EXCLUSIVE: 70,000 are living in unsafe buildings in South London

EXCLUSIVE BY ALEXANDRA WARREN

More than 70,000 people in South London are thought to be living in buildings with cladding that is unlikely to meet current building standards, government figures show.

Southwark has been worst affected by the crisis, with an estimated 16,982 people living in potentially dangerous housing.

It is followed by Greenwich, with an estimated 14,755 people affected, and then Wandsworth, with approximately 13,502.

The cladding crisis has caused huge numbers of problems, from residents incurring huge building costs to the emotional stress of living in what residents fear are unsafe buildings.

Many have had to pay for extra services to keep themselves safe before remedial work starts.

These include installing new fire alarms or having a “waking watch” system – where staff are employed to patrol the building to check for signs of fire.

Leaseholders of flats are also unable to sell or remortgage their properties.

The Government has provided a £1.6billion fund to fix the problem, but there are fears the costs across the country could be double that – or even more.

The fund does not cover additional costs and some leaseholders have had the bills added to their service charge.
Lesley Whyte, 40, who lives in Courtenay House in Brixton Hill in a converted office block with more than 100 flats, has had the cost of the waking watch and the increase in insurance tacked on to her bill.

The overall bill for the waking watch alone is £7,000 per month.

Ms Whyte said: “There are all these demands for payments that people can’t afford. It’s the not knowing, and everything being out of your control, but you have to pay for it all.

“And I suppose there’s the other part, that you sometimes forget about when you’re having all these demands for money, is we’re still effectively living in an unsafe building, as are millions of other people.

“It feels like freeholders are getting away scot-free, and insurers, builders and surveyors are all doing really well out of it, but people that have bought properties in good faith are being immensely impacted. It’s a real challenge.

We recognise that it needs to get fixed but we don’t understand why the responsibility lies with us.”

Ms Whyte had put her property on the market last year, but was forced to take it off again after the issues were discovered.

An inspection revealed that panelling under the windows and partition walls on the inside of the building needed to be replaced to meet regulations.

The cost of these works will be almost £1million and could be divided between the leaseholders.

The managing agents have applied for funding from the Building Safety Fund, but they do not know if they have been successful yet. The report was compiled with government data and information obtained by the Labour Party.

Residents of a block of flats have been left in limbo after it was discovered that it did not meet building regulations from the time it was built.

An inspection last year revealed that there were no fire breaks in the cladding on the exterior of Time House, pictured above, on Plough Road, Battersea.

Dave Chapman

Dave Chapman, 42, who lives in the building said: “It’s really upsetting.

The thing about getting on the property ladder and getting this flat – it feels like it’s taken us decades to get to this point and then to realise that our flat currently has no value, and there’s a question mark over the future value of the flat is really upsetting.

“The stress and anxiety of these costs is a constant thing. As leaseholders we’re the people with the least ability to control the situation.

The biggest worry is that a massive bill will come to us down the road at some point for things that are clearly not our fault, but could get passed to us.

“It’s a lot of stress. There’s obviously been a whole period of time when builders were not building safe houses and people weren’t regulating that and that’s pretty terrifying.”

The missing fire breaks on the seven storey building means that a fire could spread quickly between flats.

The issue came to light following the tightening of building regulations after the disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2017.

But the building’s fire safety system did not meet standards that were in place before the new regulations came in.

Extensive work needs to be done before anyone in the block can sell their property.

Talks are currently ongoing about who will pay for the changes.

In the meantime, a new fire alarm system has been installed which will alert all residents in the block to a fire and a waking watch system, where staff check the building for signs of fire, is also in place.

Mr Chapman is also unsure who will eventually have to pay for these additional costs.

Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea where Time House is said: “Leaseholders in Battersea continue to live in homes wrapped in unsafe cladding and are faced with huge costs for remediation works, which run into the tens of thousands. It’s a scandal that these costs continue to be passed on to leaseholders.

“Nearly four years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government has failed to remove all unsafe cladding or support leaseholders with their costs. The government missed deadlines, provided inadequate financial support and let developers continue to profiteer from this crisis.

“It is disappointing that last night the Government did not support Labours calls to end the cladding scandal. The fact the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government did not even turn up for this debate is incredibly disrespectful.

Once again, this Government has proven they’re more interested in siding with developers instead of doing whatever it takes to protect leaseholders and those living in unsafe homes.”

Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall: “My constituency of Vauxhall is only a few miles from Grenfell, but today we still have hundreds of unsafe buildings. I have been contacted by over 200 leaseholders living in more than 26 different housing developments, some with multiple high-rise blocks.

“Each and every one of those leaseholders is now spending their third lockdown in a home with serious safety defects, not knowing when their building will be fixed or even how they will pay for it—or why they should pay for it.

“In the meantime, they have to pay eye-watering costs to put interim safety measures in place. One block in Vauxhall has to pay over £10,000 per flat just to install a 24-hour waking-watch system. Another block paid £130,000, before spending an additional £40,000 on an alarm system.

“These interim costs alone are causing so many leaseholders to become bankrupt, not to mention the additional stress and anguish. There is so much more that the Government can and should be doing to right the wrong that is the national cladding scandal.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “Leaseholders shouldn’t have to worry about the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects in high-rise buildings that they didn’t cause – and should be protected from large-scale remediation costs wherever possible.

“We all want to see homes made safer, as quickly as possible and, backed by our £1.6billion funding, we are making good progress on remediating unsafe homes.

“We are also working at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs.

“However, these amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, though well-intentioned, would not protect leaseholders from all costs associated with building remediation, and would delay the Bill becoming law.”

Michael Maunder Taylor, from Maunder Taylor, the company which owns Courtenay House, said: “The necessary reports and estimates have been received, the application to the Government’s Building Safety Fund (BSF) has been made and is progressing, waking watch procedures are in place and we are now waiting for the BSF to make a decision on eligibility for funding and state what financial assistance will be made available.”

An MTVH spokesperson said: “The safety of all residents at Time House is our number one priority. Following an inspection of the building in July 2020, defects with the external wall system were found.

A temporary fire alarm has now been installed and an evacuation manager put in place on site to support the evacuation of the building in the event of a fire. This has allowed the 24 hours a day waking watch patrol we had introduced to be safely removed.

“We understand residents’ concerns, including about the costs of putting the building right. We are continuing to actively engage with the contractor that built Time House, on how the issues identified with the building will be addressed.

We have also made an application to the government’s Building Safety Fund, which has made some funding available for certain remediation works. We will continue to regularly update residents on the progress being made.

“MTVH will pursue the original contractor and any other responsible party to recover costs associated with remediation works and additional safety measures that have been introduced.

We are also supporting calls for government action to protect leaseholders from unaffordable bills for build safety works.

However, we do have to advise leaseholders that there remains the possibility that costs could be sought from them within the terms of their lease, but this will only be as a last resort and we have not issued any charges to residents to date.”

 


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