August 2022 update: Optivo announced in May 2022 that it would cover remediation costs for leaseholders at Norfolk House in Deptford, including waking watches and fire alarms. This story is from February 2021 and does not reflect the current situation.
Residents living in flats wrapped in unsafe cladding and insulation in two SE London developments have said they still face bankruptcy and have dismissed the government’s new £3.5 billion fund for remediation works as “inadequate”.
Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, announced the new fund – on top of £1.6 billion previously pledged – in Parliament on Wednesday. But the new fund does not apply to buildings below 18 metres and will not cover internal fire safety works or fire wardens.
853 has previously reported on the plight faced by hundreds of leaseholders at Royal Artillery Quays in Thamesmead and shared-ownership residents at Norfolk House in Deptford, who have been told that they might have to foot the multi-million pound bill for fire safety works on their homes.
Lee Malcolmson, who lives in Norfolk House, on Brookmill Road, said: “The funding will help a few people but is another half-baked attempt by the government to put a sticking plaster on the problem rather than solve it once and for all and make the people responsible pay.”
He said that it should be the “builders, developers and building owners” who cover the costs. Residents in Norfolk House were told last April that their building was covered in “significant quantities of combustible insulation” while their timber balconies could “assist with the spread of flame on the external wall”.
“The fund announced today is inadequate,” he added.
Norfolk House, whose freehold is owned by the housing association Optivo, is just a few centimetres short of 18 metres, making it ineligible for the new fund. Jenrick announced a “long-term, low-interest scheme” capped at £50 a month for these leaseholders to pay for the removal of unsafe cladding.
Malcolmson said that the loan scheme “was not the end of the matter” because it would not cover the thousands of pounds needed for a waking watch, temporary alarm systems and other fire safety works within the building. Optivo has yet to rule out asking residents to pay for the estimated £3 million bill for fire safety measures if they cannot recoup the costs from insurance companies or “other people involved in the construction”.
Lana Ross*, a frontline worker who also lives in Norfolk House, said: “I want to start crying, shouting and kicking. Why should I have to get a loan to pay and be responsible for something I didn’t create. We don’t know how long the loans will be for, will it be 30 years? Will the loan follow us if we move out? Will we ever be able to move out?”
Under the shared-ownership scheme, residents of Norfolk House own a percentage of their home – anything from 25% to 75% – and cover the rest through rent. Despite this, residents were told they might have to pay the full cost of fire safety work.
Ross said: “I think that’s the worst part of the whole thing, I’m still being told I might have to pay 100 per cent when I only own a percentage of my flat.”
In his speech in parliament, Jenrick promised to “make particular provision to protect” shared-ownership leaseholders “so that they do not have to meet disproportionate costs with regard to cladding remediation”.
Some of the 418 leaseholders at the Royal Artillery Quays development in Thamesmead warned that Jenrick’s new fund was coming too late for many of them.
Steve Day, an IT worker, initially loved his “dream home” by the river when he moved into the 16-storey building in 2016. Barratt Developments, which built the tower complex in 2003, became the first house builder to back a developer levy to pay for cladding removal last week.
The Royal Artillery Quays flats are eligible for the newly-announced fund to remove cladding, but Day said: “So many people [in the development] are on anti-depressants. We recently did a poll of residents, and out of the 85 who responded, 63 per cent said they were at risk of bankruptcy.”
Mr Day said his annual service charge at his flat had doubled from around £3,000 to £6,000 after unsafe cladding and wall insulation was identified in November 2018.
He also said he was worried about a “killer” building insurance hike next month and said: “This can push me into a very difficult financial situation.”
Day added: “We feel Jenrick has bowed to some of our pressure but we have a long way to go.”
Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft, who represents the Norfolk House residents, said Jenrick’s announcement was a “repeat of undelivered promises made a year ago” and added that she had “many questions” around the proposed loan scheme.
“The government has missed every target for removing dangerous ACM cladding. There are still 50,000 people who are living in flats wrapped in this, the same cladding found on Grenfell Tower, and thousands more with other dangerous cladding.
“He didn’t say when leaseholders will start receiving funding for round the clock fire patrols? Nor how will they protect leaseholders from sky-rocketing insurance?”
“Government inaction and delay has caused the building safety crisis to spiral. People cannot continue to live in unsafe homes. Home-owners shouldn’t face bankruptcy to fix a problem they didn’t cause. Unfortunately these proposals will leave too many people still struggling and facing loans, instead of being given justice. Sadly for many local residents there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, whose constituency covers Royal Artillery Quays, said: “The new funding announced is welcome and it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s nowhere near enough to meet the total projected costs of the crisis and the levy on developers is, as expected, tokenistic.
“I’m particularly concerned about what the proposed loans for affected buildings under 18 metres will mean for leaseholders, many of whom are likely to be pushed over the edge financially as a result of the costs of repayment being added to their monthly service charge.
“Then there is the related issue of what attaching long-term loans to sites will mean for property values, the impact that devaluations are likely to have on many leaseholders, particularly in areas of lower property values, in terms of negative equity and bankruptcy, and of course the wider implications for the housing market and mortgage lenders. In short, the cladding crisis is far from over.”
*Lana Ross’s real name was changed at her request
EMILY FINCH is a former reporter with the Islington Tribune.
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