Cladding scandal: ‘I could go bankrupt’ says homeowner reliant on food banks and Universal Credit who has seen no progress despite government promises

Katherine Johnston (17 February, 2021)

'Ten years ago I was affluent... You can go from successful to this situation so quickly'

41073Deepa Mistry and her partner Greg Longley pictured for a Panorama documentary about shared ownership properties and the cladding scandal (C) BBC - Photographer: Jordan Downer

A family caught up in the cladding scandal told the News they have become reliant on food banks and Universal Credit to help pay their mortgage, with no end in sight for their housing nightmare – despite billions of new funding to make high rise blocks safe.

Last year we reported that Deepa Mistry’s home in Coopers Road, near the Old Kent Road, is effectively unsellable until it is given an EWS1 certificate.

This paperwork requires specialists to assess the impact of cladding on a building and its fire safety. It is a lengthy process and requires qualified surveyors – who are both in short supply and working through a national backlog.

And, in the meantime, Deepa has found out that the fire safety issues may not have been fixed during previous work after all; putting the Peabody block back to square one.

With details scant, residents are also none the wiser as to whether further work will qualify for government funding or will have to be passed onto leaseholders through a newly announced and much-criticised loan scheme.

It is a devastating blow for Deepa, whose family is outgrowing the small flat and are financially crippled by the pandemic.

Deepa described trying to pay her mortgage and service charge while worrying about what costs could be round the corner as a ‘horrific situation’.

She told the News: “In January they said there could be a ‘cladding quality issue’ but I have no idea what they mean, and whether it is to do with all the building or just the remediated work.

“If it is more than cladding then we could have to pay for it through loans, even though the block is over eighteen metres.

“I’m none the wiser and even more stressed. They’ve really messed it up.

“When this work was done it was signed off and inspected. This was three years ago.

“Since then the progress has just dropped off a cliff. I’m quite stuck and keep hitting a brick wall.”

Neither Deepa nor her husband are in work due to losing their jobs during the pandemic.

As a chartered accountant, her greatest fear is that the longer the scandal continues the more likely it is that she could go bankrupt.

It would be disastrous for her future prospects, and a previously unthinkable fall from her successful career.

“At the moment I feel like they are quite happily letting us stew but I would appreciate some honesty,” she explained.

“Your home is meant to be a sanctuary. If you have a stable home you can deal with all the other things in life. This situation really unsettles me.

“If I go bankrupt I lose my career and to start again at 40 would be devastating, especially as I’m the main earner.

“We are reliant on Universal Credit, reliant on food banks and reliant on school meal vouchers. Ten years ago I was affluent.

“You can go from successful to this situation so quickly.”

The new funding earmarked by the government will cover cladding removal costs for blocks over eighteen metres high, but  does not cover low-rise buildings and it is unclear who will pay for other problems that are not cladding-related.

Owners in homes not covered by the fund will rely on loans, with a commitment they would never have to pay more than £50 a month in what campaigners have branded a ‘cladding tax’.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has also committed to a levy on planned high-rise developments and a separate new tax on developers to help recoup the costs.

These changes are on top of £1.6 billion also announced last year, but campaigners say the huge sums are still unlikely to cover the true scale of the national problem.

In reply to a request for comment from the News about when families like Deepa can expect more answers about further remedial work, who will pay, and when,  a Peabody spokesperson said: “We acted quickly to remove ACM cladding on this building as soon as it was identified in 2017. 

“This was before the government issued new guidance to building owners about external wall assessments in January 2020.

“Now, the government guidance requires us to complete further investigations which involve more than an assessment of the cladding on an exterior wall.

“Lenders, who are concerned about potential costs impacting mortgage affordability, are asking for an EWS1 form as part of their mortgage process.

“This form in itself is not a safety certificate, it only sets out the outcome of this detailed investigation for lenders.

“Of course we understand residents’ concerns and their worry that they may not be able to sell their home as a result of the process.

“This is a national issue affecting potentially millions of people up and down the country.

“We support our leaseholders and welcome government efforts to reform the EWS1 system by facilitating lending, clarifying the certification criteria and process, and help to finance and expedite necessary works by improving and expanding access to the Building Safety Fund.

“We didn’t pass the costs of the ACM removal on to leaseholders and we will actively pursue all possible avenues to try and protect leaseholders financially from additional building safety costs.”

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