Nearly 30,000 people in Lambeth and Southwark are living in homes with unsafe cladding, according to shocking new data compiled by the Labour Party.
The analysis revealed that around 12,110 people in Lambeth and 16,982 people in Southwark are living in flats with flammable cladding which is yet to be removed, totalling 29,092 people, which is likely to an under-estimate of the true number of people affected.
The news comes nearly four years after 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower Fire, a disaster which was exacerbated by unsafe cladding.
John Smith*, 30, who lives in one of the affected buildings in Clapham Common, said: “It feels like some sort of sick joke at this point.
“Your entire life is put on hold. Obviously, at the moment, everyone’s lives are on hold to a certain extent – but for us in this situation, with lockdown, we’re encouraged to stay at home and protect the NHS, but we don’t want to stay at home because our flats are unsafe.
“We have no way of knowing when – or if – we’ll be able to move out. It’s frightening and so unfair.
“It’s hard to know who to trust at the moment – quite a few big players in the construction industry use aggressive tactics. People are scared.”
Lucy Williams, 33, who lives with her partner in Wandsworth in a flat block with flammable cladding, echoed Smith’s sentiments.
She said: “It feels like a really hopeless situation.
“I was supposed to get married soon, but now we can’t because we have to be careful what we spend money on. We want to leave the flat so we can have a baby, but we can’t do that.
“You feel like your life is out of your control, you can’t make any decisions.”
Williams explained how huge the financial burden has become, as she and her partner will soon have to start paying for remedial work for their building, and their insurance has increased by 500% in the past year.
She added: “It feels like everyone is taking advantage of us from every angle. The insurers, the mortgage companies, the housing association. It’s terrifying.”
The Government yesterday promised further loans for leaseholders and a new £3.5billion fund to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings over 18m tall in England, “at no cost to residents”.
This follows Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer last week calling on the Government to remove the dangerous cladding by paying for it up-front, arguing that costs must be recovered through legal action against those responsible for the cladding crisis.
Smith commented: “The Government is just dragging its heels. At this point, I’m amazed another Grenfell hasn’t happened.
“It’s been nearly four years, yet we still don’t know the scale of the problem and we still don’t know how many people are unsafe.
“There may be extra money now, but it doesn’t cover anywhere near what’s needed.
“The estimates are upwards of £15billion, and they’ve not even given half of that. It’s putting a plaster over a gaping wound.”
Williams added: “It seems like everyone keeps saying things that will be nice soundbites for the media.
“You know, ‘we will protect leaseholders, we won’t let them shoulder the bill’. But the reality is time and time again the Government is putting in place things that mean that isn’t the case.
“We all know the fund that the Government is giving out is not enough, but what infuriates me even more is that they are charging VAT on the building work.
“The fund could be 20% bigger if they just cut the VAT. It makes no sense.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged in Parliament last Monday that homeowners would not have to pay the bills to correct fire safety defects.
He said: “We are determined that no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they didn’t cause and are no fault of their own.”
Despite this, many leaseholders have still been forced to pay thousands of pounds for ‘waking watches’ as there are now at least 554 buildings across London with these 24-hour fire marshal patrols.
Williams said: “I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I think I will be able to get through this, at some point. But there are so many people who are being shouldered with so many more costs.
“People are going bankrupt. It’s changing their lives. It’s not just a blip. For some people, this will be a struggle, emotionally and financially, for their lifetime.”
Smith said: “The law needs to change. We did nothing wrong. All of the reports came back safe when buying property, and then we find this out.
“We need to prevent leaseholders from being victims in the future. If anyone wants to do something to make a difference, they should write to their MP.
“The more voices, the better.”
Bell Ribeiro-Addy has also spoken out against the number of homes with unsafe cladding in Lambeth, which you can read about here.
*This name has been changed to protect the source’s anonymity.