Finally the media are running with the cladding scandal, but one group is missing: disabled leaseholders

By Georgie Hulme

Credit to Greater Manchester Housing Action who originally posted this article in their blog:

Since the horrendous Grenfell tragedy, more and more buildings are being identified nationwide as unsafe due to various fire safety defects. The main issue is cladding, but the problem goes much further than this.

Nobody should be living in buildings with major fire defects, and no leaseholder should have to pay for such remedial works. This scandal has shown the problems of successive Governments in failing to address building safety standards. Greater Manchester has the highest amount of buildings at risk compared to the national average. The last count I heard from the Fire Service a few weeks ago was 88, and it's potentially even more now.

It’s really positive that media across the political spectrum are covering this scandal, and it's powerful to read and hear so many personal stories. But one group who I haven’t heard or seen being involved are those with conditions and/or are disabled leaseholders. I am a disabled leaseholder and of course we are not all in the same situation, but we do exist. It’s important that all groups and circumstances are reflected, because as things are, the Government gives the impression that all leaseholders are in positions to access loans to cover costs. It’s important to note that all these properties have no market value as a result.

Here’s a bit about myself and my situation. My name is Georgie. I’m a leaseholder living in the Life Buildings in Hulme, Manchester. The buildings have major fire risks, including unsafe cladding, compartmentalisation issues and unsafe timber/decking on balconies. It was built unsafe. The developers went bankrupt, so we have no recourse to challenge them. We have no indication that the freeholder is likely to cover any required costs.

I really love my flat, the location and the community, but I am stuck in a building that’s extremely unsafe, with no options, other than to wait and see what happens. As things are, realistically it’s not going to be a positive outcome.

My Mum died in comfort, thinking that despite my complex disabilities, combined with austerity, she’d left me with home security for life, in an accessible flat that I love. It’s heartbreaking that’s not the case. This situation wasn’t her fault and it isn’t mine. Even though I miss her so much, I’m relieved she isn’t having to go through this. She lived in the flat before me. She was a pensioner reliant on state benefits, who had MS and she died of multiple cancers. Imagine being in such a situation, with this then hanging over you? Of course, there will be people who are.

Daily I feel sick and stressed — the impact on my physical and mental health is extremely detrimental. Bills of tens of thousands of pounds may arrive any day. My income is state benefits, so how could I even be granted a loan of such a potentially large amount? We have no indication of an estimated cost or how and when we will be billed. I’ve heard about bills of between £20,000-£115,000, per flat, often payable in short timescales. Can you imagine living like this, especially during the coronavirus crisis and lockdown. Hundreds of thousands of us have had no choice.

How many more fires and deaths until the Government will act to safeguard all in this situation? All residents were asked on safety grounds to clear balconies and to keep them sterile. Does it make me feel safer? No, but that I’ve started packing before eviction.

The Building Safety Fund, whilst welcome, falls massively short. Only covering cladding costs for buildings 18 metres and above, means that numerous buildings, like the block I live in, which is 16.8m, will receive no financial assistance at all. Why are we deemed unworthy of any help? Why are our lives viewed as unequal? Fire does not discriminate height-wise. So whilst an application has been made, it is extremely unlikely that we will be granted any funding, even though we’ve been assessed under the same criteria as those eligible. Also, what about other fire safety costs, some I’ve mentioned above, that also include mass insurance hikes and required specialist reports?

It’s not enough for Government Ministers to ask developers and freeholders to do the moral thing and not pass costs to leaseholders. Asking politely is not going to save so many people from huge debts or eviction. I feel sick, anxious, angry, appalled, petrified, and utterly heartbroken. I don’t want to lose my flat. I want more than anything to be able to stay. This is an injustice of immeasurable proportions and the Government is enabling this to continue when the situation could be stopped.

The relaunch of the Manchester Cladiators End Our Cladding campaign, in collaboration with other groups, sets out 10 asks of Government that could end this nightmare. For more information head to the website here.

Our local leaseholder group actively supports this campaign. Whether you are impacted by this scandal or not, I urge people if on Twitter, to please follow, tweet and retweet the main campaign @McrCladiators@EOCS_Official and our local group @LifeBuildings.

There doesn’t feel much hope around at the moment, but despite the detrimental impact this is having on my health, I have no choice but to fight on in any way I can, when I can, because the alternative is too unbearable to contemplate.

Georgie Hulme is a leaseholder at the Life Buildings in Hulme and a campaigner with the Manchester Cladiators. You can follow the campaign on Twitter at @McrCladiators.

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