Leaseholders may be forced to sell war medals to fund huge fire safety costs

Leaseholders in Cardiff say they are struggling to foot the bill for fire safety shortfalls on their homes - with some even considering selling their Afghanistan war medals.

With soaring service charge costs adding hundreds of pounds to monthly bills, homeowners have spoken out about the enormous burden of being “trapped” in a flat they cannot sell.

Kelly Wood, who lives in Cardiff Bay’s Celestia apartments, is facing “extortionate” bills to cover fire, remediation and structural defects.

Residents at Celestia apartments are facing “extortionate” bills to cover fire, remediation and structural defects, Ms Wood says. Credit: ITV Wales

She told ITV Wales: “Our share of the bill is estimated at £26,000 over the next four years, which is around £420 pounds extra per month that we're having to find to pay for these bills.

“The burden of these costs is unprecedented. People are facing huge financial strain and to find these costs with less than 28 days notice period.”

Landlords and property owners are having to foot the bill for a waking watch scheme, which sees a person employed to walk around the site every day looking for fire outbreaks, costing thousands of pounds every week.

Kelly Wood is at the stage of having to think about what can she can sell to fund the "huge costs". Credit: ITV Wales

“It's causing huge emotional distress, huge mental health stresses on leaseholders,” Ms Wood said.

“You are having to look at options of how you're going to pay these bills. My husband has put forward one option of selling his military cross and his other medals for paying these bills, which he received for gallantry in Afghanistan.

“We're at the stage where we're having to think about what can we sell to fund these huge costs. The properties are priced at zero at the moment because of these issues with fire structural defects, you're unable to have a mortgage on these properties. So you can't even sell the property on.”

'My entire life is on pause'

Rebecca Ashwin and her partner worked five jobs in order to save for their deposit to buy their flat in Victoria Wharf - but they’re now “trapped” there.

“We were only in for six months before it all came tumbling down, there's far more wrong than just cladding. There were missing fire breaks, the internal compartments were incorrect. The alarm systems weren't up to spec.

“Unfortunately, it's been left in the hands of the leaseholders in the main to pay a lot of the costs going forward.

“My service charge has essentially doubled each year because of the insurance cost and it's something that isn't going to go down until we have the place fully remediated, which could take years yet.”

Rebecca Ashwin feels "forever uncertain" whether she's going to be able to keep her Victoria Wharf home. Credit: ITV Wales

Rebecca says housebuilder Taylor Wimpey announced in March last year that they would remediate sites they were responsible for, but there's “still no movement”.

“So we're still paying all those interim costs for waking watch insurance and we're still just waiting to have the details.

“I feel like my entire life is on pause. I am forever uncertain whether I'm going to be able to keep my home.

“And I’m trapped essentially, I can't move. If I want to take another job or something in a different location - those aren't options to me.”

The Welsh Government is currently surveying to find out how many homeowners are affected and says it is committing £375m over the next three years to support leaseholders, and is pushing developers to "take responsibility and action'.

The spokesperson said: "Our approach to building safety goes beyond cladding to include compartmentation, fire alert, evacuation and suppression systems in all buildings of eleven metres and above.

"We will continue to engage with developers and press them to take responsibility and action and commend developers that have already set aside funds for remediation in Wales - they have set an example for others to follow.

"We are currently reviewing Expression of Interest received for Phase 1 of our Building Safety Fund which will support detailed survey work on buildings to establish the remediation works needed on a building by building basis.

"The Minister's statement in December set out the significant progress being made on the building safety agenda, including a commitment of £375m in the draft Budget over the next three years."

Housebuilders Redrow say they are very aware of the difficulties and uncertainty affecting residents of high rise apartments across the UK that have remedial cladding issues based on new standards.

A spokesperson said: "As a housebuilder primarily focused on delivering family homes, we only have a small number of high rise apartment blocks, which we have engaged with on a case-by-case basis. Celestia was constructed in 2006 by Laing O'Rourke under a design and build contract.

"Despite not being the freeholder, we have provided significant financial support to the management company and we will also be providing funding through the Residential Property Developers Tax."

Laing O'Rourke said it has "engaged proactively with the developer, Redrow, and with Celestia Management Company Limited (CMCL), including attending the site and several meetings with Redrow, CMCL and their lawyers."

A spokesperson added "we have also responded to various requests for technical information to assist with CMCL’s investigations and risk assessments. However, as legal proceedings have been issued we are unable to comment further at this time".

'A difficult situation for residents'

Taylor Wimpey say they understand “this is a difficult situation for Victoria Wharf residents” and are “working very hard to address this complex matter as a priority”.

A spokesperson said: “We are in regular dialogue with FirstPort, the Management Company at Victoria Wharf, to support them in finding the right solution for leaseholders.

“We have committed and set aside significant funding to ensure leaseholders do not have to pay for remediation works to bring their buildings up to current EWS1 standards, and this includes Victoria Wharf."

Celestia Management Company Limited response

Celestia Management Company Limited said in a statement: "The current Celestia Board believes that it is the responsibility of the designers, builder and developer of the property to fund and make good various defects in the construction of the buildings following their work.

"The board has been involved in negotiations over several years to try and persuade them to accept responsibility for sub-standard construction quality and materials, so far with limited success.

"Neither the developer, or builder, has been keen to step forward and accept financial responsibility for the poor quality of the properties or proposals to fund all the repairs that are now required to make them the safe and comfortable homes leaseholders initially thought they were buying."