Ministers are understood to be close to announcing a fund to pay for the removal of Grenfell-style cladding from private blocks, as a widely-supported open letter calling for action is published.
Multiple sources have told Inside Housing the government is poised to announce a fund for private buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.
Ministers have not yet confirmed the plan, but a source with knowledge of the discussions said an announcement could be made as early as today.
The fund would help increase the glacial pace of cladding removal in the private sector, but would disappoint leaseholders of blocks with other forms of cladding if it were limited to ACM blocks only.
It comes as politicians from all major parties, industry bodies, Grenfell survivors and a host of celebrities and public figures sign an Inside Housing open letter calling for a fund to pay for the remediation work in the private sector.
The letter, below, signed by the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, the Local Government Association, Grenfell United and many more, calls on ministers to pay for this work.
It says: “This is not about apportioning blame or liability. Blame matters far less than doing what is necessary to make these blocks safe. And the cost of not acting is far higher than making these homes safe. As you have so frequently said, ‘nothing is more important’.”
Ritu Saha, a member of the UK Cladding Action Group, said: “The breadth of support for this open letter has blown us away. We are encouraged that so many people can see the injustice in crippling residents financially and mentally to make our homes safe.
“It is now time for the government to listen to all these voices and do the right thing: the only quick solution to this crisis is a public fund with clear timescales attached for the removal of the dangerous materials.”
Alex di Giuseppe, a member of the Manchester Cladiators group, added: “Every day that this is not done is another we have to live with the threat of a devastating fire and financial ruin. There have been enough delays and enough consideration of alternative approaches. We need ministers to act immediately.”
The letter is signed by Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, and Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester – representing the two cities where most of the blocks are located.
It also bares the signatures of many MPs, including Sir Peter Bottomley, the Conservative chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform.
Celebrity backers include a Game of Thrones actor, a former England rugby captain and TV architect George Clarke; while the Fire Brigades Union and UNISON have also pledged support.
It comes after a forum in Parliament last night hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Leasehold and Commonhold Reform.
Kit Malthouse, housing minister, had been due to attend but pulled out of the event at the last minute citing "unforeseen circumstances". Leaseholders said his absence was "incredibly disappointing and frustrating".
In his absence, Labour’s shadow housing minister Sarah Jones apologised to the leaseholders attending for the lack of progress in making blocks safe. "I think the minister is not coming along, so I’m going to say on his behalf: it’s absolutely horrifying what you have been through and I’m sorry."
She was followed by Suzanne Richards, executive member for housing at Manchester City Council, who described the challenge of dealing with the city’s many blocks where leaseholders are on the hook for the bill.
She warned, along with many leaseholders attending, that a fund limited to ACM cladding only would not solve the issue. The majority of leaseholders attending - representing dozens of blocks - said they are being asked for funds which extend beyond ACM cladding in response to a question from the chair.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “It is completely unacceptable that not all private building owners and developers are acting swiftly enough to ensure the long-term safety of their residents.
“Due to the lack of progress, the government is looking at a range of new additional measures to get building owners to do the right thing and get on with it.”
Dear communities secretary,
“There is nothing more important than ensuring people are safe in their own homes.”
These are your words. You have repeated them many times over the last year – in speeches, statements to Parliament and press releases. They are words we agree with and we believe that you do too.
The problem is that right now they are in danger of ringing hollow. Since the horrifying fire at Grenfell Tower, 434 tower blocks across the country have been found to have dangerous aluminium composite material cladding systems. Last year your government took the decisive action of promising to pay for the removal of these systems from social housing towers.
Removal work is happening more quickly on social housing towers - although there is still much to be done. We urge you to continue to oversee this work to ensure it is done as swiftly and safely as possible. But with no money allocated for the private sector, the residents of private blocks are left stranded.
