"My flat made me bankrupt" - Leeds woman shares her story as Labour urges government to 'get a grip' on cladding crisis

As Labour calls for a 'special task force' to be set up to help solve the cladding crisis, for one Leeds woman, sadly it will be too late.

Hayley Tillotson, 28, bought her flat last year through an affordable housing scheme, after saving for seven years. Six months later she was hit with the news that it was in fact unsafe and covered in a similar style of cladding as that used on the Grenfell tower block.

To stay living in the building, residents had to start covering the cost of 24-hour fire wardens, known as waking watch, their insurance premiums sky-rocketed and their flats became unsellable.

She said: "The cost of the waking watch was £300 a month. That was the same as my mortgage payments, and I didn’t have the money to pay for it."

In addition to that charge, she was told to expect a bill to replace the cladding. Although management had been able to apply for the £1.6 billion government fund established to remove dangerous cladding, the fund isn’t big enough to pay for all the repairs. Experts estimate closer to £15 billion is needed to fix the number of buildings affected by this crisis.

"I felt trapped. My mental health plummeted. All my emotion and confidence and personality was sapped out of me."

I knew if nothing was done, I'd be bankrupt by Christmas

Hayley Tillotson

Hayley continued to struggle, but when Covid hit, she lost her job. On 17 December she handed over her keys and her flat was repossessed.

"I feel like a canary down the coal mine really. I feel like they've thrown it in and then stepped back and let chaos ensue"

Hayley when she bought her flat and when she handed over the keys Credit: Hayley Tillotson

It's estimated up to 700,000 flat owners are in the same situation as Hayley, continuing to face large bills for fire-safety improvements following the Grenfell disaster.

Many pay for waking watch on top of hiked insurance and are still being told they could receive the bill to remove the dangerous materials.

Labour says they're not getting enough help, but the government insists it's taking appropriate action.

MPs are voting this evening on a motion urging the government to take urgent action to help those still living in homes clad in dangerously flammable material.

The National Cladding Taskforce proposed by Labour would be modelled on the approach adopted in Australia. They brought in a building-levy on the construction companies, to pay for the work by taxing future developments. It would also seek to urgently carry out an audit to establish the extent of d

The Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 72 people. Credit: PA

angerous materials on each affected building.

Six demands have been set out by the party towards fixing the issue, including providing immediate up-front funding to remove deadly cladding and setting absolute deadlines to make homes safe.

Labour’s six demands are:

  • Immediate up-front funding for removing deadly cladding and other urgent fire safety work

  • Protecting leaseholders and taxpayers by pursuing those responsible for the cladding scandal for costs

  • A new, legally enforceable 2022 deadline to make homes safe

  • Legislation to protect residents from costs

  • Getting the market moving by ensuring affected residents can sell and re-mortgage

  • Stamping out rogue builders by reforming the sector

While for Hayley it may be too late, she says the fact Labour is now fully throwing its support behind solving this crisis does give her hope.

She said: "It's bittersweet for me thinking why didn't you do this last year, but it does give me hope for the thousands of others affected by this.

"We won't stay quiet, we'll keep on fighting."