.

Yesterday, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (HCLGC) called attention to clauses in the draft Building Safety Bill that might allow leaseholders to be charged for fire safety works, an ‘abdication of responsibility’. The committee called on the government to ‘recommit to the principle’ that leaseholders should not pay towards the remediation of their buildings.

It was ‘deeply concerned’ by the government’s ‘failure to protect’ leaseholders from ‘historic’ building safety costs’, and added that it was ‘especially disturbed by its commitment to protecting [them] from only “unaffordable costs”’. Such a move ‘would be unacceptable and an abdication of responsibility’, in making leaseholders ‘contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible’.

The Building Safety Bill proposes a building safety charge separate from service charges, which is ‘aimed to ensure that the building safety costs are clearly identifiable’. However, despite ‘growing campaigns’ that call for leaseholders to be protected from such costs, clauses in the bill ‘permit’ building managers and owners to charge leaseholders ‘for these costs, even for issues that pre-date them moving in’.

The HCLGC report listed individuals and groups that had said ‘they did not think any costs should be pushed onto leaseholders’, including the Health and Safety Executive. For the committee, ‘quite simply, no one besides the government thinks the leaseholders should pay’, and it was ‘evident that the responsibility for the costs of remediation lay jointly between the industry and the government’.

It recommended that ‘the only way to ensure’ such work was ‘done quickly’ was for the government to ‘forward fund’ it and ‘then pursue recouping the costs’, with cladding funding so far ‘not enough’.

Housing Minister Lord Greenhalgh had told MPs last month that leaseholders would be liable for ‘some costs’ where owners would not pay ‘and were not required to do so’ under lease terms, adding that the government was ‘determined to ensure the sums involved were fair and affordable’.

The committee argued that the government, while also footing bills ‘in the short term’, needed to ‘develop mechanisms’ to recover costs from those responsible for ‘historic failures’. It also warned that there was a risk that freeholders might seek to recover costs of historic remedial work ‘through the building safety charge’, and criticised the ‘lack of detail in key areas’ of the draft bill.

Inside Housing has now reported on the letter from Conservative MPs Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith, which was sent to all other Conservative MPs ‘who are not ministers’ and asked them to ‘take a stand over the current position’. The letter stated: ‘The government has done its best, but it has been over three years and they are not tackling all the issues.

‘There are lots of options and solutions to support the millions of leaseholders that are being left behind in our constituencies and we are working with the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) to urge the government to support leaseholders.’

Mr McPartland added: ‘Leaseholders are the innocent parties in this nightmare and they should not have to pay. There are lots of possible solutions and the secretary of state has to sit down and work with us to end the cladding scandal. He needs to get out of his ivory tower, stop talking and start actually helping the millions of leaseholders being left behind.’

Mr Smith said in turn: ‘Of all the organisations and people who bear some responsibility, the ones who don’t are the innocent leaseholders. It was government legislation and regulation which allowed this to happen, so it falls on government to find the solution. Developers, funders, architects – whoever designed and built these blocks share the responsibility to find a solution, but it should not fall on those who carried out their due diligence (conveyancing) but have found themselves caught in this immoral trap. The government has tried. But they have not yet done enough.’

However, BBC News pointed to comments made by Housing Minister Christopher Pincher in parliament in response to the HCLGC report, in which he said the government would not write an ‘open cheque’, and that it was up to developers and building owners to ‘step up’ and take responsibility. HCLGC chairman Clive Betts said that the support provided to leaseholders so far was ‘totally inadequate’.

He added: ‘Leaseholders should not have to pay any of the costs. They bought their properties in good faith, they have not done anything wrong and they should not be financially distressed. Without assurances on these points, many people are going to have a very miserable Christmas, trapped in properties they can’t sell, often they can't insure...and wondering how on earth they are going to pay for the bills that could arrive on their doormats at any time.’

Mr Betts was also supported by the longest serving MP and Conservative politician Sir Peter Bottomley, who said that delays to repairs had effectively ‘frozen’ parts of the leasehold market, and those affected had suffered both ‘unimaginable anxiety and costs beyond the possible chance of paying’.

In response, Mr Pincher said the government was ‘looking at a range of innovative solutions’ to ‘help minimise the costs’, but he could not ‘guarantee that all leaseholders would not have to contribute’, adding: ‘We cannot write an open cheque on behalf of the taxpayer. That would send the wrong signal to developers and those who are responsible for these buildings that they don't have to pay because the taxpayer will.

‘I am clear that public funding does not absolve the industry from taking responsibility. We expect investors, developers and building owners who have the means to pay to cover remediation costs themselves.’