THE HOUSING, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (HCLGC) called the clauses in the draft bill, which might allow leaseholders to be charged for fire safety works, an ‘abdication of responsibility’.

Inside Housing and BBC News reported on the report published by the HCLGC looking into the Building Safety Bill, which 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”’.

The report added that 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 the cladding funding so far ‘not enough’.

The HCLGC also called on the government to ‘provide much more detail on how the changes put forward’ would ‘work in practice’, as there are ‘some crucial gaps’ specifically around how different construction and management gateways would work, as well as construction product regulation. All of this, it added, should be ‘backed up by a clear timeline on when the new regime is to be put in place so that the industry can get ready for these changes’.

More guidance was called for on competencies and skills required for the building safety manager role, as ‘many housing associations have been confused exactly as to what these roles will look like and who would pick them up’. This role and other professions across design and construction of high risk buildings should ‘be subject to accreditation and national standards’, the HCLGC added.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: ‘Establishing a new regime to ensure that buildings are made safe will require significant change to how buildings are constructed and maintained. It is crucial that from day one those tasking with their design, construction and upkeep have no doubt of the new standards they are to adhere to and responsibilities expected of them.

‘As it stands, there are still questions over how the broad framework set out in the draft Bill will operate in practice. Key definitions remain unclear and responsibilities ill-defined. Before they bring the legislation back to the House of Commons these areas must be addressed in full. The government must also bring an end to the ongoing uncertainty around who will pay the cost for the historic failures in the building safety regime.

‘Leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill for failures that were not of their making. This has dragged on far too long now and the Government must accept that it will have to step in to cover the cost in the short term. But we are equally clear in stating that this should be the first step ahead of establishing robust mechanisms to ensure that those who are responsible for fire safety failures finance their remediation.’

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, while a central register of building safety managers was required. In response, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘Our Building Safety Bill will implement the biggest improvements to the building regulatory system in almost 40 years - ensuring residents are safer in their homes.

‘We are looking at developing affordable solutions where needed and will provide more details in due course.’