WATCH: Sandy Martin brings cost of St Francis Tower work to House of Commons
PUBLISHED: 11:30 01 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:34 01 May 2019
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has joined calls for the government to compensate owners of tower block flats after hearing how safety work had damaged the pensions of some of his constituents.
Mr Martin spoke in an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons where fellow Labour MP Rushanara Ali called for government support for owners of flats in privately-owned tower blocks.
He raised the issue of leaseholders of flats in St Francis Tower who have received bills of about £21,000 each to remove cladding that fails to meet current safety standards in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
That was removed last year by the company that owns the freehold of the block, but it was made clear that the leaseholders would be billed for the work.
Mr Martin told the House of Commons that leaseholders had been left in negative equity after cladding was removed from St Francis Tower.
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He said: “The value of their flat is actually worth less than the bill hanging over their head for the removal of the cladding.”
Speaking later, Mr Martin said the flats in the block had all been sold after it was refurbished about 15 years ago.
Some had been sold to individuals living there, some had been sold to companies who had bought a portfolio of flats, and some had been sold to individuals who saw them as a way of investing money to provide a pension.
He said: “I heard from one person who is self-employed and who bought a leasehold flat to provide him with an income when he retires – but now he is faced with a bill he is struggling to afford and it has become a millstone to him.”
He felt the government should compensate people in this situation – but said he had not been satisfied by the response of housing minister Kit Malthouse: “He effectively said that the government was doing all it had to, but that doesn't help the people caught in this situation.”
The cladding at St Francis Tower was fitted by its former owners when it was refurbished – and was legal in this country at the time although it does not now meet new standards introduced after the tragedy.
After the flats were all sold, the freehold of the block was sold to a separate company which manages the building – but leaseholders have to share the costs of major maintenance projects.