'Go bankrupt or go to court': Meet the residents facing bankruptcy over 'Grenfell-style' cladding

'Go bankrupt or go to court': Meet the residents facing bankruptcy over Grenfell-style cladding

Ritu Saha inside her flat in Northpoint, Bromley.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Residents of high-rise tower blocks with Grenfell-style cladding have told talkRADIO they are entering a "spiral of debt that will be impossible to get out of".

They claim the government has abandoned them and are calling for action to remove flammable material from privately-owned buildings. 

A government spokesperson said: "We have been abundantly clear that private building owners and developers must replace dangerous cladding quickly."

Due to a standoff between developers and freeholders dangerous cladding remains on hundreds of blocks across the country.

This has placed huge bills on the shoulders of flat-owners who are required to fund for a 24-hour waking watch, have been quoted up to £70,000 each for cladding removal, are unable to sell their property and face prosecution if they fail to pay.

The residents tell talkRADIO how the turmoil is affecting them.

 

Northpoint, Bromley - South London

The fire escape at Northpoint wrapped in flammable cladding.

Ritu Saha, 43, a first-time buyer

"We saved for eight years to buy our flat and now it is completely worthless, which is a shock to the system.

"To know that we are living in a building where the outside is clad with material that's as flammable as petrol is quite shocking. We live here every single day thinking what might happen if there is a small fire.

"Our service charge went up from £2,100 pounds a year to £7,000 a year. 

"You almost have to choose - safeguard your family's life and go bankrupt or don't pay, be in contempt of your lease and be taken to court.

"We had no savings. We do not have family help to rely on either.

"I work full time and after work I have to do waking watch shifts from 7pm from midnight instead of spending time with my family.

"We spend all our waking hours trying to find a solution to this problem."

 

Rachel Guy, 57, resident of four years

Rachel Guy on top of the tower block in Bromley, south London. 

"We're told flames will get from the bottom to the top of this building in seven minutes. My flat is on the top floor and my mother who's in her 80s is living with me. It took my her 15 minutes to get down the stairs. That brings it home to you how frightening the situation is.

"There's people in the block who are pretty much at breaking point at the moment. And as soon as one flat can no longer pay and defaults, the costs get loaded on to the remaining lessees.

"Then another flat goes and another flat. 

"Fairly soon we'll be in a spiral of debt that it becomes impossible for any of us to get out of.

"It is affecting people's nerves and people's health in the block."

 

Anne Kellit, 68, who rents her flat

"I rely on this flat as part of my pension and I know until the cladding is resolved, I just won't be able to rent it. But I will still have to pay council tax to Bromley Council.

"I don't know how I'll cope really. I try not to think about it because it is very stressful.

"Running out of money is a worry. I was hoping to reap the rewards of renting a two bedroom, two bathroom property in central Bromley and all I've had to do so far is pay out huge sums of money, even though the government have said they don't want residents to pay. 

"As a retiree, it's a disaster.

"With the amount of money we're paying for the waking watch it's probably the safest block in Bromley."

 

City Gate - Manchester 

Mark Bottrell, 49, bought his flat after Grenfell 

Mark Bottrell in his home. 

"I was made redundant in January and if I've suddenly got to pay thousands of pounds I'm in trouble. 

"We have been quoted £4,000-£7,000 per flat to remove cladding. That's just initial cost. Other blocks have been quoted £15,000.

"At the moment I have savings but that's my living savings because I'm not working.

"In a few months time I might not be able to afford it. My flat will be taken away from me - something I've worked hard for for a long time.

"It's horrendous. I love my flat. I've spent the last year and a half painting and decorating and to have that taken away it's going to rip your gut out really. 

"I'd suddenly be homeless practically. I won't have anywhere to go. That's the way it could be."

 

Josh Beaumont, 27, professional rugby player

Josh Beaumont outside City Gate in Manchester. 

"We discussed what would happen if there was a fire here, and it is a worry. That humanitarian aspect is the most important thing. There's people with young families that live across the three buildings.

"It's effecting my sleep at nigh and definitely effects my training. I want to be pushing back into the national squad like I was two years ago and if I've got issues like this, it's not good for my on-field performance.

"I only have a short career and so I was hoping I could potentially rent this out or even sell it at the value I think it should be worth.

"There are some quite harrowing stats out there about the levels of mental health issues that newly retired players have found because it's tough to adapt - more from a financial situation."

 

Skyline Central 1 - Manchester

Richard, 30, a first-time buyer

"We've been issued a bill between £15,000-£25,000 each. 

"We don't have is adequate fire breaks behind the cladding. So if a fire does break out there's nothing to contain it.

"We're coming up to the 2nd anniversary of Grenfell. That situation could quite easily happen again, and it could happen with our block. Everyone wants to come home from a long, hard day at work and relax. But you're constantly thinking about what would happen if someone knocks over a candle in the apartment next to you. 

"Living with that hanging over your head isn't great. A lot of people are coming down with anxiety and stress already.

"Realistically we think government will have to come into play and there has to be a fund that's designed not just for buildings with ACM cladding but buildings that are unsafe and will fail fire safety certificates, which ours is one of.

"I was considering selling and moving in with my partner but that is now impossible."