A single parent who has been working on NHS Covid testing is among dozens of residents told that they each face a £100,000 bill to remove flammable cladding and make a series of other fire safety improvements to their apartment block.
Matthew Harris said he would be “destroyed” by the costs, which amount to more than he paid for his Salford flat less than a decade ago. Other residents in the Transport House development are said to have been off sick and sought mental health support, in a case that they say exposes serious inadequacies in the government scheme designed to protect leaseholders from serious fire safety costs after the Grenfell tragedy.
Harris, who has been working long days as a lab technician for the NHS during the Covid crisis, is among those now pleading with ministers for help. “I am a single parent working at Manchester Royal Infirmary NHS, I spent the last year Covid testing,” he told the Observer.
“I’m lucky if I take home £22,000 a year. This will destroy me and my daughter’s future.”
The development is too small to qualify for a £5bn government grant scheme designed to help fund work needed to make buildings safe after the failings exposed by Grenfell. While ministers have said that a loan scheme could mean the residents will not pay more than £50 extra a month for recladding, residents have not been given details of this, and they fear that the scheme will not cover all of the work that the property’s freeholder, Irwell Valley Homes, says is required.
Claire Griffiths, executive director of growth, development and assets at Irwell Valley Homes, conceded it was an “impossible situation” for those affected.
“The safety of residents is our number one priority,” she said. “At the moment, the government has only committed grant funding to support fire remediation works to buildings which are 18 metres and above, so Transport House does not qualify. This puts the leaseholders there in an extremely difficult position, and how they pay for the work required to their homes is a huge concern. We know this is an impossible situation for the homeowners affected and remain committed to supporting them and working together to try to find a solution.”
However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “It is the responsibility of buildings’ owners to make their buildings safe – and we have been clear that owners should do this without passing on costs to leaseholders.”
The case exposes just one of the repercussions that continue to emerge over the fire safety of buildings across the country. It emerged last month that dozens of schools have been built using combustible insulation since the material was banned on high-rise apartment blocks in December 2018.
Transport House residents had already been concerned that they could face costs as high as £30,000 for fire safety measures. However, they were recently sent an email telling them that they each faced a bill for £97,000 to replace the combustible expanded polystyrene (EPS) cladding and install cavity barriers. With other measures included, their bill could reach six figures.
Darren Matthews, 56, who works for a group of nurseries, said he initially thought that the collective cost to all residents would be £97,000 – before realising that was the figure each resident was liable to pay. “I just couldn’t focus on the page, couldn’t actually read it,” he said. “I was angry, I sort of felt dizzy with it. And then I couldn’t think logically as to how I would deal with it and what the next stage would be in dealing with it. If I can get four hours of sleep a night, I’m doing well.”
Matthews bought only a half share of his property in 2005 for £63,000, thinking it would partially protect him from any added costs. However, he said he was being billed for the total cost. “People are talking about handing the keys in, some people are talking about going bankrupt,” he said. “We’ve got neighbours who are ringing their GP for counselling. We’ve got people phoning in sick, not being able to go to work because of the effect it is having on them. In human terms, it’s devastating. In financial terms, it’s absolutely abhorrent.”