Trapped: Britain’s cladding crisis

Five years ago, Charlotte Meehan achieved one of life’s big milestones, purchasing the lease on a one-bedroom flat with her partner. 

It has since come to light that the flat complex poses serious fire safety issues, ranging from flammable HPL cladding to missing cavity barriers. 

Like thousands of others across the UK, Charlotte and her husband are caught up in the cladding crisis, trapped in a dangerous, unsellable home, and staring down the barrel of crippling remediation costs.

“It is a daily nightmare. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about this situation and what it means for the future of myself, my husband and my fellow neighbours.” 

“It is quite simply terrifying. When that bill lands that we’re not going to be able to pay it, it’s going to ruin us financially”. 

What is the cladding crisis?

It refers to the building safety problems faced by leaseholders of flats in medium- and high-rise buildings.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, recommendations from phase 1 of the Grenfell inquiry has led to major changes in fire safety standards. 

But the Fire Safety Act 2021 does not protect leaseholders from huge remedial work costs. 

Giles Grover, a campaigner for End Our Cladding Scandal, says the government is refusing to acknowledge the full scale of the cladding crisis.

“The government, I think, is just still scared of the true scale of the crisis.” 

“Simple point, we always say, it’s about fairness. We didn’t play any part in this. It’s a collective state and industry failure.”

It’s hard to quantify the true scale of the crisis. There are, for example, around 88,000 buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres which may need remediation work that don’t qualify for the government’s Building Safety Fund or the Waking Watch Relief Fund. 

Daisy Cooper MP says it is a national scandal.

“They put their faith in the developers and in local authorities who were supposed to do the checks, and now they find themselves facing the prospect of £80,000 to £100,000 of money that they’re going to have to find from somewhere.”

The building Safety Bill has been held up by the government as a key solution to the crisis, but as it stands, it is generating more questions than answers. 

Apsana Begum MP, whose Limehouse and Poplar constituency has one of the highest density of high-rise buildings in the country, says the bill does not “have the weight behind” it to be a success.

There isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel. Housebuilder Bellway says the crisis could drag on for two decades. For many leaseholders, they simply cannot cope with being stuck in limbo for much longer.