Prime minister Boris Johnson has slammed mortgage lenders for their use of the External Wall Survey (EWS1) form to assess high rise buildings, but he failed to promise that leaseholders would not have to pay for cladding removal.
The subject of the government’s response to the Grenfell Tower disaster more than three years ago has attracted criticism for Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May and pressure is mounting for further action.
Johnson made the attack on mortgage lenders after being grilled by Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton Rupa Huq at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“When 72 Londoners burned to death at Grenfell because of a cladding defect we all said never again, but for hundreds of thousands the living nightmare of waking watch* and the non-existent EWS1 form continues,” she said.
“So will the prime minister commit that no leaseholder anywhere should foot the bill for what’s no fault of their own?”
Johnson responded by pointing the figure at lenders, putting him at odds with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) which has just agreed that only those buildings without cladding do not need the EWS1 form.
“She’s right to call attention to the difficulties that many people are facing because of the EWS1 form and I sympathise very much with them,” he said.
“Mortgage companies should realise they [EWS1 forms] are not necessary for buildings under 18m and it’s absolutely vital they understand that while we get on with the work of removing cladding from all the buildings we can, and that’s what this government is continuing to do.”
Leaseholders to pay
Johnson also ignored the request to stop leaseholders being stuck with bills that could reach into tens of thousands of pounds.
This could put him into conflict with large numbers of Conservative backbenchers who are potentially prepared to rebel to support such a move, according to reports.
The government has so far pledged £1.6bn to rectify the aluminium composite material (ACM) and non-ACM cladding on buildings, however this will only cover a small percentage of work required.
Estimates expect the cost to complete work on all buildings could be up to ten times more.
At present the Building Safety Bill proposes a Building Safety Charge payable by leaseholders for cladding remedial works to cover this cost.
However, the House of Lords has already approved an amendment to the separate Fire Safety Bill opposed by the government which will prevent building owners passing on the cost of remedial work in that legislation to leaseholders and tenants.
This will be reviewed when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Note: *Big buildings have had to introduce guards offering surveillance throughout the night to protect against fires
Owain Thomas is features and contributing editor of Mortgage Solutions and editor of Specialist Lending Solutions.
He also has experience in the protection, pensions, workplace benefits and HR areas.
Owain has won two Headline Money Awards and the Protection Review’s Journalist of the Year award.