Michael Gove said he expects to announce “shortly” measures to bring “some relief” to leaseholders, as he agreed that the cladding crisis is on a par with recent major injustices.
The Housing Secretary dropped hints of further Government action prior to deal with “wholly unfair” bills, as MPs warned that people continue to be hit by “colossal” charges as part of building safety works.
The removal of unsafe cladding is among the measures being taken following the Grenfell Tower blaze, which killed 72 people in 2017.
Ministers have previously announced a multibillion-pound package in a bid to ensure no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England face charges for the removal of cladding.
But critics of the Government’s response argue that this will not cover the costs faced by leaseholders, which have emerged through no fault of their own.
After Labour MP Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) warned that people are “desperate” and called for help to end the “unjust mess”, Mr Gove told the Commons: “I think the Leasehold Reform Bill can play a significant part in ensuring that the position of those in the future can be safeguarded, but we need to take action even before that legislation comes forward.
“I hope to update the House shortly on a series of measures which I hope will bring some relief to his constituents and to others.”
Conservative MP Julian Lewis (New Forest East) said: “Does he agree with me that this is a scandal that measures up with the some of the worst ones that we’ve seen before, whether it be contaminated blood or the wrongful jailing of innocent postmasters?
“Whilst I welcome his change of tone, does he agree with me that constantly people are paying out colossal sums for things like waking watch (fire wardens) and this must be remedied?”
Mr Gove replied: “I think my right honourable friend is absolutely right.
“In arriving in this role I was struck by two things. One, the combination of circumstances which come so unfairly on to the shoulders of people who bought their properties in good faith and now find themselves landed with bills which are wholly disproportionate and wholly unfair.”
Mr Gove went on to say his predecessors have “worked hard” to deal with an “intrinsically complex” situation, although he insisted there is an “urgent need” to tackle it.
For Labour, Mike Amesbury said housing ministers have “promised 19 times to protect leaseholders from historical remediation costs”.
“Yet we know of thousands of people, as we speak, receiving invoices for astronomical remediation costs,” the shadow housing minister added.
“Thirty-three such residents are in Oyster Court in London. They could now face bills of up to £80,000 each following an assessment using the Government’s new, and I stress new, PAS 9980 form.
“Has the Government added yet another toxic layer to this mess and what is the Secretary of State going to do about it?”
Mr Gove replied: “I don’t believe that the Government has added anything which is toxic to this mess.
“I think what we need to do is to make sure we’re in a position to reassure lenders, to reassure leaseholders and to reassure everyone in the market that buildings are safe, but we also need to make sure … that leaseholders are not paying and are not shouldering an unfair burden for the remediation required.
“As I mentioned earlier, I hope to say more about this in due course.”
Mr Gove also told MPs “700 or so” applications under the Building Safety Fund have been paid so far, adding: “We do realise there are a number of measures we need to take in order to address this situation.”
Labour former minister Hilary Benn further pressed Mr Gove for when new measures would be announced, saying: “Will this be before the forthcoming recess? Because all my long-suffering leaseholders want for Christmas is finally to hear they will not have to pay sums of money they do not have to fix a problem they are not responsible for.”
Mr Gove replied: “I really do have to come back before Christmas with proposals. I cannot promise at this stage it will relieve the burden on every leaseholder of every obligation, but we will do everything we can to help.”
The Building Safety Fund was established to support the remediation of unsafe non-aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on residential buildings of 18 metres (59ft) and over in height in both the private and social housing sectors.