While Coronavirus has quite rightly taken up 99% of available news space in the media, there are other issues that continue to be of huge significance and affect large numbers of people. There are hundreds of thousands of leaseholders, in apartment blocks up and down the country, who are still facing uncertain times and financial difficulties due to the implications of the Government’s advice on fire safety and the cladding scandal following the Grenfell tragedy.
Following Government guidance in December 2018, the building owners of high-rise buildings have had to commission investigatory work around possible dangerous cladding and fire safety issues. The outcome of these investigations has led to the requirement to remove dangerous cladding, rectify fire safety issues and in some cases implement interim fire safety measures such as ‘waking watch’ and replacement of inadequate fire alarm systems – all of which cost a lot of money.
In most buildings, all these costs are being passed on to the leaseholders as part of their service charge bills. Sometimes this can mean individual leaseholders are faced with a bill of thousands – I have heard of bills across Manchester ranging from £15,000 to £60,000 per leaseholder. This can obviously cause extreme financial hardship and distress, which needs to be addressed and debt advice is sometimes needed if the leaseholder subsequently has unmanageable or problem debt.
The financial hardship of many people has been aggravated by the consequences of the coronavirus on their income. Even with everything that is going on in the country at the moment, and the fact that remedial works are unlikely to happen for a long time due to restrictions on work, building owners still want the service charge bills to be paid.
Individual leaseholders are often put in an impossible situation when faced by demands for payment of large sums of money. They know that if they do not meet the demand and pay the money their flat is ultimately at risk and so they are forced to look for credit from other sources. If money is borrowed from banks in the form of loans or credit cards then this can often mean the leaseholder is unable to service their debts.
At this point, they need expert debt advice to look at their options in relation to dealing with their problem debt and finances.
By way of introduction, my name is Mark Skinner and I am Head of Personal Insolvency at Farleys Solicitors LLP, which is based on Deansgate in the centre of Manchester. I am also a leaseholder in Beaumont Building in Manchester, which faces some of the problems I have outlined above so I understand the situation in which leaseholders are finding themselves.\
I advise people on their personal debt and try to find them a way to resolve their debt issues. I work with various large organisations, providing all debt and insolvency advice to their members including the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) as well as the Football Association (FA) and Rugby League Cares (RLC). I also undertake debt advice for members of various Police Federations up and down the country whose officers are experiencing financial difficulty and in need of some advice.
I understand that as a leaseholder you may be worrying about the increased costs needed in relation to remedial work for your building and are looking at ways to finance this by way of credit. This can often lead to financial difficulties and I want to offer my advice services free of charge to anyone who is experiencing these financial difficulties. Even if you want to chat about your current financial position and how you think things may be affected by taking on extra credit, I am happy to speak to you about this also.
There are always options available to individuals who are experiencing financial difficulties and I am happy to spend time talking through those options with any leaseholders affected by the problems we are all facing.
If, for example, you have had increased demands for payment due to cladding issues and you are struggling to juggle your creditors each month and make payments on time, there are options available. Creditors can be contacted and new monthly payments can be arranged: this can be done informally by contacting creditors individually or by way of a Debt Management Plan (DMP) or more formally through an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA). If you contact me, I will be able to advise as to the best way forward for you. I can also explain the implications if you need to stop making payments or reduce payments to creditors on a monthly basis.
I want you to know that I am in the same boat as you and that free and impartial debt advice is available to you. All you have to do is give me a call on 0161 835 9513 or, probably easier for now as, like many of you, I am working from home, my mobile 07960 077 252. I can also be contacted through my email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I understand the hardest part of dealing with problem debt is making the first phone call or contact; please know that you are not alone. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time to discuss things; I know I will be able to help you.