Labour demands help for 700,000 flat owners trapped by cladding crisis

Bid to force Commons vote to stop leaseholders footing bill to make high-rises safe

Police man a cordon as fire engulfs Grenfell Tower
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Labour is calling for the launch of a national task force to “get a grip on the deepening cladding crisis” that has left hundreds of thousands of people facing “ruinous costs” to make their homes safe.

The party is tabling a Commons motion today demanding urgent action as Keir Starmer accuses the government of “years of dither, delay and half-baked solutions” in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives in June 2017.

Speaking ahead of the parliamentary debate, the Labour leader said there had to be “a turning point” for the 700,000 people still residing in dangerous homes and three million with unsellable flats.

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Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has set aside “£1.6bn to fix blocks that are more than 18 metres high, but it is estimated that costs will be £15bn”, The Times reports.

Labour is now demanding robust protections to prevent leaseholders from being footed with the outstanding cost of replacing unsafe cladding.

Those costs are “bankrupting leaseholders across the country”, says Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham, and while ministers have vowed to help, “progress has, it is fair to say, been painfully slow”.

A Tory source told Playbook that “if it wasn’t for Covid this would be the national scandal you’d be writing about every day. God forbid, if there was another Grenfell and we had done nothing to stop it, we would rightly never been forgiven.”

Jenrick “is under pressure from Conservative MPs to do much more” yet will not be present at today’s debate on funding, according to Wickham. Amid mounting anger, a Labour source said that “as leaseholders across the country face bankruptcy, Robert Jenrick can’t even be bothered to turn up and explain why he won’t keep that promise”.

The vote comes days after a homeowner who bought her flat through an affordable-housing scheme told how she had been bankrupted at the age of 28, and her home repossessed, after being landed with a massive bill for recladding and fire-alarm system costs.

In an article for The Guardian, Hayley Tillotson recalls how she watched her bank account “drain to pennies” after being informed six months after purchasing the Leeds property that the roof was covered in dangerous cladding.

“I’d thought I’d be in the city centre at weekends, drinking cocktails,” she writes. “Instead I was in my flat, crying, trying to understand fire surveys.”

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.