Housing

‘The plan was this is where I would live for life’

Disabled leaseholder Sarah Rennie converted her Birmingham flat to suit her needs but is now facing ongoing bills to live in it safely

Birmingham leaseholder Sarah Rennie has been hit by the cladding crisis after Grenfell

Birmingham leaseholder Sarah Rennie adapted her flat to her life-long needs but building safety defects have left her feeling betrayed. Image credit: Supplied

Sarah Rennie’s flat on the 13th floor of Birmingham’s Brindley House offered the 35-year-old disabled leaseholder a home for life after she left university in 2008. She set about adapting it, installing a wet room, ceiling hoist and profile bed to suit her needs as her health deteriorated through a degenerative muscle condition.

But the cladding crisis and the cost of making the building safe has now left her facing bankruptcy.

The 16-storey residential block is the tallest in Birmingham but as well as the removal of the dangerous cladding, the indoor fire safety issues are leaving residents facing a huge bill.

Sarah’s £53,000 share of the cladding removal, due to start this month, has been reduced to about £3,000 thanks to a grant but the financial woes don’t end there.

“The result of the cladding means we’ve needed to bring in Waking Watch and our insurance is eye-watering. Our service charge has gone up four to five-fold,” Sarah tells The Big Issue.

“I’ve worked really hard to come up with a financial plan that’s modest and when I go part-time I can live simply and comfortably.

“But all the savings I’ve had and all the plans I’ve made are going to all these bills.

“The £500 a month I am paying for the operational cost of this is difficult but when it comes to the cost of fixing all the internals that is quite terrifying.

“That’s potentially going to bankrupt us.”

Sarah says she was told she could be evacuated using the lift alongside the fire service but has now learned the lift is not up to specification, meaning she would be unable to evacuate in a fire.

‘The government is totally burying their head in the sand on this issue. I really don’t feel like this government treats disabled people’s lives as equal’ Birmingham leaseholder Sarah Rennie

The first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry saw recommendations that leaseholders who are unable to self-evacuate should each get Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs). But the government has not implemented the recommendation and was taken to a judicial review by the family of Sakina Afrasehabi, who died at Grenfell after being unable to leave the building due to severe mobility issues.

A new consultation is under way but in the meantime Sarah has teamed up with another disabled leaseholder to launch the Leaseholder Disability Action Group (Clad DAG) to campaign against the impact of the cladding crisis.

“The government is totally burying their head in the sand on this issue. I really don’t feel like this government treats disabled people’s lives as equal,” says Sarah.

“Working and living in a building that is unsafe is pretty terrifying and I feel angry that I’ve been mis-sold what I thought was a safe flat I could live in for life.

“And I feel betrayed by the government that is demonstrating they really don’t care about the value of disabled people’s lives.”

She adds: “They’ve learnt nothing from the Grenfell Inquiry.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a terrible tragedy and we are doing everything in our power to implement the recommendations from the first phase of the Inquiry.

“We continue to work with disability groups to improve accessible housing and to develop improved guidance for evacuation.”

“We are bringing forward the biggest improvements to building safety in 40 years through our Building Safety Bill and an unprecedented £5 billion funding package to ensure residents are safe, alongside important new measures to improve the quality of social housing for residents.”

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