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Housing

The Welsh government is now offering to buy homes affected by the cladding crisis

A small number of leaseholders in Wales who have been hit hard in the pocket will be offered a way out of the cladding crisis – selling their home to the government.

The Welsh government has launched a scheme to buy homes affected by the fire safety crisis – and cladding campaigners in England have urged Westminster to “look again” at doing the same.

Originally announced in December, the Leaseholder Support Scheme opened on Monday, with the government promising to buy a small number of flats at “fair market value” to help leaseholders who are facing significant financial difficulties and cannot sell their home.

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Leaseholders will be able to get their property valued for no extra cost and then will be matched with a housing association to purchase the property, which can then be rented back to the leaseholder or sold to meet housing need in the local area.

As well as purchasing homes, the Welsh government will cover the costs of independent financial advice for everyone eligible for the scheme.

“Addressing fire safety defects in medium and high-rise buildings must go beyond cladding to make these buildings as safe as they can be,” said Welsh climate change minister Julie James.

“This has been our premise from the outset and, although it makes identifying, addressing and resolving issues significantly more complex, it is the right approach. There are no quick or easy fixes, but we cannot compromise on achieving the right, sustainable solutions. 

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“Anything less leaves the door open to the risk of further issues arising and it is important to me that, once these issues are resolved, they remain resolved. We must do this properly, to get it right now and for the future.”

Campaigners have welcomed the radical move, which was due to be revealed earlier this month but was delayed due to a clash with the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Welsh Cladiators cladding
Campaigners in Wales have been critical over the “urgency” shown by the Welsh Government in the long-running building safety crisis. Image: Welsh Cladiators

Residents caught up in the crisis have become used to waiting in Wales.

Mark Thomas, 64, is one of 450 residents living in Celestia apartments in Cardiff Bay facing an estimated bill of £15million to fix fire defects and cladding on the building.

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Thomas, who is part of the campaign group Welsh Cladiators, said the Welsh government has not kept pace with its Westminster counterpart since Michael Gove took over the issue last September.

“We welcome any support from the Welsh government that will help victims but the reality is this seems to support a very tiny minority when you look at the eligibility tests,” said Thomas.

“It does nothing to address the fundamental problem which is that buildings need to be remediated and put back safely.

“We’d like to see announcements on the bigger picture. Our view is that we think it’s time the Welsh government got tough with developers and adopted some of the language and approach of Michael Gove. We feel like we’re behind the curve and the Welsh government doesn’t have the same urgency.”

Gove has brought in a Building Safety Pledge as well as a £5bn package that forces developers to pick up remediation bills ahead of leaseholders.

Thomas told The Big Issue he would like to see some of the measures brought in through the Building Safety Act in England – which comes into force on Tuesday – replicated in Wales. That includes the “cascade of responsibility” which lays out who is responsible for meeting the cost of non-cladding remediation work with leaseholders at the bottom of the list.

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However, campaigners in England are keen to see the UK government follow Welsh ministers in offering to buy flats.

Building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh dismissed the idea in January, insisting that the “building safety crisis in Wales is a fraction of the scale in England” rendering the solution unworkable.

But End Our Cladding Scandal’s Giles Grover has called for a rethink.

“We urge the Westminster government to look again at this specific measure for leaseholders in England,” said Grover.

“Lord Greenhalgh may have summarily dismissed this option in January but, with Michael Gove having said that nothing is off the table, it would be morally decent to review how such protective measures might be implemented in England including a full impact assessment on this potential course of action.”

Meanwhile, Gove kept up his “tough approach” on Monday, threatening landlords and managing agents who continue to send invoices for remediation work to leaseholders with up to 10 years in prison.

In a letter to Andrew Bulmer, the chief executive of The Property Institute and British Property Foundation counterpart Melanie Leech, Gove promised that “criminal exploitation of leaseholders will be treated as a matter of the utmost seriousness”.

He added: “The law as it previously stood allowed your members to charge all leaseholders for the full cost of all necessary remediation work.

“That has led to a situation where managing agents and freeholders are sending people invoices for hundreds of thousands of pounds that would bankrupt families and leave leaseholders facing financial ruin.

“Those days are now over, and the (Building Safety) Act means qualifying leaseholders can thankfully dispose of these invoices.”

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