Of the 176 private residential towers found to have dangerous ACM cladding, remediation work has completed on just 10. Flats in these towers are close to worthless, making it impossible to sell and leaving residents trapped. This leaves tens of thousands of leaseholders and private tenants facing the mental trauma of sleeping each night with the fear of a devastating fire. And this number will only grow as blocks with other forms of dangerous cladding are discovered.
This fear is compounded by the fact that the bills for the work to make buildings safe is being passed to leaseholders. These bills are crippling – demands are being made for sums of up to £80,000 per flat. The cost of interim safety measures, such as fire wardens, are also being met by the residents of these towers. The pressure of this situation is leading to nothing short of a mental health crisis among affected leaseholders.
The government has attempted to pressure developers and building owners to pay. There has been some success in this regard, but that alone will not solve this crisis. Many companies have declared an intention not to pay. Many others who have made commitments are acting too slowly. It is believed around 10,000 people live in blocks where there is no plan in place for the removal of the cladding.
Local authority enforcement powers provide no protection against leaseholders being billed and, in some instances, simply crystallises the threat of demands for payment. The law is also not on residents’ side. Every tribunal decision so far has found against the leaseholders. Residents of these blocks cannot wait years for new legislation to solve this problem. Action is needed now.
We need the government to set up a fund to pay for all unsafe residential homes to be made safe, both inside and out and including non-ACM systems. This must not be provided as loans, which would simply saddle leaseholders with debt. We need this fund to be tied to a commitment to complete the work within two years. We need those who have spent their life savings on interim measures to be recompensed. And we need all of this to be announced by June 14 this year – the second anniversary of Grenfell.
This is not about apportioning blame or liability. Blame matters far less than doing what is necessary to make these blocks safe. And the cost of not acting is far higher than making these homes safe. As you have so frequently said – nothing is more important.
Martin Hilditch, editor, Inside Housing
Fran Reddington, Green Quarter, Manchester, on behalf of Manchester Cladiators
Ritu Saha, Northpoint Bromley and William Martin, Metis Building, Sheffield, on behalf of the UK Cladding Action Group
Natasha Elcock, chair, Grenfell United
Kate Henderson, chief executive, National Housing Federation
Terrie Alafat, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Housing
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
Lord Gary Porter, chair of the Local Government Association
Polly Neate, chief executive, Shelter
Jane Duncan, chair of the expert advisory group on fire safety, RIBA
Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union
Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary, UNISON
Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform
Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MP, and member of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform
Mark Amesbury, shadow employment minister and Labour MP for Weaver Vale
Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for North Kensington
Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow
George Howarth, Labour MP for Knowsley
Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton
Sandy Martin, Labour MP for Ipswich
Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale and shadow employment minister
John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets
Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford
Suzanne Richards, councillor and executive member for housing and regeneration on behalf of all Manchester's Labour Councillors
Sir Richard Leese, Labour councillor and leader Manchester City Council
John Leech, Manchester Liberal Democrat leader on behalf of all Manchester’s Liberal Democrat councillors
Darren Rodwell, executive member for housing at London Councils and leader of Barking and Dagenham Council
George Clarke, TV Architect
David Walker, bishop of Manchester
Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington
John Roberts, founder of AO.com
Josh Beaumont, professional rugby player, Sale Sharks and resident of affected building
Bill Beaumont, former England rugby captain
Jeremy Dyson, co-founder of the League of Gentlemen
Andy Moss, actor who has appeared on Channel 4’s Hollyoaks and resident
Cassie Bradley, actress and star of Coronation Street
Ross Mullan, actor who has appeared in Game of Thrones
Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, musician
Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, spokesperson for Justice4Grenfell
Mike Leonard, chief executive, Building Alliance
Kate Kendrick, founder, National Leasehold Campaign
Martin Boyd, chair, Leasehold Knowledge Partnership
Paula Higgins, chief executive, HomeOwners Alliance
Mark Henderson, chief executive, Home Group
Ben Clay, founding member of the Tenants Union
Hilda Palmer, acting chair of the Hazards Campaign
Susan Bright, professor of law, University of Oxford