Birmingham residents billed for fire safety works

Birmingham residents billed for fire safety works

OVER 140 leaseholders in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham have been given bills of up to £100,000 to be paid in the next 18 months for combustible cladding removal and replacement.

Birmingham Mail reported on the bills for the leaseholders at Islington Gates, which have required that they ‘stump up huge sums in the next 18 months to bring the block up to fire safety standards’, 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 - checked fire safety provisions post Grenfell, and their investigation found that the cladding was combustible, but this latest development has seen leaseholders ‘left crying day and night’ at concerns over funding the ‘astronomical bills’. Leaseholder and director of the management company, Brian Simpson, owns a two bedroom block, and said he has been left ‘devastated’ after receiving a bill for £100,000.

He added: ‘It’s life changing. I’m going to have to take the money out of my life savings and might have to cash my pension. 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. 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 Mr Simpson commenting that ‘basically we need to raise £8.2million to pay for the waking watch, removal and replacement of the cladding, internal fire stop work and the installation of klaxon fire alarm systems’.

Another leaseholder, Jennifer Reid, bought a one bedroom flat last year for £160,000 but faces a bill for £50,000, stating: ‘When I heard, I was numb. I’ve had a number of sleepless nights. I’ve been crying at work and at home. I’m trying to focus on what I can. Until someone steps in, we are in big trouble. I don’t know how I’m going to pay it.’

As a result, residents have 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’. Local MP Shabana Mahmood has also taken up their case, and said: ‘The ongoing issues around cladding is an absolute scandal.

‘It has left many people living in high-rise residential buildings terrified after the awful events of Grenfell, but also suffering from stress and financial pressures as they struggle to pay for remedial work themselves and struggle with the astronomical payments demanded from insurance companies.

‘I’ve been working with some brilliant community groups and councillors on this issue, and I joined campaigners at a cladding rally in Westminster at the start of the week. I was proud to stand with residents of the Islington Gates development - Jen, Brian, and Katie - who belong to the Birmingham Leaseholders Action Group.

‘As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s time for the Government to step in and provide support for groups like this who are facing severe financial hardship through no fault of their own - while the failures of regulation, the failures of the building industry, and the failures of Government are let slide.’

In response, a spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘The Government has taken urgent action on building safety, including committing £600 million for remediating high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding in the social and private sectors. Residents’ safety remains our utmost priority and there is no excuse for building owners not ensuring that residents are safe in their homes.

‘We will continue to support leaseholders and are reviewing options on how best to do so.’