Shepherd’s Bush residents charged almost whole salary to replace tower block windows only to find there's 'no need'

Diego and Cristina pose for photos with her daughter in their flat in Verulam House
-Credit: (Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)

Leaseholders living in a Shepherd’s Bush tower block have been told they will have to pay up to £21,500 for replacement windows an independent surveyor deemed to be unnecessary. Residents, including a midwife and a member of security at Heathrow, are contesting the bill from Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which they say is ‘exorbitant’ during a cost of living crisis.

Annabel Diaz, 39, who works for the NHS, accused the council of having 'no sympathy for the leaseholders', adding she believed the cost to be 'unreasonable'. The West London authority however said it is required to replace the windows, last upgraded in the 1990s, due to them reaching the end of their lifecycle.

The council added the windows will be replaced in aluminium, offering a longer lifespan than uPVC, and will deliver benefits including better insulation and lower ongoing repair costs. It is also charging leaseholders 'only' 49 per cent of the total building safety works being undertaken at the block, and offering what a spokesperson described as ‘sympathetic payment options’.

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Residents living in Verulam House were told in 2022 that unsafe cladding was due to be removed from the building, which would be paid for by the Government, and that scaffolding would be erected. The council, which is the freeholder, also said it would be replacing the windows, due to them being ‘end of life’.

The majority of those living in the block are social tenants, and so are not liable to pay for works such as new windows. The 25 leaseholders, under Right to Buy rules, meanwhile do have to contribute towards the costs.

Scaffolding up outside Verulam Housing
Scaffolding up outside Verulam Housing -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has however seen an independent survey, completed in December 2023 on five of the leasehold flats, in which the author wrote the windows and doors “are not reaching the end of their useful life and do not need to be replaced”.

The report added the rubber seals in some of the windows require maintenance, though they do not constitute major defects. It estimated the cost of repairing the three windows and one door identified would be ‘in the region of £500.00 - £1000.00’.

The LDRS has also seen a risk assessment completed by the council, valid from October 2022 until October 2024, which “did not identify any conspicuous features or fixings that would adversely affect the level of risk at the premises”.

Asked about the survey conducted for the leaseholders, the council pointed to a number of limitations noted in the report, including that it “does not cover in detail Health and Safety and Statutory Compliance matters”, and that “unless stated, no detailed specialist surveys have been carried out”.

The council added all diagnostic and other works, including the required scaffolding, have been overseen by a fully-qualified chartered surveyor, and that an independent expert was commissioned to review the costs and ensure they offered good value for money.

Antonella Salamone in her flat in Verulam House
Antonella Salamone said she feels she is being treated 'like nobody cares' -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Labour councillor Helen Rowbottom contacted the local authority earlier this year, raising concerns about leaseholders considering selling their homes due to the bills. “Many are simply unable to pay that amount of money; it is equivalent to their annual income,” she wrote, and requested the works be paused.

Diego Bertoni, 40, Chair of the tenants’ association, said leaseholders have already been charged up to £20,000 over the last five years for works including a new lift and roof repairs.

Since they began questioning the need to replace the windows, he said it has been a battle to get information out of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. This has added to the distrust, with ‘very simple and very plausible questions’ going unanswered.

“If it was a private counterpart, our questions, very simple questions, have you done the survey, when were the windows replaced, what is the useful life contractually speaking? All of these easy questions, they get very convoluted answers if they get an answer, and it takes weeks and months to get an answer.”

Ms Diaz, who works as a midwife, said the increased costs have come at a time when key workers are already struggling financially. “These major projects are extremely expensive and unnecessary,” she said. “Exorbitant fees, poor value for money, and lack of transparency over what leaseholders are paying for. The council could have explored alternative, cheaper options to lessen the impact of the higher major works costs on householders.”

Ms Diaz added she believes the views and financial means of lessees should have been given more consideration prior to the works beginning. “The council has no sympathy for the leaseholders. Paying the hefty cost of the windows over several years is unreasonable. Charges are not interest free after five years. This represents a financial hardship.”

Diego and Cristina pose for photos with her daughter in Verulam House
Diego Bertoni claimed the council had not answered ‘very simple and very plausible questions’ -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Antonella Salamone, 55, who works in security at Heathrow Airport, echoed the concerns raised by other leaseholders. “I’m not happy,” she said. “You pay a lot of money which you can’t afford and I’m being treated like nobody cares about it.”

A Hammersmith and Fulham spokesperson said: “We are currently undertaking a £1.4 million-a-week refurbishment programme of our homes – including required upgrades to cladding and windows, roofing, structural repairs, electrical infrastructure, lift upgrades and fire safety enhancements such as fire doors, sprinklers and evacuation systems. We have a legal duty as a landlord to ensure our buildings are safe and kept in good repair for all residents.

“The building safety works are already being undertaken at no cost to leaseholders and they are only being requested for a 49 per cent contribution to the total costs of the work to Verulam House. To assist and support homeowners, the council offers sympathetic repayment options.”

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