Stevenage resident slapped with £208,000 cladding bill could be spared cost as government intervenes

'The bill on my service charge is £208,000,' one resident told ITV News - tap above to watch full video report by Rags Martel

People living in a tower block in Hertfordshire could be spared big repair bills after the government launched a dispute over replacement cladding.

Vista Tower in Stevenage is covered in flammable material which meant residents faced eye-watering costs of up to £208,000 to replace it.

But the government intervened and ordered freeholder, Grey GR, to pay to fix the safety defects or face court.

"We found out two or three years ago that the building was deemed unsafe because of flammable cladding, insulation and missing fire breaks and some other defects," said Vista Tower resident Sophie Bichener.

"The bill on my service charge is £208,000 and we've been told by the building owners and managing agents not to pay that - but ultimately it is in our name.

"The government introduced a cap in February which means I should only have to pay £10,000 towards my building remediation.

"But it's still unclear where the rest of the money is going to come from - some residents are liable for the full cost of the remediation [because they own multiple properties] so if that money is not there the building won't be remediated," Sophie explained.

'Rollercoaster of emotion'

Sophie said she had been through a "rollercoaster of emotion" from shock and disbelief to anxiety and depression.

"There was a realisation on the building that no one was going to be able to pay that cost so somebody was going to have to step in to make the building safe - so would that be us going bankrupt and being evicted or will it be the government - will they understand we didn't make this problem?" Sophie added.

Government Minister for building safety Paul Scully said the building owners, Grey GR, should take immediate action.

"There are people in Vista Tower getting bills for more than they originally paid for their flat," Mr Scully said.

"We want developers and freeholders to act now, tenants need that," he added.

Vista Tower in Hertfordshire Credit: ITV News

Sophie Bichener said taking building owners to court was a "big step" and one many leaseholders thought would not happen.

"It needs to happen because my building owner has not made any progress really in the last two years to fix this building," she said.

"Lots of building owners in this country are happy to invest in leasehold and building property and call this a sustainable investent for the future.

"Now it seems when the buildings are deemed unsafe they are not taking responsibility for that," she added.

'Surprised and disappointed'

The building owners Grey GR said the safety of residents in their homes remains "an utmost priority". 

A statement added: "The letter we received from government contained a number of factual inaccuracies, however, we remain committed to starting remediation works as soon as possible.

"We have been in regular dialogue with senior officials at the Department to address several unclear aspects within the legislation, and we have not been alone in raising these issues.

"We have been seeking the necessary clarity on the process in order to move forward, engaging constructively with the Department in support of applications for Building Safety Fund grants to deliver the remediation works and ensure the safety of our residents. 

"We were surprised and disappointed to receive the notification of warning that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities intends to take legal action against Grey GR. 

"We are seeking legal advice and will be unable to provide further comment whilst this matter is proceeding."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know