In My View: Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham

The problems for people who own high rise flats are going from bad to worse because of the cladding debacle. Grenfell was a disaster because of unsafe cladding and so obviously it was right for all high rise buildings to be checked and dangerous cladding replaced.

But years later the problems are far from solved and many local people have had their lives put on hold as they are unable to move out of their flats because they can’t sell them as they can’t get the certificate that is required to show that their cladding is safe.

There aren’t enough technical experts to do the assessments so there’s a long waiting list for certification. Without the certification, buyers can’t go ahead with a purchase as banks and mortgage companies won’t lend.

If people need to move it is hugely problematic to be stuck. They might need to move because they are taking up a new job, or because they’ve had another child and are overcrowded or for many other reasons.

But they are in limbo without any idea of when they’ll be able to sell their flat and when they’ll be able to move.

Then there’s the problem for those where the cladding replacement has been done and the costs amounting to thousands of pounds are passed on to the leaseholders who are just not in a position to pay.

Getting on to the property ladder for a first-time buyer involves a big financial stretch for most people. They just don’t have thousands of pounds left over to pay a hefty bill which they could not possibly have expected at the time of the purchase.

The costs for leaseholders have increased in multiple other ways.

Blocks awaiting cladding replacement often use fire wardens to patrol the building on a 24/7 “waking watch”. Often that is demanded by the building’s insurers. But that is another unanticipated expense.

And the costs of insurance shoot up as insurance companies insist on higher premiums and vast “excess” payments before they’ll agree to insure blocks with cladding issues.

If you buy a new car and then there’s a fault, you can be confident that the manufacturer will take it back and either repair it, give you a refund or a new one.

You, as the purchaser, don’t have to foot the bill. Yet when it comes to faulty cladding the cost falls not on the developer or the freehold owner but on the leaseholder who has done nothing to contribute to the problem and who is the last person who’s caused it.

This, in economic parlance, is “market failure”. The situation is penalising innocent leaseholders and causing massive problems and unfairness.

If there’s a market failure, the last resort to sort it out is the Government. And so far, despite early promises which raised leaseholders’ hopes, they have failed to deal with it.

They must do so urgently. It’s gone on far too long and for many, including in Camberwell and Peckham, that dream of owning their first home has turned into a nightmare.

 


 

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