The cladding scandal shows the leasehold system is broken

Contractors undertake works at a London property

Contractors undertake works at a London property - Credit: PA

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there has rightly been much focus on the need to remove flammable cladding from tower blocks.

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign has swelled, with support across the political spectrum for the 11 million people affected.

Despite this, the government has so far only offered financial support to a very small number of affected blocks. 

So to make such buildings safe, who foots the bill? Well ideally those responsible for their construction should pay, but there is no sign of that coming. In the meantime, remedial work must be carried out and paid for.

Council tenants have their costs covered, but hundreds of thousands of leaseholders are being asked to pay from their own pockets. This simply can’t be right.

This is just one example of our flawed leasehold system. When leaseholders buy their properties, it is common practice that they are expected to pay for the upkeep, but are not allowed to carry out the works themselves - particularly if their freeholder is a local authority or housing company.

Only the freeholder (the owner of the land a property is built on) can do so, however badly needed, and if they refuse then the only recourse is through the courts.

Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison. Picture: Haringey Lib Dems

Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison. Picture: Haringey Lib Dems - Credit: Archant

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Here in Haringey in 2019, leaseholders were charged thousands for new fire doors and other safety work, which was never actually carried out.

Following a year of pressure from the Liberal Democrats, refunds have finally been agreed, but leaseholders remain in a position where they know that their fire doors are not up to standard, yet aren’t allowed to replace them themselves.

Meanwhile, in Noel Park, costs to replace prefab extensions - estimated at £25,000 in 2010 when the work was previously scheduled to commence but was then shelved - have now quadrupled, with leaseholders being asked to foot the bill for the council's inaction.

And it’s not just repairs that are the issue. Leaseholders often find themselves paying extortionate ground rents or service charges due to the power freeholders have under the current system.

Incredibly, some leases are written so ground rent doubles each year, meaning small charges can quickly balloon to hundreds of thousands of pounds annually.

Recent reforms have gone some way to tackle this, but they require leaseholders to extend their leases rather than outright banning the practice.

The leasehold system is broken. It is time for a complete shake-up if we are going to ensure everyone is living in a safe home, paying a fair amount with the right accountability; and where freeholders fail in their duties, the power should be with leaseholders to take control, with the support of the system behind them.

Luke Cawley-Harrison is the leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Haringey Council.