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7 Nov 2021

'I feel guilty because I encouraged her': leaseholders' parents on the cladding scandal

We hear from parents whose children are trapped in unsafe homes with unaffordable bills
Leaseholder Naomi and mum Fran

Naomi Attar bought her first home when she was 31. Her mum, Fran Attar, helped her buy the one-bed new-build flat she moved into. Six years later, Naomi is facing sky-high bills and overwhelming stress due to unearthed safety issues with the property.

'We were very excited,' Fran told Which? Money. 'And I obviously was very pleased and encouraged her, which I wish I hadn't done now.'

Many leaseholders affected by the cladding scandal are first-time buyers who bought new-build flats. Like thousands of young homeowners, some had financial assistance from their parents.

Now, these leaseholders and their parents are witnessing the unforeseen consequences of these purchases as they wrestle with astronomical bills to make them safe.

We spoke to three parents about their experiences supporting their children through the crisis.

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The bank of mum and dad and cladding

We don't know how many affected leaseholders had help from their parents to pay their deposits, but for younger homeowners, it certainly isn't unusual.

According to Savills Estate Agents, the so-called 'bank of mum and dad' will help fund nearly half (49%) of first-time property purchases this year, contributing to the tune of £9.8bn. For each supported purchase, that's an average of more than £58,000 in gifts or loans.

Over the past 10 years, when many impacted leaseholders bought their homes, nearly 1.4 million first-time buyers received help from their parents.

'She was so excited when she got the flat'

Naomi bought her London flat after living with her parents and saving for around six years. 'She wasn't on an enormous salary at the time,' said Fran. 'So obviously it was quite a challenge for her to be able to buy somewhere on her own.'

In the end, Naomi combined her savings with some inheritance from her grandmother and a gift from her parents to buy her flat. Fran went with her to look at the property. 'We were very excited,' she said. 'It looked very nice and it was in her budget, which was very good. She was so excited when she got the flat.'

Naomi and Fran viewing the flat under construction
Naomi (left) and mum Fran looking at the flat under construction

There was a honeymoon period when Naomi first moved in, before she knew there were any safety issues with the building: 'We were all happy that she'd got this lovely flat,' said Fran. 'I was proud of her, I knew my mother - who'd recently died - I knew how proud she'd be of her. She'd been sensible with her money.'

But it didn't last. A post-Grenfell building inspection revealed multiple issues with Naomi's flat. 'It turns out her flat has got sort of cladding bingo,' said Fran. 'It's a whole cluster of things.'

While Naomi hasn't been issued her final remediation bill yet, her personal buildings insurance bill has increased fourfold to £1,500 a year and her annual service charge has increased by hundreds of pounds since 2017.

During lockdown, Naomi and her wife - who she met and married after moving in - found the one-bed apartment wasn't big enough for them to both work from home. Fran saw this and the pressure of cladding-related bills take a clear toll: 'They were both getting very, very stressed.'

The couple took a financial risk and bought a new home, which they managed thanks to their increased combined earnings. Since they were unable to sell the affected flat, they had to pay a higher rate of stamp duty on what technically counts as a second home. Fran and her husband lent Naomi and her wife money from their pension pots to pay for this.

'I was encouraging her and I wish I hadn't'

'She's got a younger brother who's renting,' said Fran. 'I thought he hadn't been sensible but actually I'm pleased.' Would she advise him to buy a flat now? 'Not a new-build. I wouldn't advise anyone to buy a new-build, no.

'I feel guilty about it. Which is silly, I know. But I feel guilty because I encouraged Naomi. I was encouraging her and I wish I hadn't.

'My husband, he doesn't feel so guilty. But he also feels stressed by it, the worry of what'll happen.'

Naomi is hugely grateful for what her parents have done for her: 'I don't think they should feel guilty,' she said. 'I feel very lucky because I don't imagine a lot of people would get this support. Not just financially but morally and emotionally.'

As for how Naomi feels about what Fran calls the 'Monopoly money charges' she is facing: 'It's like the whole family's being robbed.'

