“I am facing bankruptcy over a £ 30,000 bill to fire-proof our building”
Helen Rowe, a 38-year-old mother of two, is a tenant who works in the Building security crisis that has been revealed since the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower in 2017. The Telekom employee is currently unemployed for the first time in her life due to stress. She is considering filing for bankruptcy as a bill is imminent for the life changing £ 30,000 she doesn’t have to pay for the work to keep the building she lives in safe.
She was one of dozens of people with whom their stories were shared I for an up-to-date investigation This revealed that the UK government does not really know the real extent of the building security crisis as it does not collect data on how many homes or buildings less than 18 meters high that have been purchased through affordable housing programs are affected. This crisis now extends well beyond Grenfell-style cladding to include (but are not limited to) other fire safety deficiencies such as missing fire compartments, unsafe insulation and wooden frames.
“Bankruptcy would bring my family to their knees for the rest of our lives,” says Helen. Bankruptcy is when almost all of a person’s debts are written off because they cannot afford to pay them at the time they are owed. If you declare yourself bankrupt you don’t always lose your home, but if you fall behind on mortgage repayments because of other debts, which Helen feared, then it is a risk.
Helen says she is considering bankruptcy because she is currently financially so tight that more bills will tip her over the edge. She and her partner each make around £ 25,000 a year, but with two children to feed, a mortgage to pay, and the mounting bills they face, their homes are no longer affordable.
Helen bought her apartment on The Decks in Runcorn, Cheshire, from construction company Taylor Wimpey under the FirstBuy program (a forerunner of Help to Buy) for £ 89,000 in 2010 with a 30% government equity loan and mortgage. There she lives with her partner and children, two and eight. The property is now owned by HomeGround Management Limited, a professional leasehold asset management company. In 2019, after an inspection by the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, she found that her building was clad with high pressure laminate (HPL) siding and had a wooden frame. There may be other security issues as well, but they and other residents are waiting for confirmation of what exactly they are.
Although the government did not know how many people were in need of financial aid due to a lack of data, the government announced another $ 3.5 billion fund in February, which resulted in thousands upon thousands of people like Helen facing huge bills, to fix other problems and failed to get public funding.
“All my hopes were based on government support,” she says I in the wake of the government’s announcement – which provides support for those with unsafe cladding only in buildings over 18 million and low-interest loans for the renovation of those below. “Now I’m forced to take out a loan to remove the disguise because we’re under 18 million plus tons of bills for the other expenses. I am very confused and there is no right advice. We have been abandoned. ”Her mental health problems are increasing.
In the building security crisis, we find affordable housing and the tenants’ obligations to their owners on a collision course. Low and middle income people who have used government subsidized affordable housing are being asked by the owners of their building for money they don’t have and denied government support. Last week Taylor Wimpey announced that they would be joining other major home builders like Barratt and Persimmon by. follows Set aside £ 125 million for panel removal and fire repairs to every block they’ve built over the past 20 years.
This gave Helen hope, but for buildings that have now been sold to new owners, it may not be as easy as it sounds. A spokesman for Taylor Wimpey said I: “In the case of The Decks, the building does not belong to Taylor Wimpey, so the building owner would have to get an EWS1” [External Wall Fire Review] and come to us with a fair and proportionate plan. “
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has released new guidance on EWS1 stating that only buildings that are exposed to costly renovation risks due to cladding safety concerns – such as Helen’s – are now subject to additional audits. This will be welcome news for thousands of tenants living in apartment blocks, but as the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign says, “The EWS1 certificate only identifies problems with the exterior wall and it is now clear that many of the fire safety problems in these buildings are internal and those with problems already identified are still trapped. “
Even if Helen and other residents of The Decks have access to Taylor Wimpey’s new fund, it won’t cover their rising insurance costs. “At the beginning of 2021, all the residents of my house received a letter from our management company saying that they were fighting to insure the building because of the deficiencies,” she explains. “To give you some context, before we knew about the problems with our building, the insurance premium was £ 33,000 a year, but in 2020, after we learned about the cladding, it was £ 253,000.”
The clincher received a staggering sum for this year’s insurance: £ 504,000 to be shared among all of the tenants in their block. “We understand that this is the only insurance we can take out,” she adds, “and that we have to pay up front”.
The cost of insuring Helens Block at The Decks has increased more than 100 percent since 2019. She currently pays £ 422 a month through her service fee for this, but that could go up significantly. The skyrocketing insurance premiums for tenants are another aspect of this scandal that has been overlooked by government support. Helen’s management company is trying to see if homeowners can settle the bill in installments or on credit, but even if they can get such a deal, she’ll have to pay insurance payments of more than double her mortgage, which is £ 250 before utility bills. She also pays Help to Buy £ 50 a month for her equity loan.
Financial costs aside, Helen says she has no future in mind for her growing family. She feels trapped. “This apartment is intended for couples, not a family of four. My children still share a bedroom, my daughter is eight. It is not appropriate. We are also on the fourth floor. There is only one stairwell from this apartment. We have a fire alarm test on Tuesdays and every time the sound scares me. I’m experiencing the worst nightmare of all parents. “
This is an overwhelming situation and it is tearing Helen apart. “I have endless bills piling up and I won’t be able to fulfill them. In addition, we are bound by old-fashioned leasehold clauses, so the client can pass these costs on to us. “
Helen finds it puzzling that people who have bought government funded “affordable” homes find themselves in this situation: “When you take out a mortgage with Help to Buy, there is a rigorous affordability assessment that could end up costing you outside Are in your control and which you cannot afford? “
At the moment her future, like that of so many people involved in this crisis, hangs in the balance: “We bought this as the first home, and the plan was very much to get some equity, even a tiny bit, with it “We could buy a real family home. I’ve been paying a mortgage for almost 10 years now and my house is currently flammable and worthless. And if bankruptcy turns out to be my best option, I have no idea what our future will look like. “
A spokesperson for HomeGround Management Limited said, “Responsibility for all management and maintenance of the blocks at The Decks in Runcorn, including fire safety, has been delegated to an outside management company by the original developer, Taylor Wimpey. The management company is responsible for troubleshooting, but we have contacted them directly through their agent to ensure that fire safety issues are addressed on-site and taken care of by those responsible. “
Vicky Spratt is I‘s apartment correspondent