Cladding is the housing subject no-one wants to resolve, due to the potentially eye-watering costs involved.
But it’s slowly suffocating those affected, namely flat owners living in blocks covered in cladding, who want to sell and move on with their lives.
The issue is that the owners are unable to sell the properties until the buildings are proved to be safe, leaving them stuck in their homes and also seeing monthly bills rise as they are potentially unable to remortgage.
We speak to experts to ask what action these residents can take, and who should be picking up the bill.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue
So who exactly is affected?
The problem of non-fire retardant cladding on buildings has seen lenders refusing to give potential buyers a mortgage to purchase the properties.
Understandably, no lender wants to provide finance on homes made of combustible material, like that which turned Grenfell into an inferno.
And some flat owners may be unable to sell even if the material isn’t combustible as the freeholder hasn’t paid for it to be tested.
The issue can also affect those flat owners who are simply looking to remortgage.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue.
Official figures from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government claim that 450 buildings are covered in the most combustible material, with the vast majority of these – 356 – being residential homes.
It means thousands of flat owners could be affected, with many only becoming fully aware of the issue when they try to move home or remortgage onto a cheaper deal.
The exact number affected is unknown, but some figures being circulated suggest it could be impacting as many as 700,000 flat owners.
Official figures claim that 450 buildings are still covered in the most combustible material
The harsh reality is that if a block is covered in a non-fire retardant form of cladding, the flat owner will see their home become unmortgageable until the problem is fixed.
This means it is effectively valued at £0, putting an end to any hope of remortgaging, or getting a lender to offer finance on it to a buyer.
The cost of removing the cladding and replacing it with attractive-looking fire retardant cladding could easily running into millions of pounds.
As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that some developers or freeholders are procrastinating about picking up the bill.
Buying agent Henry Sherwood, said: ‘It is a big issue and there is a lot of talk with people saying they will address it. But there is no detail and so people have been left hanging.
‘There needs to be more information about the cost as this is at the root of all the problems’
Mr Sherwood suggested that the cost is not just about removing the cladding but what will replace it, saying: ‘What will happen to the building afterwards as the most efficient fire retardant cladding is not the most attractive.
‘If freeholders do accept the cost, they may just take the cheapest cladding that there is, which may devalue the property.’
‘There needs to be more information about the cost. One of the biggest components is scaffolding and the labour to take it down and put the new fire-retardant cladding up.
‘It shouldn’t be hard to find out how much this costs, but no one wants to stick their head above the parapet and say what they are doing.
‘No-one knows what your portion is, it could be £50,000 or £100,000. It’s the fear of the unknown. There is no responsibility and no-one wants to take control of it.’
What can residents do?
- Residents need to get together and lobby their management company
- Ask the management company for the building to be tested for combustible material by someone who is accredited by lenders
- Ask to see a schedule of works, with a time frame for removing the non-fire retardant cladding
- Most lenders will require a fire safety report which will only be issued once the building is safe
So what can those trying to sell or remortgage do?
The first step is for residents to ask their management company for the building to be tested for combustible material by someone who is accredited. There is a list of accreditations, which most lenders can provide.
North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf said: ‘The first thing to check is whether your home is affected or not.
‘It could be that you have cladding but it’s not of the type which is attracting attention.
‘Sometimes you only find these things out when you try to remortgage or sell, and a buyer’s surveyor comes along. But because of the furore that has brewed since Grenfell, it would be as well to find out for yourself what the position is before you leave it to someone else to do it for you.
Sometimes you only find these things out when you try to remortgage or sell
Jeremy Leaf, estate agent
‘Approach your managing agent or freeholder and find out what type of cladding you have and what steps are being taken to identify and deal with it.’
If the cladding tests positive, you’ll then need to find out exactly what work needs to be done.
A schedule of works, with a timeframe, can then be established. Flat owners can ask to see a copy of this schedule. And working on a case by case basis, this may be sufficient for a lender to provide finance.
