Leaseholders will not have to pay to fix any fire risks, vows Gove

Michael Gove has said leaseholders will not have to pay large sums to remedy fire defects in blocks of flats that go beyond cladding, after campaigners said a £4bn package to try and ease the crisis might not go far enough.

“My guiding principle is that leaseholders should not be held responsible for paying for work that was not their responsibility in the first place, and that it should be the owners of these buildings or those who were responsible for their construction that should pay,” the communities and levelling up secretary told BBC1’s Breakfast.

In a later interview with Radio 4’s Today programme – briefly delayed after he became trapped in a BBC lift – Gove was asked about the plight of people facing bills not just for cladding but for potential fire risks such as wooden balconies and missing fire doors.

“They won’t be expected to pay the bill,” Gove said. “We need to be able to allow people to get on with their lives, confident that they are in buildings that are safe, confident that they are in flats that they can sell.

“And that’s why we need to ensure that those who are in a position to pay do so – that is the developers, in many cases the individuals who also own the freehold, the ultimate owners of the buildings.”

Gove is to set out his plans to parliament later on Monday, where he will say that companies connected to the scandal over unsafe blocks of flats following the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017 will be expected to contribute more.

Campaigners have said that while Gove’s plans “could be the beginning of the end” of the cladding crisis, the issue went beyond cladding, with leaseholders being presented with large bills for other defects.

Gove told BBC Breakfast these issues needed to be looked at: “We are seeking to identify exactly which steps need to be taken building by building because again, I think it’s important that we take a proportionate approach.

“We’ve got to make sure that buildings are safe but it’s also been the case that there’s been something of an industry of looking at some buildings which are sort of mid-rise, and assuming that work requires to be done there, which actually isn’t necessary in terms of safety, but that industry has made a profit out of saying we need this or that additional step to be required.”

He told Today it would not be the case that some money would need to come from the central housing budget to cover the costs, saying that developers, freeholders and cladding companies were not willing to properly contribute, then the ultimate sanction would be to tax them.

“Our backstop is that we want to make sure that if all our efforts at negotiation, conversation and constructive work don’t work, then what we can do is we can can increase taxation on those who are responsible,” he said.

“If necessary we will use that blunt but heavy instrument in order to ensure we get the support we need for those who are on the frontline.”