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We’ve endured nightmare over £2.7m bill to fix our flats’ cladding

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We in Bridge House, a block of 75 flats, have been through hell and back with our cladding. Two years ago it was found to be flammable. We were told by the management company, HML, that the freeholder refused to help and the £2.7m remedial costs would have to be divided among the leaseholders, many of whom bought under the shared ownership scheme.

Then in March this year HML announced that the government’s building safety fund had approved full funding for the works, provided they began by the fund’s deadline of 30 September. The relief was overwhelming. In July we were told that due to a structural technicality the funding offer had been rescinded. We subsequently discovered that the cladding claim had in fact been rejected in March, not approved.

We simply don’t know what to believe any more and in the meantime we’re having to pay for a waking watch after the fire alarm system failed during a fire in 2019.
MS, Croydon

To draw attention to your plight, you and your neighbours projected a “doomsday clock” on to a neighbouring building, counting down the seconds until the government deadline expired and you became liable for the full cost of the remedial works. That deadline passed last week and the good news is that the government has extended it. The bad news is that you have been shockingly misled by HML, the spokesbody for the freeholder, Radcliffe Investment Properties.

I’ve seen letters and emails to residents from March and July stating unambiguously that more than £2m of funding had been granted by government. When I challenged the company, it told me its application for funding had been granted in March, but that days later, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) “rescinded its approval, with funding subsequently withdrawn”. It appeared to blame “ever-changing” government guidance for the apparent U-turn.

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MHCLG told me a different story. Funding was never granted. What happened was that Bridge House was deemed eligible to apply for funding because it met basic criteria. A detailed scope of works then had to be submitted and it’s that that was rejected because, according to MHCLG, some proposals did not qualify. Moreover, the only change to its guidance was to add flexibility to the funding deadline so this would have helped, not hindered HML.

Back to HML, which hastily wrote to residents clarifying this and admitting that “some conflicting information may have been relayed”. HML has now announced that it is resubmitting its claim with proposals to upgrade the building to minimum safety standards, which will halve the cost. It hopes for a grant of £520,000 which will still leave residents with a bill of £11,000 each.

The building safety fund has meanwhile granted £66,000 towards the waking watch costs. As for the fire alarm system, HML says this will be addressed.

Your experience highlights the ordeal of residents across the country who face crippling bills to replace hazardous cladding and who are unable to sell or remortgage their homes in the meantime. It is a grotesque fact that shared ownership, which allows people to buy a percentage of their home, is aimed at those on a low income, but while they may own as little as 10% of the property, they are liable for the full cost of repairs, including replacement cladding.

The estimated bill for replacing unsafe cladding nationwide is £15bn, three times more than the government funding pot. The row rages on about whether freeholders and developers should foot the bill. MHCLG states that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to bear the full costs, but, in the words of a recent government briefing, it’s a “legal quagmire” and, until that particular swamp is drained, it is those who can least afford it who are paying the price.

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