Cladding crisis: Birmingham leaseholders left ‘in limbo’ after announcement

Campaigners remain frustrated that the government move to get the building industry to pay for dangerous cladding doesn’t go far enough

A cladding victim in Birmingham has said leaseholders are still “in limbo” following a new announcement from the government on the “nightmare” building safety scandal.

Housing secretary Michael Gove MP has written to developers asking them to cover the costs of cladding bills for buildings between 11 and 18 metres tall.

This bracket of building had not previously been covered by government support – despite leaseholders facing similar crippling bills to those living in taller buildings as a result of new rules around fire safety.

The government has also said it is lifting guidance which has resulted in many buildings now failing fire safety checks – resulting in leaseholders not being able to sell while facing crippling bills to fix and insure their properties.

Eva Nazem – who owns a flat in Birmingham’s Postbox development, in Upper Marshall Street, city centre – says the new announcement leaves leaseholders uncertain where they stand.

The building has no actual cladding defects – but has fire insulation problems which mean it fails new fire safety standards brought in since the Grenfell disaster in 2017.

Ms Nazem estimates she will have to pay between £20,000 and £40,000 over the coming years to set the defects right while insurance costs have risen threefold since 2018. As a result, her life plans are “in a mess”.

In the meantime, she effectively cannot sell the property as no banks will lend as the building fails the External Wall System 1 – a form containing the latest fire safety standards.

‘We have been made promises like these many times in the past’

Ms Nazem, 49, a contract manager who lets out the property, said: “While I welcome Mr Gove’s statement in the Commons, there are still many unanswered questions, and we remain in limbo.

“We await the specific details of the new measures that he has suggested will cover the costs of the non-cladding fire safety defects, as his statement only relates to the removal of unsafe cladding.

“He has also stated that statutory protection will be put in place to prevent leaseholders from shouldering the burden of the unaffordable repair costs.

“Again, we await further details of how this will be done. We have been made promises like these many times in the past, while the reality of what is offered in the end is bitterly disappointing, and falls far short of allowing leaseholders to sell or re-mortgage, and actually move on with their lives.

“Much of Mr Gove’s proposed actions depend on responses from industry – the developers, manufacturers, insurers, building owners, as well as lenders and Royal institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

“It may take many months or years before a full and final resolution is found to the building safety crises, and in the meantime, us leaseholders are trapped in unsafe and unsellable homes, while paying sky high insurance premiums for a building we do not own.

“What we needed was to hear that the government would fully fund all remediation costs, and then be reimbursed by the parties responsible for causing the problems in the first place – then we would finally be freed from the nightmare we find ourselves in, through no fault of our own.”

Jim Illingworth lives at Islington Gates in the Jewellery Quarter and faced £18,000 in bills last year – and £9,000 this year just for remediation works which are not set to be refunded.

He said: “We welcome the announcement but we are very, very cautious about the actual delivery because we have heard it all before and the delivery just hasn’t happened.”

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Gove said he intended to bring forward amendments to the Building Safety bill to protect leaseholders from non-cladding problems as well as cladding-related defects.

A statement provided from Mr Gove said: “From today, we are bringing this scandal to an end – protecting leaseholders and making industry pay. “We will scrap proposals for loans and long-term debt for leaseholders in medium-rise buildings and give a guarantee that no leaseholder living in their own flat will pay a penny to fix dangerous cladding.

“Working with members of both Houses, we will look to bring a raft of leaseholder protections into law through our Building Safety bill.

“And we will restore much needed common sense on building safety assessments, ending the practice of too many buildings being declared unsafe.”

Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood

Birmingham Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood (Labour), who has campaigned on the issue, was critical of the government’s building safety announcement.

She said: “Whilst I welcome the changes announced today, it is completely unacceptable that it has taken nearly five years to get to this point.

“The government has finally started listening to campaigners and brought forward some workable proposals. Of course, the real test will be in the delivery and I’m hoping that after many false starts from this government the measures announced today will stand up to scrutiny.

“In particular, I welcome the decision to prohibit developers who are not paying their share from procurement and planning processes – something I and others have long been campaigning for.

“But these proposals do nothing to support those living with non-cladding defects, nor will it fix the long-term problem of soaring insurance costs that innocent leaseholders simply cannot afford. The government must now set out a detailed plan for making developers pay as well as crystal clear legal protections for leaseholders through the Building Safety Bill to ensure that developers responsible for this scandal are held to account.”

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