Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Caroline Ansell has signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that would make it illegal for developers to pass on the cost of removing dangerous cladding from buildings.
Caroline has been campaigning to help householders in around 40 properties across the town who have been in limbo since the 2017 Grenfell tragedy brought the issue to light.
Many leasehold owners cannot re-mortgage or move because they face having to pay tens of thousands of pounds in remedial works, not just for cladding but also for other newly revealed fire safety issues such as wooden balconies.
Caroline said today that she believes the government must do more to protect flat owners from having to pay out their life savings to fix dangerous cladding and that developers should be forced to pick up the bill.
“This is a major issue in Eastbourne and across the UK and it is simply not fair for innocent people to have to pay out or face bankruptcy when they knew nothing about the danger from this cladding,” she said.
“I met with local residents last week who are at their wits' end having to face spending their life savings or putting off retirement. This is heartbreaking to hear.
“The fact is the worry about the financial liability can be just as damaging as the actual fear of living in a building with combustible cladding.
“I also think the actions of developers in this issue is simply not good enough. I am writing to the Chief Executive of Berkeley Homes, for example, making it clear I believe it is responsible and that hiding behind corporate umbrellas and subsidiaries is not good enough.
“I will continue to do all I can to lobby ministers for more help and I fully support the amendment. The government has earmarked £1.6 billion to help but it’s not going to be enough.
“In the meeting last week, I was told the bill to remove cladding from one block in Eastbourne had been quoted at £5.1m – including 900k VAT or £57,000 per flat. Individual leaseholders will each be liable for anything between £40,000 to £90,000 per flat.
“One way forward might be to zero rate this work for VAT because they would certainly offer far more support across the UK than £1.6billion so far pledged for homeowners trapped in these distressing circumstances through absolutely no fault of their own.”
Caroline added she understood that for the government to pick up the entire bill for all blocks across the UK might cost £20 billion. She stressed it was not for the government to use taxpayers' money to wholly fund the repairs but it had a duty to resolve it.
“The best way forward here is to better pursue the developers for this money until all avenues are exhausted while legally protecting homeowners. I will also be asking ministers to look at a larger government fund and VAT reduction to help those who are in dire financial circumstances,” she explained.
“However, I would want to see the de facto setting wholly in favour of the flat leaseholder with much reduced or preferably no bill for any work that is needed.”