iNews reported on the concerns of tenants in properties run by One Housing, who are ‘in turmoil’ after they were told they might be ‘forced’ to pay £78,000 per flat to remove combustible cladding from properties. Tenants believed they were covered by insurance policies, but have now been told ‘they may be expected to pay the repair charges’ within 28 days.

Some were issued warnings two months ago to remove fairy lights from balconies because these were also ‘found to contain’ combustible materials, with the draft building safety bill stating that repair costs in such buildings ‘would be passed onto the resident’. Some could see a ‘full list cost’ of repairs including sprinkler retrofitting and fire door replacements of up to £78,000 per household.

The housing company has applied for cladding remediation funding from the government, though London resident Ed Spence stated: ‘They told us if they can’t get funding, we will be looking at entering Section 20 negotiations with residents. This is the first time since Grenfell that we’ve actually been told that we have any kind of flammable issues with our properties.’

A Section 20 notice issues charges to tenants to be paid over a set period of time ‘agreed by the tenant and the leaseholder’, and should the building safety bill be passed only 28 days would be required before payment. The One Housing tenants believed that their National House Building Council (NHCB) warranty ‘would protect them from paying the charge’, but Mr Spencer was told that the warrant is ‘invalid’ for his building.

He noted that ‘as soon as I heard the news, I looked into selling […] but because we don’t have an EWS1 safety certificate, we can’t move, so we’re basically stuck here. A spokesperson from One Housing Action said they reached out to 35,000 residents who live in One Housing properties, and asked a lawyer working on the Grenfell inquiry what he thought to our situation. He told them every single thing we were saying is reminiscent of Grenfell.

‘Like us, the building had water issues, past insect infestations, and overarchingly, a high density of flammable cladding, and that was a significantly smaller block of flats’. Tenant Rob Leary stated: ‘Even though I’m expected to stump up the money in 28 days, I’ve been told the remedial work could take three to five years to complete. I’m hoping to start a family in the not too distant future, but instead, I’m trapped, and sorting out these problems has become a second job.’

Another resident, wishing to remain anonymous, said One Housing ‘recently wrote to us to say they may not be eligible for government funding to remove our cladding because they could afford to pay for its removal. They simultaneously wrote to us to tell us if they can’t get government funding, they may charge us to get this cladding off our buildings. Just let that greed sink in.

‘Many of my neighbours are key workers, the very people who were applauded a few weeks ago for saving lives during the lockdown. The underpaid heroes who were encouraged by the government to plow all their savings into “affordable housing” are the same people this government wants to punish for the cladding scandal. None of these people put the cladding on their buildings. None of them should have to fix it’.

A series of bodies and ministers are pushing the government ‘to reconsider the charges for leaseholders’, with former Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter and fire prevention officer Phil Murphy stating that the charges were ‘absolutely perverse […] I can’t imagine being in that position. Some people will be pushed into homelessness, food poverty, even fuel poverty. There’s a complete absence of an impact assessment for leaseholders’.

Slough MP Tan Dhesi has written to the government, and added: ‘Three years on from the devastating Grenfell fire, it’s a national disgrace that high rise residents in Slough live in fear due to dangerous cladding. Not only has the Tory government missed its target for removing dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, I’m concerned that the size and scope of the building safety Fund for non-ACM cladding will not be sufficient to make high-rise buildings safe. The government must act faster and put the safety of tenants and leaseholders first.’

Leeds MP Hilary Benn recently did the same, noting: ‘Charges for amounts like this are completely unaffordable and unacceptable. The cladding problem is not the responsibility of leaseholders or social tenants and they should not be expected to pay to make their own homes safe.’

UK Cladding Action Group co founder Ritu Saha commented: ‘We are extremely concerned that housing associations like One Housing are continuing to exacerbate the mental agony of innocent people living in dangerous flammable homes. This is a grave injustice at any time, and even more so in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic. We have raised our concerns about these actions of housing associations with Lord Greenhalgh, the Building Safety Minister, weeks ago, and we urge the government to take immediate steps.’

One Housing’s chief operating officer Chyrel Brown responded: ‘We take complaints from our residents very seriously. If a resident is dissatisfied with an aspect of our service, we strongly encourage them to approach us so that we can discuss the issue and see what action can be taken. We do understand the frustration and worry being felt by our residents with cladding on their buildings.

‘We continue to take the safety of our residents very seriously and we have robust measures in place to ensure their buildings are safe. We are continuing to undertake surveys employing qualified fire professionals and carrying out tests. The cladding issue is a national issue and we are working with other housing associations to engage with government for further clarity and additional funding. We are looking at all option of the Building Safety Fund and will be applying for a grant to cover the cost of building work.’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government added: ‘Our position remains that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to pay unaffordable costs in relation to historic safety defects in their buildings and we do not expect they will pay anywhere near these hypothetical maximum costs. We have also provided £1.6 billion for the swift replacement of unsafe cladding on buildings over 18m.

‘We are speeding up work with leaseholders and the financial sector to develop proposals that will further protect leaseholders from unaffordable remediation costs, without passing these costs on to taxpayers. This is in addition to the draft building safety bill which outlines the most fundamental improvements to building safety in 40 years, making sure people will be safer in their homes.’