Peers have inflicted another embarrassing defeat on Boris Johnson’s government over financial protection for households affected by dangerous cladding of the kind blamed for the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
The House of Lords voted by 326 to 248 to prevent the bill for remedial work, like the removal of unsafe cladding from blocks of flats, being passed to leaseholders and tenants.
Instead, they want the government to stump up the cash and then recoup it from developers, construction firms and cladding manufacturers.
Liberal Democrat peer Kath Pinnock said the government’s own estimates put the cost of work at £16bn, with households across the country potentially losing out.
Baroness Pinnock described the situation as an “unresolved crisis of major proportions” which can only be fixed with upfront funding from the government.
The life-threatening issue of flammable cladding was not in any way the fault of families in flats, but they were being asked to “pay the price“, she said.
A previous Lords amendent to the Fire Safety Bill on the same issue has already been overturned by MPs.
The latest 78-vote reverse means the legislation will have to return to the Commons for further consideration in another round of Parliamentary ping-pong.
The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, said leaseholders were innocent victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and urged peers to help end the “nightmare” facing them.
He said ordinary families had been “ripped apart” by the fire and leaseholders now faced “staggering costs” of up to £50,000 and possible bankruptcy to put things right.
“How can this be fair or just. It’s not the leaseholders who sold defective cladding or fitted it,” he said. “They purchased their properties in good faith believing them to be safe.”
The Bishop said “those responsible should be the ones to pay” to correct this injustice.
For Labour, Lord Kennedy of Southwark said leaseholders living in unsafe and blighted homes were victims who had done nothing wrong and deserved better treatment by the Government.
“They are being penalised for the failure of others. That cannot be right,” Lord Kennedy said.
“We should all stand up to support leaseholders and tenants and get those who have done the work to accept their responsibility and put this right.”
Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Adonis urged peers not to “cave in” over the issue or be “railroaded” by the Commons.
Housing minister Lord Greenhalgh acknowledged there were significant remedial costs involved.
Lord Greenhalgh said it had caused pain and anguish for leaseholders but insisted it was a “highly complex matter without a simple solution,” which could not be resolved in this particular Bill.
The minister warned that amending the Bill again would delay its implementation and said the government was providing an additional £3.5 billion for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on buildings over six storeys.
The Bill, which clarifies who is responsible for fire safety in blocks of flats, was drawn up in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June 2017, which claimed 72 lives.
Paul Afshar, campaigner for End Our Cladding Scandal, said: “Today’s vote shows the grave concern that politicians from all sides have about the very real impact of the building safety crisis on innocent peoples’ lives.
“Millions are still living in dangerous buildings, with flammable cladding on the outside and defective fire protection inside, with the government still refusing to bite the bullet and properly help.
“It’s high time to get rid of the cladding tax on leaseholders, many of whom are first-time buyers who will be facing bankruptcy to solve a problem caused by the government’s inadequate regulations and developer malpractice.”
Additional reporting by Press Association