Cladding: Pensioner spends thousands on fire safety while those in England offered a lifeline

Eileen Fletcher is one of thousands affected by unsafe cladding and fire safety defects in Wales.

The 84-year-old leaseholder lives at the Celestia site in Cardiff Bay. She and her late husband moved into a flat at the site nine years ago, unaware of the issues she would face down the line.

"It was a very, very happy few years" she said. "But then we found out that there were defects on the building that needed to be dealt with and we weren't sure how we were... going to pay for them."

Eileen's husband passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic and she is now expected to pay £10,000 over the next five years to help with the issues, including replacing the cladding and fire safety repair work.

She said: "As soon as Grenfell Tower happened, everything went pear-shaped and they said that every high rise building now has got to be made completely safe, but nobody said how we were going to pay so two years ago they said that we would have to pay - and that is us only in this apartment - £10,000 a year for five years.

"We are suffering at the moment huge service charges. I've just had one for £4,000 and another one is due in July for £4,000 - that's £8,000 out of my pension. It doesn't leave me with much at all."

Eileen and her husband moved into the flat before he passed away from Covid. Credit: Eileen Fletcher

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, thousands of flats across the country were revealed to have unsafe cladding, which resulted in mortgage providers cutting lending for flats with cladding, leaving in many people being unable to buy or sell flats.

Now, six UK banks are set to start lending on medium and high-rise flats with unsafe cladding in England following new guidance from RICS but this is not being offered to people in Wales.

The move in England is a step forward - but not without strict conditions.

Applicable buildings will need a fully-funded remediation plan in place, either through UK government money, or a commitment from the building's developer to meet the costs.

This, in theory at least, means after years of waiting, some leaseholders can look ahead to potentially selling and moving from affected properties.

This is currently not the case in Wales. 

The Welsh Government insists progress is being made, and that leaseholders should not have to meet the costs of rectifying problems in their buildings. In October 2022, it revealed ten developers had agreed to fix fire safety problems in medium and high rise buildings they had been involved in across Wales.

But campaigners are frustrated, pointing to a lack of published targets and timescale for work to commence.

The Welsh Government said: "We continue to progress our negotiations to ensure our leaseholders are protected and are not disadvantaged by fire safety issues. This includes work with UK Finance and the Association of British Insurers."

When asked if there are any further progress with the Developers' Pact, A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "The Developers’ Pact is underpinned by formal legal documentation, which sets out our expectations of developers. This documentation has been drafted and shared with the Home Builders Federation for comment."

Eileen wants the Welsh Government to do more to support those with unsafe cladding. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Eileen said: "That's all we want from the Welsh Government, is to assure us that we won't have to pay for the cladding, and possibly we won't have to pay for the cladding but there are other issues as well, and the developers are still being given massive contracts to build defective buildings - why?"

She added: "There's a lot of people who are worse off then me, and I appreciate that they're struggling badly, they're still working, they've still got mortgages, they can't sell the places and they're not worth what they paid for them, that's a very sad indication I think."

Celestia Management Company Limited said: "The Welsh Government has not taken the same steps as Westminster either to finance or enforce remediation of unsafe buildings by developers and builders. Wales lacks key statutory remedies and there is no timetable to release the funding that the Welsh Government has set aside.

"Against this background, we do not expect the limited relief that this announcement from the banks may give some English leaseholders to be available to Welsh leaseholders any time soon. The Welsh Government has recently defeated an opposition motion to pass “emergency” legislation and its current timetable envisages new legislation may be enacted in 2026."

The construction company Laing O'Rourke said it is engaging proactively with the various parties in this case, but cannot comment further due to legal proceedings.

The developer Redrow said it has provided significant financial support to the building management company here, and it has also signed up to the Welsh Government's building safety pact, a pledge to make right the problems with developments such as this.