A leaseholder caught up in the cladding crisis protests in July 2021. Image: Reece Lipman
Leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis have taken their anger to Downing Street to demand the UK government covers the cost of fixing their homes and removing dangerous cladding.
Four years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, thousands of leaseholders across the UK are facing huge bills to fix fire safety defects in their homes or remove dangerous cladding, with many facing homelessness or bankruptcy as a result.
More than 100 people chanted “developers must pay!” outside the Prime Minister’s residence on Thursday. Filmmaker Reece Lipman, 31, was among the protestors.
He told The Big Issue that he is still waiting to find out how much repairs at his home in Romford, East London, will cost. But the Westminster government’s £5.1bn Building Safety Fund will not cover work to remove flammable cladding on Chapel Court as the building is under 18 metres in height.
“There is anger here. People are angry, people are scared,” said Reece. “It isn’t right that we should be having to do this, taking days off work to come and fight for our homes and the places we need to feel safe, the places where we feel the least safe of all at the moment.
“I think we’re the first wave of this. This scandal is going to grow. And that terrifies me.”
The protest saw leaseholders share their stories and frustrations in the heart of Westminster alongside speeches from Grenfell Community Campaigners.
The Grenfell fire disaster, which killed 72 people in 2017 and left others injured and homeless, has been the trigger point for changes in fire safety regulations. Work has been ongoing to remove combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from buildings ever since.
But the row over who should pay for repairs and remediation work has been divisive, with MPs and peers split over the issue during the Fire Safety Act’s passage through parliament earlier this year.
The protest came just over a week after ministers published the Building Safety Bill. The legislation has been criticised for not living up to promises that leaseholders would not have to pick up remediation costs.
Chloe Waite, co-founder of Action on Fire Safety Justice, was one of the organisers behind the demonstration. She said the two-hour protest was essential in making leaseholders’ voices heard.
“The government is not listening to us. As leaseholders and tenants trapped in this nightmare situation, it’s beyond frustrating to hear the same old tired soundbites trotted out by the government in response to our cries for help,” said Waite.
“Leaseholders have been made liable to cover impossible costs and thousands of us face bankruptcy and eviction from our homes. This is an unprecedented housing crisis and the government refuses to protect us.”
Waite’s fellow organiser, who gave her name as Joanna, told The Big Issue she is facing a £3,000 bill to fix fire safety issues at her home at Barking Riverside, East London.
She added: “We just wanted to show the government that we will not give up until our problems are solved.
“I think the government has turned their back on us so many times now, especially with the Building Safety Bill. We were told I don’t know how many times in parliamentary sessions that the time for our salvation will come in the bill. It hasn’t”
Protestors also demanded ministers prevent a repeat of the Grenfell Tower disaster and worked with mortgage lenders to help residents trapped in essentially worthless homes that have failed an EWS1 safety assessment.
Tanya Murat, co-ordinator at Homes for All, who were also involved in organisation for the protest, said: “Four years after the Grenfell fire, nothing has changed.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in flats that are not safe, where another catastrophic fire could happen. Instead of protecting developers’ profits, the government should pay for remedial works now and send a bill to the developers.”
The government published the Building Safety Bill at the start of July, paving the way for a new regulator and a legal requirement for building owners to explore “alternative ways to meet remediation costs” before passing bills on to leaseholders.
Launching the bill, building and fire safety minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “By increasing our measures of enforcement, we will make sure industry follows the rules – and is held to account when it doesn’t.”