Resident ‘sickened’ over loans plan to make fire trap flats safe

Plans to force owners of flats covered in flammable cladding to pay to make their homes safe have left leaseholders feeling “sickened”.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced on Wednesday that the government would pay to take dangerous cladding off buildings more than 18m or six storeys high.

But for those whose homes fall below that height, the government is only offering long-term loans to pay for the work.

For residents of The Decks in Runcorn, where three of the six blocks are below 18m high, this will mean paying up to £50 per month more on top of already soaring insurance bills.

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The announcement has left leaseholders outraged after the government previously promised they would not have to pay anything for removal of the dangerous cladding that has left them living in fear in flats that are now worthless.

Julie Fraser, one of the leaseholders and a member of campaign group Liverpool Cladiators, said: “Personally I feel sickened by the announcement.

“As a campaigner, I feel I have let people down. I am not responsible for any of these issues. This announcement is incredibly insensitive and insufficient.”

Ms Fraser’s case was mentioned in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon as Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire described the plans as “an injustice” and said the government had “betrayed their promises that leaseholders wouldn’t pay for the building safety crisis”.

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Ms Debbonaire said: “What does the housing secretary say to Julie in Runcorn who lives in a flat with dangerous HPL cladding? Her block is under 18m so she’s unable to access funding promised so far.

“She lives in the same development as buildings with the exact same cladding but over 18m so they will be able to access the fund.

“Why should this arbitrary 18m height limit mean the difference between a safe home and financial ruin?”

Making his announcement, Mr Jenrick had said loan repayments would be capped at £50 per month, with many leaseholders expected to pay much less than this sum.

He added that the loans would be attached to the buildings, not individual leaseholders, meaning they would not have to continue repaying the debt if they sold their flats and it would in effect act as an extra £50 on their monthly service charges.

Mr Jenrick said: “This means that those leaseholders who at the moment have impossible costs providing great worry and strain will now be able to have the reassurance that those costs are turned into manageable ones.”

He added: “That will provide peace of mind to hundreds of thousands of leaseholders and I think can be seen as a generous and affordable way forward for the taxpayer.”

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Government ‘betrayed’ leaseholders’, say cladding campaigners

However, outside Parliament there was strong opposition to Mr Jenrick’s proposals, with campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal saying they felt “betrayed”.

The group said in a statement: “We were hoping for a solution to stop the sleepless nights and for millions living in buildings less than 18m there has been none. Robert Jenrick needs to get a grip on the cladding crisis.

“Loans longer than mortgage terms for millions and not even enough to cover the cost of making the buildings that the government consider most high risk safe.

“Taxpayers and leaseholders are left to foot the bill for billions of pounds while the largest developers – who have made over £10 billion in profit since the Grenfell fire – are let off lightly.

“Many people living in buildings under 18m will still have to bear the cost – for many above £30,000 – saddled with debt around their necks for thirty years.”

Scanlans, the management company for The Decks in Runcorn, also said it was disappointed with the announcement.

Ian Magenis, one of the company’s partners, said: “It is disappointing that today’s announcement appears to only focus on external cladding and does not address timber balconies and walkways, internal compartmentation or internal fire doors, which are matters of equal concern and appear to be being ignored.

“We are also extremely concerned that nothing appears to have been done to address the immediate problem of escalating buildings insurance premiums, which are a reality today and need to be funded today.

“Some blocks around the UK have seen premiums rise from £40,000 a year to £500,000, while others cannot get insurance cover at all.”

Despite Mr Jenrick’s claims that lower rise buildings are not as high risk as high-rise blocks, The Decks is one of the developments that has seen insurance premiums soar due to their cladding.

Insurance premiums at The Decks have risen 1,400% in the last two years, since the dangerous cladding was discovered in late 2019.

Mr Magenis added: “Leaseholders have suffered considerable anxiety, distress and financial hardship over the building safety issue and, while today’s announcement will bring relief to some, for many others it will not resolve a situation that is not of their making, having bought properties in good faith and with appropriate certification. We fully sympathise with them.”

Liverpool Echo – Liverpool News