Esther McVey’s final act as Housing Minister played out in a Common’s committee room where she was told government needed to urgently increase the £600m fund to remove dangerous cladding – with the Prime Minister accused of either not having a grip on Grenfell or not caring.
At a Westminster Hall debate on leaseholders and cladding, Labour’s Hilary Benn led cross-party calls for Government to face up to a “potentially colossal drain on the public purse” and help flat owners in buildings with fire safety problems.
Other MPs weighed in to bludgeon McVey with accusations as to how present policy was creating “mortgage prisoners”.
Benn said the extent of the issue meant the Treasury must now release funds to fix “all buildings with unsafe cladding of whatever type”, and end its policy of only offering to fix those with ACM panels.
Labour has estimated that 600,000 leaseholders could be trapped in flats that are dangerous and effectively worthless because they are covered in combustible cladding that is not ACM or have other identified fire safety problems, which neither the government, developers or freeholders are offering to fix.
To Benn, this policy was manifestly unjust.
“Boris Johnson either doesn’t have a grip on Grenfell – or he doesn’t care,” said Benn.
Last month, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he was “considering options” with the Treasury on the support that can go to leaseholders.
Very little money has been released from the existing £200m fund for leaseholders with ACM launched in May last year – with only one building so far been approved for a full-cost remediation.
Latest government stats show that 174 private-sector residential buildings with ACM are yet to be remediated.
At Westminster Hall, Shabana Mahmood (Lab), spoke of one constituent was facing a £100,000 bill, while colleague Matthew Pennycook (Lab) said leaseholders in “scores of developments” in his Greenwich and Woolwich constituency cannot sell their homes – with at least 24 buildings wrapped in a type of combustible cladding not covered by government funding.
Meg Hillier (Lab) said one leaseholder constituent who could not remortgage their home because of its cladding was paying £800 a month more than necessary.
David Lammy (Lab) said that in his constituency more than 400 people affected by the cladding crisis could not get a mortgage or remortgage.
Acknowledging “stress and anguish” caused to residents, McVey bowed out saying said she could not go beyond “ongoing conversations and negotiations”.