When the government announced earlier this year that it would make £5 billion available to put right dangerous cladding on high rise residential properties, Paul Afshar started receiving messages from friends, congratulating him on the good news.
But he had to explain that, like thousands of other leaseholders currently living in flats judged to be unsafe as a result of checks carried out in the years after the Grenfell Fire tragedy, the government’s offer provides him no help.
Paul lives in a low-rise building, which despite being wrapped in unsafe timber cladding will not attract any support through the government’s scheme, as it is less than 18 metres high.
This means Paul, and the other residents of his building, are each facing five-figure bills to make their homes safe, despite being leaseholders, meaning they don’t own the building.
‘Not only are you trapped, it’s also dangerous’
Speaking to NationalWorld, Paul said: “We’re prisoners in fire-trap flats. My life is on hold, and any desire I might have to move on or go move closer to my parents is all out the window.
“You can’t leave because you’re tethered to this property financially, you can’t sell it. Not only are you trapped, it’s also dangerous.
Like many others, Paul purchased his leasehold property believing it was safe, and the issues with fire safety have only come to light afterwards due to heightened scrutiny following the Grenfell tragedy.
That properties like this are now deemed unsafe means they can’t be sold on in their current state, while the costs of repair are falling to leaseholders rather than the freehold building owners.
These bills vary from building to building, but generally amount to tens of thousands of pounds per dwelling, and can be higher even than that.
Emily Boswell bought her first property in 2018, in Leeds, and says she was initially “so proud” to have gotten onto the housing ladder.
She had been sent a fire safety report on her building before purchasing the flat, which stated that there was “no obvious evidence of cladding”.
But just a year later, she found out the home she’d been so proud to purchase was so unsafe, due to flammable cladding and a number of internal issues, that it would need a costly 24-hour ‘waking watch’ patrol.
On top of this, her home insurance costs have risen to more than three times what she originally paid.
These costs, which Emily must bear despite not being responsible for the building’s fire safety as a leaseholder, will continue to mount up until the renovation works are finished.
Though her building is yet to receive a final quote for the works, residents have been given estimates of more than £50,000 per dwelling, with works unable to start until the amount is paid in full, and then likely to take 16 months or more to complete.
She said: “I can’t describe what it’s like to live in a flat that you poured your heart, soul and money into, that has now become your death trap.
“The last year especially has been so tough - being locked down and working from home all day every day, and knowing that everything around you could go up in flames at any moment. Being physically trapped inside the flat means there has just been no way to forget about my situation, even just for a moment.
“I can’t see when this will end for me. It’s just gut-wrenching to know this will continue to control my life for years.”
Fire Safety Bill: ‘A political solution, rather than an actual solution’
The government’s Fire Safety Bill looks set to be passed into law in the coming weeks, which will put in place the support package previously announced.
While this will rectify some buildings which are most at-risk of fire, there will still be tens of thousands of people around the country who are left in unsafe homes, with mounting ongoing costs and massive bills to pay.
The government has previously rejected calls for them to cover the cost of the works up-front, and then get the money back from building companies, and the freehold owners of these properties.
But for residents, this feels like the only fair solution.
Stephen Squires, from Manchester, says he still cannot understand how people like him are being held liable for the cost of putting these properties right.
He says: “As a leaseholder I don’t own it, I didn’t design it, I didn’t build it, I didn’t sign off on it; but I’ve got the bill to pay?”
“The government needs to stop messing about with little bits here and there and just pay to fix all these buildings so we’re all safe, so people can go to bed without worrying that they’re going to burn to death.”
There is little hope that the government will act to help residents though.
Paul Afshar says he is afraid that the issue will now appear closed to the public, despite many people still left in difficulty.
He said: “The fear I have is that the government now feels they can wash their hands of this problem.
“They’ve created a political solution, rather than an actual solution.
He added: “But the problem is still here, and it’s not OK for the government to wash their hands of it.”