Campaigners protest outside the Grenfell Tower public inquiry in London in January
Nick Morrey, of mortgage brokers John Charcol, said: ‘Residents need to get together and decide what they want to do as they are potentially living in a property that is not safe and could pose a risk to life.
‘They need to take action and lobby their management company for a resolution. It may also mean speaking to the developer if they are still around.’
Mr Morrey added: ‘Find out when they could remove the cladding and the substances behind. It may not look very pleasing but if it is safer than before, I would say that this must be preferable.
‘They then need to look at when they will replace the cladding.’
‘There is a strong argument just to get the cladding removed to make it safe for you, your family and family. Even if this means waiting a couple of years to put up new cladding.’
‘The schedule of works can be sufficient for lenders. There have been instances where it shows the cladding is due to be removed, with the lender saying that the evidence provided means they can help out. But they don’t have to do that.’
Most lenders will require a fire safety report which will only be issued once the building is safe.
Mr Morrey went on to say: ‘Lenders would like professionally qualified people to certify that a building is safe. That way, they can proceed safe in the knowledge that people are sleeping well at night.’
Indeed, Nationwide Building Socity explained that it needs to see documents from a qualified person that confirms the building is safe and secure.
It said: ‘This is purely to ensure the mortgage application does not progress until the necessary documentation has been received and we can ensure that the property is safe for that person/those people to reside in.’
Manchester Cladiators is campaigning for more financial support from the Government
Residents picking up bill for safety
Residents are already picking up costs for interim fire safety measures, it has been revealed.
Leaseholders in Leeds are paying £670 a month on top of their mortgage and service charges to pay for a ‘waking watch’ scheme.
Conservative MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord, said that in Colindale, within his constituency, 1,087 properties in the Pulse in development now deemed to be unsafe had been signed off as meeting fire safety standards by the local authority as recently as 2017.
He said: ‘Assurances from building regulations simply were not worth the paper they were written on.’
Who is responsible?
As for who is responsible for paying for the cost of removing and installing the new cladding, Mr Morrey suggested: ‘Whoever signs off on what substances are put in behind the cladding, they need to take some accountability and responsibility.’
‘However, not all developers are still in business if the building was put up 20 years ago. Then it’s the freeholder and management company. The flat owners need to get together to make sure they take action.’
One campaign group in Manchester, which has named itself the Manchester Cladiators, is calling for the Government to release a building safety fund – not a loan scheme – for all fires safety issues and not just ACM cladding.
So far, the Government has only confirmed that it will pay for the removal of ACM cladding which was the type fitted to Grenfell Tower.
The Manchester Cladiators also want the cost of any interim measures, such as waking watch – 24/7 fire wardens – to be funded by the building owner and not by residents, and for any costs incurred to date to be refunded.
It says the Government also needs to set up a high-rise task force to speed up remediation.
Manchester Cladiators say flat owners are trapped with their lives on hold
The Government has said that ‘building owners are responsible’ although it has added that ‘we are considering options’.
A spokesman for MHCLG told MailOnline Property: ‘It is unacceptable that some residents of high-rise buildings find themselves stuck in limbo, unable to sell their home.
‘The Government has taken action to support an industry-led solution for valuations of high-rise residential buildings.
‘Building owners are responsible for ensuring any building safety risks are identified and fixed as a matter of urgency.’
It follows the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick saying in Parliament last month: ‘The expert advice that we received said that ACM should be the priority of Government.
‘That is why my predecessors announced the £600 million remediation fund for ACM on high-rise buildings. The testing results, which I will publish next month, confirm that decision and make it clear that ACM is significantly more dangerous than any other substance.
‘That has rightly been the focus of taxpayers’ money in terms of grant, but there may be other ways forward to assist those leaseholders trapped in other types of buildings.’
Mr Morrey concluded: ‘This is not a problem that is going to go away. It is your home and probably the single most valuable asset you have. If it is a flat with cladding on the outside, you need to investigate it as a matter of urgency with your management company.
‘You need to resolve it as fast as possible, if for no other reason than to live in a safe property.’