Sunday, October 17, 2021

The disguise crisis is causing distress for homeowners faced with a £ 85,000 bill amid confusion over government aid

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“I have absolutely no idea how to pay the £ 85,000. I’m just sick, I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I really don’t know what to do ‘

The owner of a London apartment says she was wrongly faced with a £ 85,000 repair bill for the outside of her block as confusion over how to finance panel repairs continues to distress tenants.

Accountant Beth Pritchard owns a two-bedroom apartment in Southwark. She says the owner informed residents late last month that urgent repairs would begin in November to change the exterior wall system and remove wooden balconies.

The total estimated bill is £ 2.6 million and there are up to 30 apartments in the building – meaning each owner could be billed an average of £ 85,000.

“It is absolutely incredible to me that our client can give us a £ 85,000 bill for work due to begin the following month. We haven’t received any details about a payment plan, ”said Ms. Pritchard, 40.

“I’m renting out my guest room and my roommate has just told me that she is moving out because she doesn’t want to live in the apartment while there is major work going on around her. So not only do I have to whip £ 85,000 out of nowhere, but also my existing mortgage.

Ms. Pritchard is one of thousands of tenants involved in the disguise fiasco that followed the June 2017 disaster at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, west London, which found that flammable linings on the block were causing a fire to spread that killed 72 people.

Since then, high-rise owners have had to remove unsafe cladding and carry out fire protection “renovation work”.

The total estimated cost of the work on the affected blocks is around £ 15 billion, according to a House of Commons report. Government funding is £ 5.1 billion so far, leaving many homeowners to make up for the shortfall.

There have been numerous cases where homeowners have faced large repair bills or been unable to sell their home.

Many mortgage lenders now require the seller to issue an EWS1 certificate to prove that the building is free of flammable materials on the outside.

These certificates are expensive to produce and lack surveyors to create them and there is disagreement as to whether they are needed for blocks less than 18 meters high.

The government announced an “intervention” in February to reassure homeowners and restore confidence in the rental housing market.

Robert Jenrick, who was the Housing Secretary at the time, announced that no tenant living in a block under 18 meters would ever pay more than £ 50 a month to remove unsafe siding. However, there have been no further updates on the funding program, leaving owners like Ms. Pritchard in the balance.

Her apartment is in a five-story block under 18 meters, so in theory she should benefit from the scheme. But with no further news, she says, “I have absolutely no idea how to pay the £ 85,000. I’m just sick, I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I really don’t know what to do. “

She says her block is full of key workers, including teachers and nurses with shared ownership, where you buy part of an apartment with a mortgage and rent the remaining portion to a housing company. Ms. Pritchard bought joint ownership in 2007 and has since acquired the remaining stake.

She is hoping to move, but is not sure what the current situation will mean for the sale of the apartment. “Since the pandemic, my girlfriend and I have been looking for a house with a garden for our dog and potential future children.

“This feels like an impossible dream now. Instead, we’re stuck in a two-bedroom apartment in our forties with this £ 85,000 albatross around our necks. “

Optivo, one of the UK’s largest housing associations with more than 45,000 homes in London, the South East and the Midlands, owns Ms. Pritchard’s block of flats. The work is necessary for the safety of the residents and cannot ignore the fire protection risks identified.

Optivo believes the government’s financial system means repayments shouldn’t exceed £ 50 a month, a spokesman said. However, the association is still waiting for clarity and urges the government to provide funding for the housing sector as soon as possible.

“We fully understand that the situation surrounding the costs of the fire restoration continues to cause concern for the affected tenants, including our residents,” said the spokesman.

“We understand the difficult situation that tenants find themselves in and we will continue to lobby the government to protect them from these costs.

“Together with other housing associations and the National Housing Federation, we are doing everything we can to find a way forward with the government.”

A spokesman for the Department of Housing, Housing and Municipalities – formerly the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government – said, “Building owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing costs on to tenants, and we are introducing new measures that are legally acceptable to builders prove that they have tried all ways to cover costs.

“With buildings under 18 meters, the risk of fire is lower and costly renovation work is usually not necessary. Fire risks should be managed using cost-effective and proportionate methods whenever possible.

“The new State Secretary” [Michael Gove] is studying this issue closely to ensure that everything is done to assist the tenants. “

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