Leaseholders of flats face £40,000 bills over Grenfell type cladding

Robert Booth
Cladding on Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, London, which caught alight in the fire of June 2017. Photograph: Niklas Halle'N/AFP/Getty Images

Residents of 80 flats whose freeholds are managed by a company owned by David Cameron’s half brother-in-law are each facing bills of up to £40,000 because the building is clad with flammable panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower, in London.

Leaseholders of the Sesame apartments in Battersea, south London, fear they are trapped in unsellable homes and William Astor’s company claims it is not responsible for the costs.

A spokesman said the firm’s duty was to the unnamed pension fund which owned the freehold and on whose behalf the firm managed the building.

Astor’s company is about to send the leaseholders £8,000 bills to cover a new fire alarm and the cost of a 24-hour watch in the building, following the fire on 14 June 2017 at Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, which claimed 71 lives.

Leaseholders fear a further £2.2m bill for replacing the combustible panels that failed fire tests last year could also fall to them. Astor’s company has said it hoped insurers and warranty providers would pay the bill.

Across England 306 residential buildings, with a height of more than 18 storeys, have been identified as having cladding that has failed fire tests.

In common with many other blocks the cladding at the Sesame apartments is still in place but the “stay-put policy” for residents in the event of a fire there has been abandoned in favour of evacuation.

According to the planning documents the cladding specified on the building was made by Alucobond, a Germany-based company, which said that it withdrew aluminium composite cladding panels with a combustible polyethylene core in 2014.

The same brand of cladding was used at a complex including 1,000 flats at New Capital Quay, Greenwich, where one residentwas told by a surveyor that her £475,000 flat had been slashed in value to £50,000.

The Greenwich case was debated in parliament on Thursday. The Labour MP for Battersea, Marsha de Cordova, said: “Leaseholders are still being left in limbo about whether they will be footing the bill. But it is not leaseholders who have failed to upgrade buildings or cut corners with safety regulations. The burden should not fall on them. The government says it would be morally wrong for leaseholders to be held liable for the costs, but these must not be empty words. It has the power and it has the duty to intervene.”

Several of the residents own only a fraction of their flats under a shared ownership scheme, but have told de Cordova that they have been informed they will be liable for 100% of the remedial costs.

One said: “I am facing being trapped in an unsaleable property for which I’ll likely have to pay service charges that I cannot afford. I thought I was doing everything right when I saved up in my 20s to buy a home, and now my future looks dire.”

Astor, whose full title is The Hon William Waldorf Astor IV, is the owner of two companies which manage the block as part of his freehold property business, which includes freeholds of 150,000 properties, his spokesman said. He is a scion of the wealthy Astor family and half-brother of Samantha Cameron, the wife of the former prime minister.