Three and a half years after the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died, the UK government has finally announced financial aid for some of the 650,000 people still living in towers with similar flammable cladding.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced a £3.5 billion fund to aid homeowners affected by the cladding scandal, providing additional funding for homeowners in buildings over 18 metres and above or 6 storeys tal
l. Leaseholders in buildings under this height will be offered low-interest loans. According to Jenrick, no leaseholder will pay more than £50 a month to remove unsafe cladding.
The housing secretary also announced a developer levy on high rise buildings and a new tax in 2022 for the new residential property sector, with money raised going to cladding remuneration.
The £3.5 billion investment is an increase from the £1.6 billion pound building safety fund announced in 2020.
“Today, I’m announcing unprecedented intervention,” said Jenrick, “clear plans to remove unsafe cladding and provide certainty to leaseholders, make the industry pay for its faults of the past, create a world-class building safety regime, and to inject confidence and certainty back into this part of the housing market.”
Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Housing Secretary, said the commitments do not help enough homeowners: “Today’s announcement is too late for too many. It’s a repeat of undelivered promises and backtracks on the key one: that lease holders should have no costs to pay. The Chancellor said last March, all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed from every private social residential building above 80 metres high, but that has not happened.”
The government has been accused of slow action on helping homeowners living in flats with combustible cladding. Revelations on building defects after the Grenfell fire have left flat owners across the UK with thousands of pounds in costs to replace the dangerous cladding on their homes. According to the government’s own data, over 1,700 buildings over 18 metres tall are currently estimated to have combustible cladding on their exterior, including 54 student accommodation blocks.
The Association of Residential Managing Agents, however, puts this number much higher, estimating that there 274,000 flats were in buildings with dangerous cladding, potentially affecting over 650,000 people.
Owners of flats in buildings covered in this cladding have come under considerable mental and financial pressure. Costs of removing the cladding as well as paying for 24-hour fire safety patrols have left many in debt, living in homes that are unmortgageable and unrentable.
Since the Grenfell fire in 2017, new legislation has been put in place to address the use of dangerous cladding by developers, as well as tackle buildings with already unsafe exteriors. In 2018, the government banned the use of combustible materials on buildings over 18 metres and required developers to confirm properties already built did not have this safety flaw. In 2020, the government lowered this threshold to 11 metres, also noting in an advice document that, “‘External walls of residential buildings should not assist the spread of fire, irrespective of height.”
An inquiry into what happened at Grenfell Tower, where a fire on a 24-storey tower in west London spread dangerously fast due to its cladding in the early hours of the 14th of June, is currently taking place. This week, Deborah French, a sales employee responsible for selling the flammable version of Reynobond cladding used on Grenfell, is providing testimony.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “More than three years on from the horror of Grenfell, many people are still trapped in dangerous homes. This is a symptom of a housing system which does not prioritise the right to a safe home.”
“It is down to the hard work of thousands of campaigners who have refused be silent that we are seeing cladding pushed up the political agenda,” she continued. “But until every single block of flats – regardless of height – is made safe, the cladding scandal is not going anywhere.”