Calls for more help for cladding-hit flat owners after Commons vote

Liam Spender, a trustee of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and a senior associate at Velitor Law, provided the following round-up on the Building Safety Bill in the Commons earlier this week:

The Commons was considering the changes made to the Bill by the House of Lords (and there were several hundred amendments made there). 

In simple terms, the Government was asking the Commons to vote to remove certain changes made by the Lords and provides alternatives. 

The key issues for the Commons to consider were:

(1) what to do about resident owned (enfranchised) buildings

(2) what to do about under 11 metre buildings and

(3) whether leaseholders should pay anything for non-cladding costs. 

The Lords moved in favour of leaseholders on all three issues, extending costs protection for buildings of all types of ownership and all heights.

The Lords also changed the Bill so that no leaseholder living in a flat worth less than £1 million had to pay anything. 

The Government sought to reverse all of these changes made by the Lords.

Those attempts to reverse the Lords were all successful. 

On the first issue of resident owned (enfranchised) buildings, the Government has said it will open a consultation on how to protect leaseholders in enfranchised buildings.

We do not know the parameters of the review or when it will be conducted. 

On the second issue (buildings under 11 metres) the Government said that the extent of any problem did not justify extending protection to those buildings.

It promises a case-by-case review. 

Leaseholders in under 11m buildings are asked to write to Stuart Andrew at the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities if they are asked to pay for any cladding or non-cladding remedial costs. 

Issues one and two were voted on together.

The Commons voted by 316 to 188 to replace the Lords wording with its own and then by 318 to 189 that the Commons wording became part of the Bill. 

The end result is that under 11 metres and enfranchised buildings (owned by residents) are excluded from the Government’s so-called waterfall. 

They should still be protected by the Government’s recent deal with developers, expanded building control levy and by Building Safety Fund Mark II.

There will be uncertainty while the final details are being worked out. 

As above, we will have to see what additional protections (and they are needed) will be given to people living in enfranchised buildings.

For the moment they are excluded from any legal protection on their service charges. 

On the third issue of whether leaseholders should pay anything for non-cladding costs, the Government succeeded in re-introducing contributions of £10,000 for flats worth more than £175,000 outside London and £15,000 for flats worth more than £325,000 inside London. 

These contributions are only payable for non-cladding costs if developers and building owners do not pay.

Costs already paid toward waking watches, surveys and remedial works count toward the proposed caps. 

The Commons voted by 317 to 190 to replace the Lords’ wording with the Government’s wording and then by 318 to 188 to add the government’s wording to the Bill.  

The Building Safety Bill now goes back to the House of Lords on 26 April, a process known as ‘ping pong’.

Both Houses of Parliament must agree on the same text of each Bill.

Now that the Commons has made changes, the Lords must either accept or propose alternatives. 

The Lords is not an elected body. It consists almost entirely of members appointed by the Government for life.

The British constitution works on the basis that the unelected Lords defers to the will of the elected Commons. 

Unfortunately, as is the case today, where the Government has a large majority in the Commons, it means it can pretty much do as it pleases whether the Lords objects or not.

The best the Lords can do is slow things down and try to get the Government to think again.    

We have to trust that the Government will continue to cooperate on further changes.  

It is not over for this law until it becomes an Act of Parliament, which is still a few weeks away.

The Bill must be passed before the end of the current session, or it will fall.

We will have to watch closely to see whether the Lords has any appetite for further changes. 

The Lords’ appetite is inevitably dictated by the limited options on the constitutional menu, but we may yet see further attempts to amend.

A mixed day for leaseholders, but still important to remember it is a better day than would have been the case this time last year.