I can completely understand the justified concerns of constituents across Mid Sussex and I wanted to let you all know I have directly raised the points which have been raised with my colleagues in the Ministry for Housing. Communities and Local Government.
I have been assured the £1 billion Building Safety Fund, alongside the £600 million in funding already provided for the removal of Grenfell-style ACM cladding, will help remove unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings across the country, protecting leaseholders from remediation costs. This funding should mean banks and mortgage lenders have certainty that remediation costs for these buildings will be paid for. The deadline for the fund has been extended to June 2021.
I hope the Building Safety Bill will introduce a new era of accountability, making it clear where the responsibility for managing safety risks lies throughout the design, construction and occupation of buildings in scope. There will be tougher sanctions for those that fail to meet their obligations.
The Bill also includes provision for the building safety charge which is designed to give leaseholders greater transparency about the costs incurred from maintaining a safe building. These costs would otherwise be recovered from the annual service charge as per the terms in most leasehold agreements. The Bill includes a number of protections, including allowing the Government to limit the scope of what can be recovered from leaseholders.
Under the new statutory terms, the landlord commits to the leaseholder to carry out the necessary measures, apply for any available financial support and observe the statutory requirements in relation to raising charges. In return, the leaseholder commits to the landlord to pay a fair share of reasonable charges and co-operate with the building safety regime.
I was glad to learn Ministers are particularly committed to looking further at the question of costs throughout the process of scrutiny and as the Bill is finalised for introduction. A senior adviser to the Government has been asked to accelerate work with leaseholders and the financial sector. Barriers must be removed to fixing historic defects and identify financing solutions that protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs.
I know my ministerial colleagues recognise the difficulties people are facing on mortgages and expect lenders to do all they can to unblock these issues for leaseholders. The Government does not support the blanket use of External Wall System Review forms and encourage lenders to accept equivalent evidence which demonstrates buildings are safe for valuation purposes. Owners of flats in buildings without cladding will no longer need an EWS1 form to sell or re-mortgage their property – thanks to an agreement reached between the Government and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Finance and the Building Societies Association.
Furthermore, the Government has announced nearly £700,000 to train more assessors, speeding up the valuation process for homeowners in cases where an EWS1 form is required. This training will be delivered by RICS from January and will mean up to 200 additional assessors will be qualified to carry out the EWS1 assessment within a month, 900 within 3 months, and 2,000 within 6 months.
The Government is also exploring ways to address ongoing concerns around the availability of professional indemnity insurance and I know it welcomes industry’s progress on developing a portal where lenders, valuers and leaseholders will be able to find out if their building already has an existing EWS1, thereby reducing the demand for duplicate forms.
This is the information I have been able to gather through speaking with my colleagues on this matter and the proposed Bill. With any proposed amendments, I will take this into account, as well as any other relevant factors, before consulting with the Government Whips.