The UK’s Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has promised an extra £3.5bn from the Government to help remove the unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings over 18m – an issue that is estimated to be affecting 700,000 people.

The move comes as calls from residents, leaseholders, campaigners and other stakeholders have grown increasingly prominent in recent months. Hundreds of thousands of residents have felt unsafe and trapped in their flats since findings from the Grenfell Inquiry highlighted that unsafe cladding was the ‘primary cause of the fire spread’ of the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 in which 72 people died.

While Mr Jenrick noted that 95% of the buildings first identified with unsafe ACM cladding – the type used on the Grenfell facade – have been remediated or are currently being worked on, it has been widely recognised that there are thousands of other buildings with similarly unsafe cladding still in existence, with significant costs being directed to leaseholders and residents.

The £3.5bn is an addition to the original pot of £1.6bn released for the Building Safety Fund, announced last year by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Mr Jenrick told the Commons that leaseholders in these high-rise buildings over 18m (or with six storeys or more), would face no extra cost to themselves for the cladding remediation works in England, and that this investment was an “unprecedented intervention” by government to “remove unsafe cladding and provide certainty to leaseholders… and to reject confidence and certainty back into this part of the housing market”.

The funding will focus on the “higher rise buildings” above 18 metres, which Mr Jenrick explained was based on the advice from the independent expert advisory panel that these are where the “overwhelming majority” of the risks lie. For lower and medium-rise blocks, the Government is promising a long-term scheme to protect leaseholders facing costs with financial support for cladding remediation on blocks between four and six storeys. In the low-interest scheme, leaseholders will be required to pay “no more than £50 a month”, and that this scheme will be available for “many years to come”.

Mr Jenrick also noted that he believes the extra investment will help to reduce insurance premiums, which have rocketed in some cases due to the assessment of risk on cladding and buildings that have been deemed unsafe, and that building owners and developers should step up to meet the costs of the work. A new levy will therefore be put in place on future development of certain high-rise buildings in England, as well as a new tax for the UK residential property sector that is set to be introduced in 2022 to help raise the money for the removal of cladding and reduce pressure on taxpayers.

“Proposals don’t go far enough”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Conservative MP Stephen McPartland commented that the announcement did not go far enough: “The support he has offered does not help most people because people who’ve got excessive insurance premiums, fire safety defects – that’s where the real costs are”.

In a similar vein, many responses to the news highlighted that the announcement left many questions unanswered, such as the immediate issue of the extraordinary rise in insurance premiums, homes remaining unsellable, the fact that leaseholders in flats under 18m are not being supported enough and would still have to pay, why the construction industry and cladding manufacturers aren’t being required to pay more, and that the government funding has not been easy to access.

On Twitter, the End Our Cladding Scandal released a statement, saying they felt “betrayed” by the announcement, with loans that could potentially be “longer than mortgage terms for millions” a result of the low-interest scheme for blocks under 18m.

Jonathan O’Neill OBE, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), also believes that the measures should apply to all affected buildings – regardless of their height: “It has now been more than three and a half years since the issue of combustible cladding surfaced as an issue for leaseholders. Whether the problems arose due to ambiguous and confusing legislation, a broken regulatory system, ignorance or incompetence in the construction sector, or suppliers of building products gaming the system; what is abundantly clear is that it was of no fault of the leaseholders who continue to face uncertainty despite today’s announcement.

“The Government must act now and support all leaseholders, in all affected buildings regardless of their height, with grants to bring this debacle to a close. It should then be on the Government to pursue those responsible through the courts to ensure the money is fully repaid. This has been going on for too long, it is completely unacceptable that we continue to have people living in buildings which are fundamentally unsafe and leaseholders facing financial ruin for believing that we had a regulatory system that was fit for purpose and robust. The FPA has made repeated requests for the Government to ban the use of combustible materials on all high-risk buildings; this situation is clearly of its own making and they must act now to bring this debacle to a close.”

As reported on:  IFSEC GLOBAL