Jeremy Hunt has been warned that the government could face a multi-billion pound bill to rescue up to 1.7 million potential victims of the post Grenfell building safety crisis.
If nothing is done, the government faces the risk of large numbers of innocent people losing their homes and lenders facing heavy losses as leases are forfeited.
The crisis arises because the government’s leaseholder protection legislation introduced last year, with the aim of tackling the fall-out from the Grenfell fire in 2017, does not cover three groups of people: those living in low rise flats, those who have enfranchised and those who own more than three flats.
Unless this is put right up to 1.7 million homeowners find themselves in an uncertain position until all buildings have been assessed for fire safety issues.
Not all buildings will have issues but the entire flat market has been hit as no one yet knows which buildings are affected. Those in buildings found to be unsafe are either left with a flat they can’t sell or forced to pay for thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds of costs they can’t afford in order to remediate a range of building safety defects, including any Grenfell type cladding found on low-rise blocks. They may even be living in potentially dangerous flats that need to be urgently made safe.
The government implemented partial leaseholder protections last year, protecting only a proportion of homeowners from ruinous building safety remediation costs. However, this has created a problematic three tier flat market, of those fully protected, partially protected and not protected at all.
This is causing difficulties for conveyancers obtaining professional indemnity insurance as they have to determine a buyer’s potential liability by analysing complex information relating to the status of the seller and building owner. This risks a significant percentage of conveyancers declining fresh instructions on flats, running the risk of stalling a significant part of the UK Housing Market.
The crisis could deepen next year when new banking rules take effect. The Bank of England is due to say how it will implement “Basel 3.1” standards from the beginning of 2025. These will force lenders to revalue a loan if “an event occurs that results in a likely permanent reduction in the property’s value…”
With the current legislation creating a three tier flat market, widespread revaluations seem to be unavoidable. Leaseholders who are partially or wholly unprotected will suffer – and banks that have lent them money could find that their mortgages turn into bad debts that cannot be repaid.
The crisis is addressed by an amendment to the government’s bill tabled by the Earl of Lytton, a crossbench peer, scheduled for debate in the House Lords next Wednesday. It seeks to make the developer or lead contractor permanently liable for building defects at the time of construction or recover from a wide building industry levy if the builder no longer exists.
This amendment would work alongside the existing government schemes but crucially aims to fund the remediation of all unsafe flats, protecting the 1.7 million currently excluded homeowners and removing the three tier flat market.
The amendment is widely supported by 48,000 people, the National Residential Landlords Association and most recently by Property Mark who represent 17,500 property agents who wrote: “We believe that the amendments proposed by the Earl of Lytton provide greater protections for leaseholders, removing loopholes and establishing an independent body that would enforce liability, while also expanding the types of buildings where leaseholders would qualify for protections.”
It is also backed by former state premier of Victoria, Australia and former co-char of their cladding task force Ted Baillieu: “Lord Lytton’s [Building Safety Remediation Scheme] has the potential to change the Building Industry for the better, forever and across the world. It is the only comprehensive and equitable solution on the table. It is not just a one off remediation it is permanent.”
If this the amendment is rejected next week, then the chancellor faces the difficult choice of residential valuation write downs and even people losing their homes with all the negative repercussions for the banking system or the government having to step in to bail out up to 1.7 million people and continue with the problematic three tier flat market.