'They've definitely changed'

Kevin Hubbard, a retired interior fit-out designer, had a similar experience when his son, Ben, bought a flat in East London. He loaned Ben and his partner money to help them pay their deposit.

Due to his profession, Kevin thinks he may have been more involved than most parents during the buying process. 'The interior fit-out was substandard in some areas,' he said. But other than that it was 'a perfectly straightforward purchase'.

Kevin was proud when Ben became a homeowner. 'All through my life my peers, my brother, my family, we've all strived to own our own home. Because whether you believe in the property market or not, you do get a reasonable return on property and very rarely do you lose out.'

Sadly, this was one of those rare occasions. Ben doesn't know what he will be charged to remediate his flat, but his development's insurance bill jumped from just over £30,000 to more than £100,000.

Kevin has seen this take its toll: 'The strain on them is not good. They've definitely changed. They're less at ease in the property, I think.

'And on the psychological side of course they're stuck. Because they can't sell it. Nobody who wants to buy it can get a mortgage on it. So they're trapped.'

Ben says he and his partner are 'ready to move out into a bigger space'. They bought through the Help to Buy scheme, which he believes was meant to act as a stepping stone to help young people onto the property ladder. 'We're at the right time to sell, but we're completely blocked by the cladding issue.

'My dad's obviously been very supportive, which is very nice. My parents are keen to see me progress to the next stage in life.' Like Naomi, Ben feels fortunate as he knows some leaseholders might not have this kind of support.

'My mum has been my rock'

You might be familiar with Steph Pike if you've followed the cladding scandal closely over the past year. She's a leaseholder and campaigner who has appeared in over 30 media outlets, including the BBC, ITV and Sky News. Her mother, Linda, has supported her through it all.

'My mum has been my rock throughout this entire thing,' said Steph. 'I remember calling her in floods of tears when I got the letter about the waking watch and she told me that we would get through this together. And that's exactly what we've been doing.'

Linda recalls sitting down with Steph when they first learned about her Bristol flat's cladding problems: 'I said, u201cYou've got to fight this, Steph. You've got to do everything you can to just not look back and say, 'I wish I'd done more'.u201d And believe you me, she's taken my word.'

Alongside her dozens of media appearances, Steph has attended three leaseholder rallies - all with Linda. She also raises awareness on Twitter, as does Linda, who says she was never a big social media user before the scandal.

Steph (left) and Linda (right) at a leaseholder pr
Steph (left) and mum Linda at a leaseholder protest

Linda is proud of her daughter. First for becoming a homeowner and then for her work campaigning: 'I don't think I could do some of the stuff she's done. It's brave. I do feel proud that she's fighting.

'But at the same time what people don't see is what's going on behind the scenes. They don't see the days of despair, the tears, the impact it's having on her. That, as a parent, is really hard. Because there is no doubt it's at a huge personal cost to her. It's like she's got a second job doing this.'

The cladding scandal's mental health impact on leaseholders has been devastating. Linda believes their parents are struggling, too: 'It has a huge impact. I wake up every morning with a black cloud hanging over me.' She says other parents she's spoken to feel the same.

'It's starting to affect me physically as well,' said Linda. 'I've got hives all over my body. The only other time I've had that is after a period of continuous work stress. And it's not work stress this time.'

A crisis of faith

As well as being parents of leaseholders, Linda Pike and Fran Attar share something in common: their faith in the country has been shaken.

'You think you're protected,' said Fran. 'Especially from a scandal of this scale. And now I think my confidence of being protected by the country, by the law, has gone.'

'It's been a real eye-opener for me,' said Linda. 'And I guess I've just lost all faith in anything to do with the government. I just never thought things would be that bad in this country.

'It's the sense of injustice that is so frustrating. I think Steph and I both feel that justice should prevail. And so far it hasn't. That makes me really angry.'

Read more leaseholders' stories

Homeowners are a blameless party in this scandal, and they should not be left to suffer financially and emotionally as a result of the mistakes and failings of regulation and industry.

You can read more leaseholders' stories in their own words on Which? Conversation and see all our reporting on the cladding scandal here.

Listen: the Which? Money Podcast visits a major cladding scandal protest to hear leaseholders' and campaigners' stories