Homeowners must be helped out of the cladding crisis as insurance premiums soar, according to Apropos.
The firm believes that the continuing slow response from government to the plight of thousands of homeowners unwittingly stuck in their homes with dangerous cladding must be resolved this year.
Individuals trapped by potential cladding issues are finding that insurance premiums are soaring, with some people quoting increases of more than 1,000% to cover properties that were only recently sold to them as safe and secure yet are now unsaleable liabilities.
With the added insurance prices – often with the additional cost of funding 24-hour fire patrols which can cost between £12,000 and £45,000 per week – and the inability to sell their homes, many homeowners are at a loss.
David Alexander, joint chief executive officer of Apropos, says the situation is completely unacceptable. “With enormous insurance premiums and the cost of fire patrols many of these individuals, who bought their homes in good faith a relatively short time ago, are now facing open-ended bills, with a property they are unable to sell, and complete uncertainty about when their nightmare will end.”
The original government investigation looked at buildings with similar cladding to Grenfell Tower and initiated repairs. However, last January the government enormously extended the remit of the safety inspections to include all buildings over 11 metres with a combustible cladding system.
The result is that it is now estimated that there are at least 839,000 leasehold flats and 58,000 apartment blocks with potentially unsafe cladding.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there were only a few thousand properties requiring inspection to obtain the fire safety certificate known as an EWS1 form, so the pool of a few hundred qualified assessors who could sign off properties should have been able to check homes and sign them off as safe in a relatively short period of time.
Now with nearly one million homes deemed to be at risk, Alexander predicts the required inspections will take years, leaving thousands of people trapped in their homes paying substantial fees in insurance and fire patrol costs.
He continues: “The extension of the remit of the investigation by the MHCLG sounds like a positive move but has ended up asking more questions than it answers without enough suitably trained personnel to adequately resolve this issue.”
“The problems related to Grenfell should have been resolved first and then, where necessary, extend the investigation to look at other claddings and other building heights. By lumping everything together the government have enormously delayed resolving this issue for a much larger number of people who cannot be expected to foot these bills and live with this situation for a prolonged period of time. They need this to be resolved.”
Last September, a report by the parliamentary housing committee stated:
“Progress has been unacceptably slow. The Department (MHCLG) has missed its target badly for Grenfell-style cladding to be removed from all high-rise blocks by June 2020, other than in a few exceptional cases. The Department’s new target is for works on the remaining high-rise blocks to be completed by the end of 2021. It is imperative that the new deadline be met.”
“Most residents in blocks with dangerous cladding face exorbitant costs of funding interim safety measures (such as ‘waking watches’) while waiting for the cladding to be removed. Leaseholders have been trapped in this situation, unable to sell their flats which are worth nothing. This accentuates the urgent need for the replacement of dangerous cladding to be accelerated.”
“A lack of skills, capacity, and access to insurance is hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks, and thereby to restore the confidence of buyers and mortgage lenders in sales of flats across the country. Leaseholders are in limbo and facing huge bills because of a system-wide failure to protect purchasers.”
Alexander says that while the government may well argue that resolving the cladding issue has been hampered by the pandemic, it is clear there were serious issues with the system prior to March 2020.
“The government needs to support residents facing escalating insurance premiums, and fire patrol costs at the same time ensuring that inspections can be carried out rapidly to reassure lenders so that these individuals can get their lives back,” he explains.
“At the moment everyone in a property with suspect cladding is living in limbo with little hope of resolution. They cannot be ignored fearing for their lives while their finances are being steadily eroded.”