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Residents charged £97k to repair flammable insulation

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Residents living in flats with flammable insulation are being charged £97,000 for repairs. Since the Grenfell fire tragedy, many living in buildings with flammable cladding have found themselves facing the vast expense of living with material deemed illegal or unsafe. But it’s not just cladding - flammable insulation lying within many properties is making them expensive to insure and impossible to sell. Policy Editor Lewis Goodall reports on one building in Manchester, Transport House, where leaseholders have been asked to pay £97,000 to foot the bill of repairs.

Video Transcript

LEWIS GOODALL: Do you know how safe your home is-- whether it was built properly, how much it might cost to correct the problems. Well, the leaseholders of Transport House in Salford have all too clear an idea.

DARREN MATTHEWS: The whole ethos of the building when it was originally developed and sold to was while was so it was available to key working people on a shared ownership with the option to step up and more and more, so that it would be affordable to give us a foot on the ladder.

LEWIS GOODALL: Next week is four years since the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower. In its wake, changes were made to rules about what materials are allowed on tall buildings, the cladding, but there are other less well-known changes now being made to government regulations for what is within the buildings, like insulation and cavity walls. Changes required, ministers say, to make buildings safe from flame. Freeholders across the country are commissioning those assessments, and leaseholders in Transport House, first built in 2005, are among the first to be told what their problems are. So John, just show us what this material is here.

JOHN FRASER: Well, yeah, the facade and insulation is just ordinary polystyrene, which is flammable, and it just has a thin coating over the outside to make it weatherproof.

LEWIS GOODALL: And that runs throughout the entire building?

JOHN FRASER: Yes. Yeah.

LEWIS GOODALL: And it's the main insulation for the building?

JOHN FRASER: Yeah, it's the insulation and the facade.

LEWIS GOODALL: And it's flammable.

JOHN FRASER: And it's flammable, yeah. It doesn't resist the required level of transmission of flame.

LEWIS GOODALL: The problem here then, is mainly the lack of fire cavity breaks and a flammable insulation, and it's going to cost a fortune to fix. Several weeks ago, the leaseholders received this letter from the freeholder Oh Well Valley Homes. They said, "We have been working with chartered surveyors, fire engineers, and architects to explore possible solutions to resolve the fire safety issues associated with the external render and compartmentalization at Transport House. The full removal and replacement of the render and fire cavity breaks is estimated to cost 3 million pounds, including fees and VAT. This is approximately 97,000 pounds per apartments." They go on to say that they the freeholders must carry out the work and leaseholders have to meet the cost. Oh Well Valley has given no timescale for when this will happen, but it has left the residents in a state of despair. They have no prospect of paying the money, and in the meantime their properties have become worthless.

MATT HARRIS: I've never had much. I've always shared apartments, or shared houses, so to actually have my own space with what I thought was just like this amazing view of the city, it was exciting. I didn't have a lot of money, but I could just about make ends meet and have my own place and that just meant the world to me.

LEWIS GOODALL: Matt bought his flat for less than the 97,000 he's now being quoted to repair it. He desperately needs to move to a house with his daughter, and he can't.

MATT HARRIS: My estate agent said you're going to have to take the apartment off the market. And then I started getting a little bit anxious, because all of a sudden I was now trapped in limbo. I didn't know how long this was going to go on for. I didn't know how many other buildings might be affected by this. I couldn't sell. And it's been going on for nearly two years now.

LEWIS GOODALL: So you can't sell this property?

MATT HARRIS: No, it's valued at zero.

LEWIS GOODALL: The government has announced the Building Safety Fund, $1 billion to help leaseholders with renovations. But that fund covers buildings 18 meters or higher. Transport House is 14 meters, and in any case, it's only for cladding. They've also said they will set up a loan scheme with cost capped at 50 pounds a month. But for Transport House leaseholders, it would take 161 years to pay off that debt. All of this during the pandemic,

- This was a summary of the lease.

LEWIS GOODALL: And the mental and sometimes physical health of residents has deteriorated.

- Last night I'm lucky if I fell into bed at 3 o'clock and I was up at 6:00, so I don't think I really slept slept. It's just the constant worry, is what's going to happen tomorrow. If-- God forbid, I hope it doesn't happen-- but I've worked for nothing and I'll be homeless. It's like I've done everything for nothing and the world is just crashing down on me.

- The ice to the right 322, the nose to the left 256.

LEWIS GOODALL: As recently as late April, the government defeated efforts in the Commons to limit leaseholders exposure for the fifth time with a significant Tory rebellion in the mix. There is anger at Transport House from leaseholders at ministers and their freeholder, Oh Well Valley. Why on Earth should they be the ones who pay the price, because the developer built them, you oversaw it-- you're the freeholder-- and the government regulated them. You all have part responsibility, they have none.

SASHA DEEPWELL: OK. This is a very, very difficult situation and as I said before, I have utter sympathy with the leaseholders in this situation.

LEWIS GOODALL: It is with the greatest respect, I don't think they need your sympathy.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

SASHA DEEPWELL: Because I feel that way, and because our intention here is about making their homes safe for them, then for me it's very much about we need to find a collaborative solution to this.

LEWIS GOODALL: This is much bigger than Transport House. If just a small percentage of the buildings constructed in recent years have these problems or anything like them, it'll affect thousands of people. If it's a large percentage, it may even have the potential to destabilize the housing market itself.

- Lewis Goodall with that report. Well, in a statement a spokesperson for the Ministry for Housing told News Night "Building owners are responsible for making their buildings safe-- including the owners of Transport House-- and we expect them to take swift action to identify and fix defects, including where work has been sub-standard, without passing costs on to leaseholders."