Residents of buildings with unsafe cladding say life is an ‘unending nightmare’

Mike Bedigan, Ellie Cunningham and Richard Wheeler, PA
·4-min read

Residents of buildings with flammable cladding say their lives are an “ongoing, unending nightmare” and they live in fear of being thrown out of their homes.

Many say the cladding has made their flats “worthless” and they are “trapped” and unable to sell the properties.

It came as Labour’s demand for a national taskforce to “get a grip” on the cladding crisis was supported in the Commons by 263 votes to zero, although the Opposition’s motion was non-binding and does not compel ministers to act.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who visited residents of Royal Artillery Quays in Woolwich, south-east London, on Monday, said it was a “scandal” that tenants and leaseholders were being asked to “foot the bill” for interim safety measures.

Housing minister Chris Pincher said the Government will announce “very shortly” a financial solution to protect leaseholders from high costs to deal with unsafe cladding, but told MPs: “There is no quick fix.”

Timea Szabo, 37, who lives in a flat with her son, said safety and security had been “ripped from us”.

“Your home is supposed to be your safe place, where you go and feel safe and shut the door and can relax,” she said, speaking to the PA news agency.

“We don’t have that any more, it’s not actually safe.

“I have to put my son to bed every night in a flat that is flammable to the point where we have to have a person walking around and checking for fires 24/7.

“The safety and security has been ripped from us and on top of that my financial security has been completely destroyed.

“My home is at risk, my life savings… are at risk and I don’t see a way out because the Government is not engaging with us.

“It’s an ongoing, unending nightmare.”

Labour pushed a vote on a non-binding motion demanding the Government urgently establishes the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritises buildings according to risk.

Sir Keir said a national taskforce would “put some energy” into efforts to identify and address dangerous and at-risk buildings and he hoped the debate would be a “turning point.”

Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Woolwich
Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Woolwich (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA)

It comes more than three and a half years after the disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2017, which claimed the lives of 72 people.

“This is not on, three and a half years after Grenfell, and this is not party political,” he said.

Appealing to politicians on both sides he said: “Let’s come together, get something done about this, get the cladding inspected, get priorities in place, put the money behind the scheme… and make sure the burden is not on those that bear no responsibility for this.”

Speaking during the Commons debate, Conservative minister Mr Pincher said the Government “will not tolerate unnecessary delays” to remediation work – more than three years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

He highlighted more than £1 billion allocated to improve the safety of buildings before saying of a remedy to protect leaseholders: “We have to bring forward a solution that is right and proper, that demands of owners and developers that they put right the problems and defects they cause, that is fair to leaseholders who should not have to carry unfair costs for problems that they didn’t cause or envisage, and that is fair to the taxpayer – who is already shouldering a significant burden in the of many buildings.”

Mr Pincher said a further announcement will be made “very shortly”, adding in his conclusion: “We will work to restore the inalienable right for everyone in this country to live somewhere which is decent, which is secure and, above all, which is safe, a place that they can rightly and proudly call home.”

Ms Szabo, who works in financial services, said service charges for her home had risen from £260 to £450 per month, which was a “huge and unaffordable” increase.

She added that many of the flats are now “worthless” and residents faced unspecified increases on their insurance premiums.

“No one will buy (my flat), no one should buy it and I don’t want to try it because someone else will get trapped,” she said.

“There is no way out, you just have to keep paying the bills, because if you don’t you will be made homeless and bankrupt.

“I’m just waiting for the day when I am thrown out of my home with my son. And then I’ll lose my career.

“It is indescribable, the amount of pressure we are under.”

Germana Bacchini, 34, said she had been forced to choose between paying the service charge or her daughter’s education, and had put ambitions of having more children on hold due to her financial situation.

“The idea of having a family has stopped for the moment, we have to live day by day and we are not looking forward to the next bill,” she said.

“It’s not possible to quantify the damage, the risk that these buildings have, so obviously the insurers are going to charge the maximum on the premium.”