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More leaseholder concerns over building safety bill

30 July 2020

THE BUILDING safety bill, which was published in draft form last week, has caused ‘enormous alarm’ for Leeds high rise leaseholders in buildings with combustible cladding.

Last week, the government published the draft bill, which included mention of the new role of the accountable person, who will ‘have to listen and respond’ to concerns and ensure resident are heard, called the accountable person. There will also be resident and leaseholder access to ‘vital’ safety information about buildings, and new complaints handling requirements for ‘effective action’.

The BSR will ‘oversee all this and make sure that accountable persons are carrying out their duties properly’, and ‘ensure that high rise buildings and the people who live in them are being kept safe’, with ‘new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings’. Resident panels will be appointed to have a voice in developing the regulator’s work.

The government will also be ‘speeding up’ its work with finance and insurance sectors to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs ‘without relying on tax payers’ money’, while a new building safety charge will make it ‘easy for leaseholders to see and know what they are being charged for’. To ensure these costs are affordable, the government has ‘deliberately included powers to limit’ costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

‘For the first time’ new build buyers will be able to complain to a new homes ombudsman, and developers will have to be a member of the scheme, with the ombudsman having the power to require they ‘pay compensation’. For construction, the bill will ‘fully establish’ the BSR to ‘enforce new rules and take strong actions against those who break them’, ensuring they are ‘accountable for any mistakes’.

The BSR’s three functions including overseeing safety and standards of all buildings; ‘directly’ assuring safety of higher risk buildings; and improving the competence of those ‘responsible for managing and overseeing’ works. A ‘more stringent’ set of rules for high rises will apply when buildings are ‘designed, constructed and then later occupied’, with each stage making it ‘clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage’.

This ties into the “golden thread” of ‘vital information about the building’, and buildings need to be registered with the BSR as well as apply for a building assurance certificate. The accountable person will then need to ‘conduct and maintain’ a safety case risk assessment and appoint a building safety manager ‘to oversee it day to day’, with building inspectors ‘responsible for signing buildings off as safe for people to live in’ also having to follow the rules and register with the regulator.

Additionally, the government will have the power to ‘better regulate’ construction materials and products, and ‘ensure they are safe to use’. Ministers will appoint the UK’s first chief inspector of buildings, who will lead the new regulator ‘to make sure effective action is taken where concerns are raised’. It was later reported that a survey of 1,000 leaseholders across the UK found that 70% were ‘reluctant and worried’ over the plans for increased responsibility for flat block safety.

Now, Leeds Live has reported on the ‘enormous alarm and distress’ felt by high rise leaseholders in Leeds in buildings with combustible cladding, as they could be given ‘a five-figure repair bill’ for cladding removal and replacement. Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn shared his concerns that if the bill became law, leaseholders could face such bills, having highlighted a section of the draft bill that reinforces this.

The specific passage states that ‘leaseholders in 18 metre plus buildings can be expected to pay between £8,000 and £17,000, with £9,000 being the central estimate - but this is highly sensitive to the number of leaseholders per building’. It also states that while a large number ‘may face little or no cost at all’, the ‘typical bill in an affected building might be significantly higher’, with the maximum cost per leaseholder £78,000.

Mr Benn wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, saying: ‘This wording has caused enormous alarm and distress to leaseholders who have been caught up in the cladding scandal. It seems to suggest the cost of putting their buildings right will fall on their shoulders. I would be very grateful if you could clarify this matter for me urgently, because the sums referred to would be completely unaffordable for leaseholders and because you have, to date, been very consistent in saying the cost of fixing dangerous cladding should not fall on leaseholders.

‘I appreciate that there will be some future costs for the operation of the new building safety regime once it is in place, but surely this must be separated out from the cost to leaseholders of fixing a catastrophic and historic failure in the building regulation system for which they are in no way responsible?’

In a statement, the government responded: ‘We are putting measures in place to make people safer in their homes. The draft bill will ensure that there will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings – those 18 metres and above. They will also have to listen and respond to residents’ concerns and ensure their voices are heard – they will be called the ‘Accountable Person’.

‘Residents and leaseholders will have access to vital safety information about their building and new complaints handling requirements will be introduced to make sure effective action is taken where concerns are raised. To oversee all this and make sure that Accountable Persons are carrying out their duties properly, there will also be a new national regulator for building safety, within the Health and Safety Executive.

‘It will ensure that high rise buildings and the people who live in them are being kept safe and will have new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings. The regulator will appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the development of its work. We are committed to making sure that leaseholders won’t pay unaffordable costs for historic repairs to their buildings.

‘We will continue to engage with stakeholders, including leaseholders, on this issue while the draft Bill is being scrutinised. We will be speeding up work with the finance and insurance industries, to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs of fixing historic defects, but without relying on taxpayers’ money. We will also address insurance issues around building safety.’

More leaseholder concerns over building safety bill