Ensuring everyone has a safe and high-quality home must be a top priority. A great deal of progress has been made to improve our housing, with the share of non-decent and unsafe homes seeing decline in the last decade. Nonetheless, I do believe that much more remains to be done to ensure everyone can feel safe in their homes.
I welcome the work underway to address fire safety concerns. Following the Hackitt Review, a ban on flammable cladding in high rise buildings and desktop fire safety studies was announced. It is also encouraging to see that £5 billion in funding has been made available to cover remedial cladding work on social and private housing high rise buildings across the country.
Decisive steps have also been taken to ensure that those who manufactured dangerous products, developed unsafe buildings, or profited from the crisis pay to make it right. The Secretary of State has been clear that developers will have until early March to agree to a fully funded plan of action to remediate dangerous cladding on medium-rise buildings (11 to 18 metres) in England.
Furthermore, to help ensure materials used to build the nation’s homes are safe and tested properly, two experts have been appointed to lead an independent review of the system for testing construction products. The panel will engage with a wide range of stakeholders and examine how to strengthen the current system to provide confidence that materials are safe and perform as marketed.
Measures are being introduced to ensure that external wall assessments are carried out to a high and consistent standard, with the Government supporting a new British Standards Institution code of practice for professionals assessing buildings’ external walls and cladding systems.
Future generations will be protected through the Building Safety Bill which will tighten building safety regulation and ensure that residents have a greater say in safety regimes. The Bill will embed a Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, which will oversee the new building safety regime. The Regulator will be responsible for ensuring that any building safety risks in new and existing high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres and above are effectively managed and resolved, taking the cost into account. It will also hold to account those who break the rules and are not properly managing building safety risks, including taking enforcement action where needed.
Central to this world-class regime are the residents at its heart, which is why the Building Safety Bill will give residents a stronger voice in the system, making it easier for them to seek redress and to have their voices heard. The Bill will require an accountable person for a high-rise residential building to engage with their residents and establish a formal complaints process for them to raise concerns. A Residents’ Panel will also be created, which the Building Safety Regulator will consult on matters of interest and importance for residents of higher-risk buildings.
Crucially, the Secretary of State has announced that statutory protection for leaseholders will be introduced into the Building Safety Bill. This will mean that the ultimate owner of a building will be held responsible for all the work that is required to make it safe. I understand that work is taking place across government to provide the most robust legal protection and I look forward to further details.
On top of this, the Government is significantly increasing the amount of time that residents can seek compensation for substandard construction work. Under new amendments to the Bill, residents will be able to bring claims under the Defective Premises Act for 30 years retrospectively and 15 years prospectively. Residents will also be able to seek compensation for shoddy refurbishments which make homes unliveable.
This builds on the work which has already been undertaken to reduce legal ambiguity and improve the fire safety regulatory system. For example, the Fire Safety Act helps address risks with external wall systems and fire doors and strengthen enforcement powers for fire and rescue authorities, ensuring that irresponsible building owners are held to account.
I am also encouraged by the commitments set out in the Charter for Social Housing Residents, which raise the standard for social housing to meet the needs and aspiration of residents around the country. I am glad that safety, quality, transparency and redress are put front and centre.