“We feel trapped and can’t see a way out”

The personal impact the cladding scandal is having on the lives of Birmingham leaseholders.

Earlier this week Preet Kaur Gill (pictured), the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, met with ten leaseholders from a 344 apartment tower block in Edgbaston, which a recent Fire Engineer’s report found to have a 100% failure rate in the External Wall Systems. The leaseholders at Hemisphere Apartments near Cannon Hill Park shared their powerful stories about the devastating financial and personal impact the cladding scandal has had on their lives.

After receiving the Fire Engineer’s report back in April, the leaseholders immediately increased safety measures, at significant personal cost, including a ‘Waking Watch’ costing more than £5,500 per week – with the risk of eviction if they stop paying – and they are drawing up plans for a costly temporary fire alarm system.

There are also concerns that significantly increased insurance premiums could be passed on to the leaseholders. Leaseholders planning to sell have also found that buyers are being refused a mortgage and lenders have since confirmed zero valuations for all Hemisphere apartments leaving many of the leaseholders feeling “trapped”.

As well as the substantial financial costs, the cladding scandal has also had a serious impact on the leaseholders’ personal lives. Vickie has lived at Hemisphere for eleven years with her husband and, more recently, their twenty-month old son. In the meeting, she said: “We bought in good faith from the developer, Redrow. Our apartment is on the market and we had hoped to be in a house with a garden for our son by summer this year. We found out about the fire safety issues when our buyers couldn’t get a mortgage on the property.

“We can’t sell and, as a result, we won’t be able to give our son a sibling as there isn’t the space in the apartment for the three of us as it is. It has severely impacted our mental health and being locked down here 24/7 due to Covid has only worsened that. We feel trapped and can’t see a way out.”

Susan, one of five leaseholding resident-directors, who has lived in the building for ten years, made plans to sell her apartment and move closer to her newly-born grandson, but her plans came to an abrupt halt earlier this year when the report came back stating that “an adequate standard of safety is not achieved” and “remedial and interim measures required”. Susan was dismayed when “all the big players stepped back and left it to fall on leaseholders”. She does not know how her modest pension pot will cover the expected costs.

Another leaseholder said that they felt they were being penalised through no fault of their own: “We were careful to do our due diligence after the Grenfell fire. We read the 36-page report we were given which assured us that the building was safe.”

She said that they felt “incredibly let-down” and a “massive sense of injustice” considering they are paying mortgages on a “fire trap”, with costs increasing each week owing to the Waking Watch.

After the meeting, Preet said: “The testimonies shared this evening were truly heartrending. They rightly feel shocked and angered by what has happened and uncertain about the future during an already difficult time.

“This is about so much more than just the significant financial costs. This scandal has already had a serious impact on residents’ mental health, their family life, and the sense of safety they should feel in their own home.

“The government must stop prevaricating. Instead, they must take immediate action against this injustice. Leaseholders, like those in my constituency, need absolute clarity about where they stand. I will do all I can to help residents right this wrong.”