Flat owners could face 'extortionate' £364k fire safety bill

Claire Hamblion and Alex Dickin, of the Ipswich Cladiators group, set up to fight cladding scandal o

Claire Hamblion and Alex Dickin, of the Ipswich Cladiators group, say they could still face a building safety bill worth thousands - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Exasperated homeowners living in worthless Waterfront flats fear they could still have to foot an "unfair and unaffordable" £364,000 bill to fire-proof their building.

Developers were told they would have to pay to replace dangerous cladding on all buildings higher than 11m in early January — with the government already covering the costs in buildings over 18m high through the £5bn Building Safety Fund (BSF). 

The creation of the BSF means the 80 homeowners in Cardinal Lofts tower block on Ipswich Waterfront, which is well over the 18m threshold, will no longer have to stomach a collective bill of £425,000 for new cladding. 

But that still leaves behind a £74,461 bill to fix the non cladding-related safety defects — including automatic opening vents, fire door remedials and fire door servicing — and a £293,285 receipt for the 24-hour fire marshal "waking watch" in place from November 2020 to October 2021.

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Alex Dickin, 28, owns a flat in Cardinal Lofts and runs Ipswich Cladiators — a group seeking justice for leaseholders affected by the crisis.

"Cladding isn't even the half of it", Mr Dickin said. "There's still a massive bill hanging over us for all the other defects when those repair works are carried out.

"We've seen fires happen in this country, and recently in New York, where the issue wasn't stopping the fire spreading on the outside of the building; it was stopping the smoke spreading on the inside. 

"For that we need functional vents and fire doors. In some ways, they're even more important than the cladding, but the government hasn't said anything about helping us meet those costs.

"I knew nothing about any of this when I bought my flat in 2016, and now it's valued at £0. The investigations that followed Grenfell have just opened a Pandora's box."

Alex Dickin at the Cladiators rally on the Ipswich Waterfront. Picture:Sarah Lucy Brown

Alex Dickin at the Ipswich Cladiators rally on the Waterfront. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Currently the £364,746 non-cladding safety bill being invoiced to Cardinal Loft leaseholders, which works out at £4,559 per flat, is not being demanded of them by the freeholder, Grey GR Limited Partnership, who we were unable to reach for comment.

Most Read

The sums appear on the leaseholders' annual budget, as seen by this newspaper, to meet a legal requirement — and so that the managing agent which took over mid-2021, Principle Estate Management, can qualify for funding via the BSF.

When contacted the company declined to comment.

But in a letter from the previous managing agent, Block Management UK Ltd, leaseholders were explicitly warned they were not off the hook — and may have to pick up the bill eventually.

The letter explained that while the landlord had already paid a large sum towards the waking watch, which was "not immediately payable", it could be demanded of leaseholders down the line should there "ultimately be no other option than to go down the service charge route as a last resort".

Claire Hamblion owns a flat in Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich and is concerned about the news that the bu

Claire Hamblion owns a flat in Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich and is concerned about the news that the building has potentially dangerous cladding and that residents are now paying for a waking watch. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

For Cardinal Loft leaseholder Claire Hamblion, 48, this does not give her any confidence she will be "protected from extortionate costs", as promised by the government.

"It's not the freeholder's fault, it's the people who signed off this building as safe in the first place", she said. "It should never have happened, and now we're all suffering the consequences.

"The charges are completely unfair, and unaffordable. There's no way I'd be able to pay £4.5k towards these works, and I'm sure many others are in the same position."

On Thursday, January 27, the Department for Levelling Up pledged £27m to install fire alarms in all buildings to remove the need for "rip off" waking watches.

But while this will prove helpful for buildings which still have fire patrols in place, it will make no difference to Ms Hamblion and Mr Dickin.

"We won't see any of that £27m", he said. "A lot of the buildings in Ipswich no longer have waking watches, but we could still face the bill for them one day."

Campaign group Ipswich Cladiators rally at Ipswich Waterfront. The rally is part of a National Day o

L-R: Julian Gibbs, Chu Man, John Cook, Cllr Carole Jones, Alex Dickin, Cllr Elizabeth Johnson. - Credit: Cladiators

The pair added that they were also seriously worried costs could rise further as more defects are found.

"The investigations into our building are not complete", Ms Hamblion said. "At the minute, it's completely unknown as to what we'll eventually have to pay."

-Get the latest from the investigations unit with our weekly newslette