Leeds homeowner who paid £89,000 for flat gets £112,000 cladding bill

Rachael Loftus's cladding bill
Rachael Loftus Credit: ITV Calendar

A woman from Leeds who paid £89,000 for her flat has been given a £112,000 bill to fix cladding and fire safety issues that have since been discovered at the property.

Rachael Loftus bought the flat in the Timblebeck building in 2008. But investigations carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire revealed a raft of problems.

Until they are fixed, the property is effectively worthless.

Rachael, who has already had to pay thousands of pounds for interim measures including fire safety wardens, has now received a bill to remediate the issues.

She said: "We've had crazy bills that we've had to pay so far, so seeing a bill of that magnitude with my name on it just stops you in your tracks."

While the building has qualified for money from the government's Building Safety Fund – set up to deal with a cladding crisis which has affected hundreds of thousands of people across the country – it is still unclear how much leaseholders will receive.

It means that unless the government changes the law, Rachael is legally liable for the cost.

"We just don't know how much we're going to get from the government", she said.

"But whatever it is, we'll have to fund the rest. There's literally nothing I can do.

"The government might say leaseholders shouldn't have to pay and I agree we shouldn't. But we are paying and they aren't doing enough to stop that."

Since finding out about the issues with her building, Rachael has paid £15,000 in costs for fire alarms, waking watch patrols and insurance, which has risen from £800 last year to £1,800.She is not alone. An exclusive ITV Calendar survey found that 66% of flat owners with building safety issues had seen increased insurance costs.

The government recently announced a review of these crippling insurance costs is to be undertaken by a watchdog.

Michael Gove, the communities secretary, has asked the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to establish within six months why insurance premiums have shot up for many customers while work started after the Grenfell tragedy to remove cladding from many sites.

Last month, Mr Gove warned that developers must agree to a £4billion plan to fix dangerous cladding on low-rise flats by early March, or risk new laws forcing them to act.

He said he would "take all steps necessary" to fix the "broken system".

However, the law currently states that any costs not covered can still be legally passed on to leaseholders.

Rachael says that leaves her completely "paralysed."

"I can't limit the amount, I can't move, I can't stop it."

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn says it is "fundamentally unfair" and the current Building Safety Fund system is too "slow and bureaucratic."

"The longer it takes to chase the people who should be paying, leaseholders are paying money each day for insurance, fire alarms and waking watch," he said.

"They can't afford that, never mind the bills to fix the problem that increasingly they're receiving."

Centric, which represents the freeholder for the block of flats where Rachael lives, says no leaseholder will be forced to pay any bill immediately.

A cladding panel removed for testing. Credit: ITV News

It added: "Although Centrick have sent bills to leaseholders showing the full estimated cost of the remediation work, we also gave clear assurances, both prior to and with the bill, that the costs for the works do not need to be paid at this time pending the outcome of the funding application.

"The cost of the remediation was included within leaseholder service charges because under the government’s rules, the BSF funding is required to be treated as service charge. Any funds that are received from a successful application will be credited to the service charge funds and leaseholders accounts will be adjusted accordingly."

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities reiterated that building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings and they must act without delay to fix these dangerous defects.

 It added: "The Timblebeck building is eligible for the Building Safety Fund, and we are working with the building owner to progress their application as quickly as possible."