Government tells homeowners with mental health fears caused by cladding scandal to contact Samaritans

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
(Getty Images/PA/Jamie Robb)
Leaseholder Jamie Robb, bottom left, was told by Robert Jenrick's government department that people with mental health fears over the cladding scandal should call the Samaritans. (Getty Images/PA/Jamie Robb)

A leaseholder facing a £20,000 bill due to the cladding scandal has been told by the government that people with mental health fears over the issue should call Samaritans.

Jamie Robb told Yahoo News UK it was in “such bad taste” when the government is “choosing not to provide any additional support”.

It comes as Downing Street's controversial Fire Safety Bill is set to be passed into law, after a final push in the House of Lords to amend it and add protections for leaseholders was defeated on Wednesday night.

Critics of the bill say it will leave leaseholders with flammable cladding on their building liable for costs of up to £50,000 in order to remove it, despite it being there through no fault of their own.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: A general view of balconies at the Royal Artillery Quays on February 24, 2021 in London, England. Steve Day, of the Royal Artillery Quays Residents Association, is advocating for an amendment to the government's proposed Fire Safety Bill, meant to improve safety of residential buildings in the UK, many of which are still covered in flammable cladding that led to the 2017 Grenfell disaster. Mr Day warned that the current bill, as proposed, will allow building owners to pass on other safety costs beyond the replacement of cladding, pushing leaseholders
The passing of the Fire Safety Bill is set to leave hundreds of thousands of leaseholders paying to remove dangerous cladding from their buildings. (Getty Images)

Robb, who has a one-bedroom flat in a block in Manchester, said he faces a “best-case scenario” bill of £20,000.

He told this website he has written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on a number of occasions.

His mother, Alison, also wrote to the department on 18 November last year detailing her son’s financial predicament, and also asked the government to consider the mental health impact the scandal is having on leaseholders.

Part of the response from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. (Jamie Robb)
Part of the response from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to Jamie Robb's mother. (Jamie Robb)

She received a response on Monday, more than five months later. Part of it suggested people with mental health difficulties as a result of the scandal should contact their GP or Samaritans, a charity which provides support for people in emotional stress.

Robb, who clarified he didn't need to contact these services himself, said: "The first thing I thought was: ’It’s taken five months to get this letter back – the Samaritans is a service [some people may] need now, in the moment, not five months later.’

"It was in such bad taste and the fact [Robert] Jenrick’s office know the situation is bad enough to warrant that kind of advice, and they are still choosing not to provide any additional support other than referring you to a doctor or the Samaritans, is just incomprehensible.

Watch: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the cladding scandal (from February)

“What’s the government even for?”

The Fire Safety Bill was introduced as a response to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which claimed 72 people’s lives.

Earlier this year, the government announced a new £3.5bn package, with ministers insisting no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England would face charges for the removal of unsafe cladding.

However, opponents argue this will not cover the costs faced by leaseholders, including a proposed loan scheme that would see them contribute up to £50 a month for works on buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres high.

In some cases, leaseholders have described being trapped in homes that are a fire risk, and unable to sell because lenders will not offer mortgages until the cladding is removed.

Robb, who is currently on a work secondment in Australia and has been unable to rent out his flat, added: “I would consider myself exceptionally lucky and privileged to have brought my first property under 30. That was a really big deal in my family.

“The cruelty of having done all the right things and worked so hard… it’s Jenrick’s policies that have taken that away from me, potentially. I still can’t believe it.”

Jamie Robb
Jamie Robb

Shortly after the final attempted amendment failed in the Lords on Wednesday night, the House of Commons' cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee issued a report calling on ministers to abolish the loan scheme and commit to protecting leaseholders from any of the costs of remediation.

Committee chair and Labour MP Clive Betts said: “We call on the government to revisit its proposals and develop a scheme that truly matches the scale of fire safety issues.

“It must prioritise support to where the safety risk is greatest and rebalance the financial burden so that it falls on the government and industry, and not on leaseholders.”

Britain's Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick walks through Downing Street in London on December 1, 2020 to attend the weekly cabinet meeting held at the nearby Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. - UK lawmakers were set to vote on a new toughened system of tiered coronavirus restrictions on December 1 with a sizable rebellion of governing Conservative party members expected. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick (AFP via Getty Images)

On Thursday, meanwhile, survivors and bereaved relatives from the Grenfell disaster condemned the “indefensible” Fire Safety Bill.

Grenfell United said in a statement: “We’re deeply disappointed that ministers have broken their promises to leaseholders who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The government’s position on this is indefensible.

“It’s a grave injustice that many innocent leaseholders will be financially ruined over fire safety issues that were not of their own making, while the government is letting those responsible continue to get off scot-free.”

Read more:

Government’s handling of cladding crisis attacked by cross-party MPs in damning report

Leaseholders warn of mental health crisis as they face bills for cladding

Emma Byrne, spokeswoman for another campaign group, End Our Cladding Scandal, said: “The government has fought hard against amendments put forward to save leaseholders from widespread bankruptcy and financial ruin caused by bad regulations, corporate malfeasance and shoddy building work.

“If only they had bothered to work half as hard to protect us."

Housing minister Christopher Pincher, on the other hand, had said: “The Fire Safety Bill is an important first step in our legislative programme delivering these recommendations and I cannot stress enough... the vital importance of this legislation and the ramifications if it fails as a result of outstanding remediation amendments.”

For confidential emotional support at times of distress, contact Samaritans at any time by calling 116 123, or emailing jo@samaritans.org. Alternatively, visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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