A teacher with four children faces losing her Walworth home after being landed with an eye-watering £85,000 fire safety bill.
Leaseholders in Oyster Court, off Crampton Street, have been told they must pay £2.6 million for the necessary fire safety works, including cladding removal, by their housing association landlord Optivo.
Primary school teacher Emma McGovern, who lives with her partner and four children, owns just 45 per cent of her flat and has a £120,000 mortgage. Her share of the cost is £85,000.
The McGoverns chose the shared ownership flat when they were living in a one-bed with a second child on the way and struggled to afford a home large enough for their growing family.
“It’s such a comedy bill that we can’t even begin to think how we would raise the money,” she said.
“£85,000 is just not realistic for anyone.
“Obviously we knew when we signed on that the leaseholder system isn’t perfect – but we didn’t expect anything like this.”
As the five-storey building is under 18 metres tall, it is not covered by the government’s £5 billion bailout for high-rise towers with combustible cladding.
It is currently unclear whether Oyster Court leaseholders could qualify for government loans with a maximum repayment of £50 per month.
Martin Boyd, the chair of Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, a charity that advocates for leaseholders’ rights, told the News there is a real chance that despite its promises, if the government does not take action those who cannot pay astronomical cladding bills – like Emma – could lose everything.
“If a leaseholder refuses to pay or is unable to pay their service charges they may eventually face the loss of their home and the whole of their investment in that home,” he said.
“This happens under the forfeiture legislation which applies to many leases.
“At best leaseholders might have the right to take their landlord to tribunal if they can prove they have been overcharged.
“However, the law means that at best the leaseholders have no right to their legal costs in bringing a challenge, while the landlord is able to flex their financial muscle to defend their position.”
Emma, like other owners, wants Optivo to hold off with the plans until the situation is clear but, instead, residents have been given just a month’s notice before work is due to begin on November 3.
Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle called on the government, and new housing secretary Michael Gove, to fix the crisis once and for all.
“The government should end delays and resolve the horrific situation leaseholders have been put in by a failure of government regulation and oversight,” he told the News.
“Ministers need to deliver on their promises to protect all leaseholders, including those who only part-own but are being lumbered with 100 per cent of the bills to do what the government is obliging.
“It is four years since Grenfell, but ministers are still letting down people like those in Oyster Court.”
After being contacted by this paper, a spokesperson for Optivo said: “Our evidence shows work is required at Oyster Court to ensure residents’ safety.
“It would not be right for us to ignore the fire safety risks that have been identified, and government guidance does not encourage us to do so.
“We completely understand the situation around fire remediation costs is continuing to cause concern for affected leaseholders, including our residents at Oyster Court.
“We empathise with the difficult position leaseholders find themselves in and we’ll continue to lobby the government to protect them from these costs.
“We’re doing everything we can to find a way forward with the government.
“Unlike private developers, we’re a not-for-profit organisation. We reinvest our income back into providing services for our 90,000 plus residents.
“We urgently need clarity from the government about their financial scheme for leaseholders so our residents can be given protection and peace of mind.”
Fire safety campaigners have repeatedly highlighted both the financial and mental toll the scandal has on residents living in death trap homes they have to pay to fix.
A spokesperson from activist group End Our Cladding Scandal said: “We challenge the Prime Minister to spend even a week forced to live in a home that has been retrospectively deemed unsafe – to receive a bill many multiples of his annual salary to fix serious defects that he played no part in causing, and then tell us how it feels to be worried day and night for his family.”
What needs to be done?
- Replacing the decking on balconies
- Removing existing cavity barriers in walls and installing a full depth insulation zone
- Removing Trespa cladding panels and replacing with A1 rainscreen cladding solution
- Adding fire stopping at window abutments (substructures which support window ledges)
- Stripping and replacing the soffit (the underside connecting walls to the roof) at the underpass
How much will it cost?
- Works including VAT: £2,563,780.97
- Management fees (maximum £2250 per flat): £67,500.00
- Total bill for Oyster Court: £2,631,280.97