We live in a world full of deadlines. Some of those deadlines are small hurdles and easy to jump. Others are huge, looming over us and casting long shadows across our lives. For leaseholders caught up in the cladding scandal each approaching deadline – whether it’s a mortgage renewal, building insurance provision or service charges – represents a financial hurdle they are already struggling to be able to clear.
Last October, Ritu Saha, a leaseholder and one of the founders of the UK Cladding Action Group, explained to the London Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee that, “We are being held both mentally and financially to ransom. If we do not pay these huge bills for waking watches, for insurance and then for remediation, we can lose our home via lease forfeiture. Bankruptcy and homelessness are the real prospects that are facing each and every Londoner who is living in one of these buildings every day.”
The numbers of those affected continues to rise. When Ritu addressed the committee, there were 430 buildings in London with waking watches in place. By December 2020, this had risen to 700 with Andy Roe, Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) stating that it “is growing by the day and by the week, which is in itself a burden to service.” As of March 2021 there were 750 buildings in London where leaseholders have been put under this financial onus.
Waking watches are only the tip of the iceberg for London. Across the city there are 257 high rise buildings (above 18 metres) identified as being covered with ACM cladding, the type used on Grenfell Tower. These remain a fire risk, as the recent blaze at New Providence Wharf in Poplar illustrates.
In addition, there are 1,630 high rise buildings in the capital that are registered with the government’s Building Safety Fund for the remediation of other dangerous cladding. Alarmingly, there are an unknown number of buildings across the city less than 18 metres tall that pose a high risk of fire. Building safety effects every London borough and hundreds of thousands of Londoners are fighting to leap the hurdles and meet the deadlines which the cladding crisis has caused.
This impacts on us all. It causes anguish and hardship for leaseholders directly affected and their loved ones. It puts pressure on the LFB, which is now being expected to work harder to keep London’s built environment safe without additional government funding for the extra work this requires. It also puts financial pressure on boroughs councils, which are now providing support and collecting data on buildings in a way that was completely unforeseen just four years ago. And still there is no end in sight.
I know of a building that has paid out £30,000 just to have the right paperwork to register with the Building Safety Fund. This works out as an average of £1,500 per dwelling, with no assurance that there will be remediation of fire safety defects as a result. On top of this, leaseholders are expecting a 1000 per cent rise in buildings insurance premiums when they renew in September this year.
The government has failed to get to grips with the scale of these problems. The Fire Safety Bill has at last become law, though amendments that would have protected leaseholders from escalating costs were rejected. For the thousands of leaseholders across London affected, it offers no protection from bankruptcy and no end to the cladding scandal.
Leaseholders need support now – not piecemeal support which offers possible remediation here or mitigation there, but actual financial support which shoulders the burdens that they didn’t know they were signing up for when they purchased their properties. They need emancipation from waking watch charges, fees for applying for funding, the price of being a mortgage prisoner and extortionate insurance costs. Ministers need to start setting serious about ending these leaseholders’ suffering.
Anne Clarke is London Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden and a member of the Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee. Follow Anne on Twitter. Photograph of Grenfell victim tributes by Max Curwen-Bingley.
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