Author : Maryanne Bowring
The Government is now playing ping pong with the Fire Safety Bill. Following yesterday’s vote in Parliament to reject the latest amendment, the Bill has gone back to the House of Lords for yet another vote. The Lords has sent the FSB back to the Commons for debate twice. Both times MPs have voted against changes that aimed to protect leaseholders from remedial fire safety costs.
The Bill is now rapidly running out of time as this session of Parliament comes to an end tomorrow. The Lords either pens changes to the amendment on the table that find favour with the House of Commons, come up with something new, or the Bill will have to start the Parliamentary process all over again.
As with most political hot potatoes, there is more to this story than meets the eye. The amendment penned by the Bishop of St Albans (and the previous McPartland amendment) were laid with the best of intentions to protect leaseholders from bills they shouldn’t have to pay. No dispute there. But as the Housing Minister pointed out during yesterday’s debate, the latest amendment didn’t make provision for remedial works to be paid by other means.
This puts building managers in a difficult position. The only money in block budgets comes from leaseholders. If they are cut off from funds for waking watches, fire alarm maintenance and so on, who will pay? Leaseholders shouldn’t have to stump up the money – but nor should the taxpayer. The argument goes that government should find the money until a scheme is in place to protect flat owners from the costs but this has not found favour with MPs so far.
So what are beleaguered flat owners to do now? The Government’s promised loan scheme for people living in blocks below six storeys has so far failed to materialise and the Bank of England has raised fears that the cladding scandal is now affecting property values so badly that it could tip the UK into another financial crisis.
The Government is hanging its hat on the Building Safety Bill which is due to start its passage through Parliament following the Queens Speech on 11 May. This is the right vehicle for dealing with leaseholder issues according to the MHCLG. Given that not the bill itself but the secondary legislation that will follow is likely to pick up on issues of cost and liability, it could take up to another two years to pass into law. So no one is holding their breath.
This situation cannot possibly be allowed to continue. Each day leaseholders are facing unaffordable bills, rapidly escalating insurance premiums and unbearable stress. Something needs to happen – and fast. At the moment it is hard to see where the help that leaseholders so badly need might come from. All eyes today are on the House of Lords to provide a solution.
At Ringley we are working hard to help where we can. There are all kinds of problems around EWS1 forms and the Government’s Building Safety Fund. But we want our leaseholders to know that we will continue to support you wherever possible and do everything in our power to ensure your home is safe and brought up to standard as soon as possible.
Mary-Anne Bowring FIRPM FRICS FARLA FCABE Founder/Head of Asset Management
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