Birmingham leaseholders facing first cladding bill

Birmingham leaseholders facing first cladding bill

LEASEHOLDERS IN the Islington Gates development in central Birmingham still have to pay between £7,000 and £19,000 cladding removal bills, despite many losing jobs in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Earlier this month, over 140 leaseholders in Islington Gates were given bills of up to £100,000 to be paid in the next 18 months for combustible cladding removal and replacement, or ‘risk being saddled with worthless flats’. The bills depend on each property’s square footage, with the building covered in cedarwood and aluminium not included in the government’s funding for removing aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.

The building’s management company – Islington Gates Management Company Limited (IGMCL) - checked fire safety provisions post Grenfell, and their investigation found that the cladding was combustible. Leaseholder and director Brian Simpson owns a two bedroom block, and was left ‘devastated’ after receiving a bill for £100,000, stating that the bills were ‘life changing’, and that ‘it’s with you 24 hours a day, I can’t think of anything else. I can’t sleep at night.

‘I feel sorry for the younger couples who’ve saved very hard to buy their first homes and now of a sudden, they are facing a huge bill because the development has cladding issues’. He added that ‘everybody is trapped here until the problem gets solved. When we realised how dangerous the building was, we started a walking watch in April 2019. So we have someone patrolling 24/7. That costs £100,000 a year which comes out of the service charge which had to be increased’.

After this, the building’s insurance company ordered a complete schedule of works, with £8.2m needed for the waking watch, cladding removal and replacement, internal firestopping work and installation of fire alarm systems. As a result, residents formed the Birmingham Leaseholder Action Group, and visited parliament to lobby the government to ‘include all kinds of cladding’ in funding, as well as ‘underwrite the insurance for buildings, in the same way they do for flood victims’.

The group also joined other leaseholder campaign groups to ask for government funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftershocks, and now Inside Housing has reported that the leaseholders have been told to pay up to £19,000 ‘in just two weeks or risk being forced out’, despite many ‘already facing financial hardship due to coronavirus’.

These first bills are between £7,000 and £19,000, and are required to be paid by the start of April, with IGMCL having intended to start the works in November, and adding that leaseholders ‘could lose their homes if they are unable to raise the money’. Mr Simpson added: ‘If we can’t commission the works for November, we will lose our insurance, people’s mortgages will go into default, and we will have to be evacuated, making everyone homeless.

‘There are people here who are self-employed and have no income coming, and there are people who have their own businesses and are having to lay off people because of coronavirus. As well as the stresses and strains of working through cladding issues in their normal life, we have been doubly hit by all of the issues coming out of the coronavirus crisis, it’s all an absolute nightmare really.’

He added that the next bill would be issued in July ‘and would be for a similar amount’ to the first, with the news outlet noting in turn that the insurance premium for the building increased by ‘nearly 400% last year’ from £39,000 up to £191,000. The leaseholders have called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ‘accelerate’ the funding announced in the budget for cladding removal, while a letter requesting the same was sent by the residential management group to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Mr Simpson added: ‘We want the government to speed up the release of this Building Safety Fund and underwrite our building insurance to help bring the premiums down, which becomes even more important due to the situation people find themselves in as a result of coronavirus.’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responded: ‘Our priority is to ensure residents are safe in their homes - our £1 billion fund will pay for the replacement of unsafe cladding in high-rise buildings and we will shortly provide more details about how it will operate. We would urge building owners and residents to use common sense during this time of national emergency.

‘The government has taken urgent action to ensure the public is not impacted financially by the virus including through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance.’