Around a million leaseholders left in limbo by the cladding crisis could be allowed to sell their homes again following a ‘shock’ U-turn on fire safety.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that those in blocks below 18 metres (59ft) would no longer need a fire safety certificate to complete sales.
He also said new expert advice suggested the vast majority of these buildings would not require costly remediation work.
Mr Jenrick hailed the move as ‘a significant step’ that will ‘unlock the housing market’.
Tory MP Stephen McPartland, who has been a vocal critic of the Government’s approach to the cladding crisis, said the announcement ‘could be a huge victory’ for leaseholders.
But the U-turn sparked confusion over which homes were now deemed safe and how many leaseholders would still face crippling bills to fix fire safety defects.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that those in blocks below 18 metres (59ft) would no longer need a fire safety certificate to complete sales
It comes just 18 months after the Government issued updated guidance stating that buildings of all heights required an EWS1 form proving they did not pose a fire risk.
The move increased the number of flats caught out by the rules from 307,000 to 1.27million.
It wreaked havoc in the housing market as lenders refused to offer mortgages on homes without a certificate, while leaseholders were told they faced waits of up to ten years to get one due to a shortage of qualified assessors.
In January, the Daily Mail revealed that around one in seven property deals were at risk due to the issue.
This newspaper has called for ministers to reduce the number of unsaleable flats caught up in red tape as part of its End The Cladding Scandal Campaign.
Mr Jenrick said yesterday new advice found there was ‘no systemic risk’ of fire in blocks under 18 metres and that they should not require an EWS1 form.
This newspaper has called for ministers to reduce the number of unsaleable flats caught up in red tape as part of its End The Cladding Scandal Campaign.. Pictured: Grenfell Tower in West London in 2019, in which 72 people lost their lives
The advice states that the market has been gripped by ‘extreme risk aversion’, which has left leaseholders across the country receiving costly and unnecessary repair bills.
It adds that fire risks should instead be managed wherever possible through measures such as alarm systems or sprinklers, and that the overwhelming majority of medium and low-rise buildings with cladding should not require expensive repairs.
Mr Jenrick added: ‘Today’s announcement is a significant step forward for leaseholders in medium and lower-rise buildings who have faced difficulty in selling, anxiety at the potential cost of remediation and concern at the safety of their homes.’
He added that the UK’s largest lenders, including HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds, had committed to review their practices following the advice.
Ministers had previously excluded those living in blocks below 18 metres from a £5.1billion fund to remove dangerous cladding. It sparked fury among those who still faced bills of up to £150,000 each for repairs.
But campaigners said they ‘cautiously welcomed’ yesterday’s ‘shock’ announcement.
A spokesman for campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal said the move would ‘inject some much-needed common sense into how building safety is being handled for low and medium-rise buildings’.
But he added similar attempts to solve the market stasis had failed in the past and expressed fears that ‘this may only be another face-saving exercise’ to prevent further Tory rebellions.
Retired sailor Phillip Symes, 71, said it ‘would be a relief’ if he no longer faced a costly repair bill
Experts also warned there were still safety concerns around smaller buildings, as two major fires have occurred in blocks below 18 metres since the Grenfell disaster.
Meanwhile, there is still no funding for leaseholders with fire safety defects other than cladding, such as combustible insulation, that costs an average of around £25,000 each to fix.
Yesterday’s announcement means the Mail has achieved partial victories on four out of five of its campaign demands.
Retired sailor Phillip Symes, 71, said it ‘would be a relief’ if he no longer faced a costly repair bill.
He lives in a six-block development in Runcorn, Merseyside, where half the blocks are six storeys high – the Government cut off for its cladding fund until yesterday’s announcement – and half are five storeys.
Mr Symes had faced an estimated £40,000 bill for repairs.
He said he’d ‘like to believe’ there would now be no need for costly remediation work or fire safety certificates but admitted he was unsure how this would work in practice.