People in high-rise homes who are facing huge bills to fix fire safety defects have criticised a government plan to help them sue developers to recover costs.
Leaseholders with combustible cladding and other fire safety problems said the plan, which was confirmed on Sunday by the UK housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, offered little help because they cannot afford to instruct solicitors and are facing demands for immediate payment.
The measure, which would allow residents in buildings completed after 2010 to take legal action until 2025, will be included in the post-Grenfell building safety bill to be laid before parliament on Monday. The government has repeatedly refused to legislate to protect leaseholders from costs despite Conservative backbench rebellions.
Jenrick said the new rules giving leaseholders a longer period in which to sue were aimed at “giving residents greater powers to seek redress from developers whose work is simply not up to scratch”. Currently, homeowners have only six years to take legal action. Jenrick claimed the change would “tip the balance decisively in the favour of the consumer … with developers sent a clear message that if they build substandard homes, they will pay the consequences”.
More than 2,000 high-rise blocks have combustible cladding that needs fixing, with thousands more affected by other fire safety defects. The government has announced £5.1bn in public funds to help fix the cladding problems, but MPs have estimated that the total cost of addressing fire safety issues, including non-cladding defects, is likely to be at least £15bn.
The UK Cladding Action Group, which represents thousands of leaseholders who are in dispute with developers and freeholders over who should pay bills that are as high as £100,000 per household, said suing developers was not the solution.
“Most developers don’t exist and where they do, we don’t have money for litigation,” it said in a tweet. “This is a lawyers’ get-rich-quick scheme.”
The End Our Cladding Scandal group said: “Leaseholders are going bankrupt now due to interim fire safety measures, and all of the many other non-cladding issues. It’s tiresome to continually hear Robert Jenrick avoid the full scale of the building safety crisis.”
Jenrick told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I wish we hadn’t reached this point. I wish more developers had paid up.”
The new rule will not help people who live in buildings constructed before 2010.
Lucy Powell, the shadow housing secretary, said the move would “bring little relief to homeowners trapped in unsellable, unmortgageable homes, as those already in the scope of the deadline have found barriers to mount legal action too high and costly, and outcomes ineffective”.
She said: “Rather than doing the bare minimum and washing their hands of the problem, the government needs to establish a building works agency to assess, fix, find and certify every building. Leaseholders should be legally protected from costs, and the agency should then take over the rights to pursue developers themselves to ensure the polluter pays.”