This is a guest article by Linda Pike. All views expressed are Linda’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?
I’m a single mum who’s brought up two children on her own. I’ve worked hard all my life and should be thinking about retiring. But my daughter, Steph, is caught up in the currently affecting thousands of people across the UK.
Steph is facing a bill of at least £70,000 on top of many other ongoing costs through no fault of her own. She cannot afford it, but nor can she afford to go bankrupt: as a solicitor she would be disqualified from practicing. She would lose her life savings, her career…. everything.
In late 2017, a few months after the Grenfell fire, Steph purchased a one bedroom flat in a newly converted office block in Bristol. With the tragedy at Grenfell Tower fresh in everyone’s minds, she enquired about cladding and everything progressed without any issues – she did everything right.
But after the purchase, everything changed. It turned out it didn’t comply with regulations at all; it has major fire safety defects such as missing cavity barriers and flammable insulation. There’s a small amount of cladding, but it’s minor compared with the other issues Steph has been told will now cost an estimated £7.6m to correct.
It only cost £7.9m to convert the building from offices to flats in the first place! The cost will be divided between the 109 leaseholders.
People find this situation absolutely unbelievable but, believe me, we’ve tried everything. There seems to be no legal way out; the developer no longer exists as the company has been wound up.
The costs are continuing to spiral and the leaseholders are responsible for paying them. Despite numerous statements from the government that leaseholders should not pay, we’re just not seeing the action to back up these words. The situation is bleak.
When it first came to light that Steph’s flat was affected, I remember telling her: ‘don’t sit back and do nothing. Do everything you can, so that you don’t look back and say ‘I wish I had done more’.
She has definitely followed that advice and done everything she could have. This has ranged from helping to form a tenants association for her building, to ensuring the injustice of the situation is publicised far and wide by appearing on numerous TV and radio shows. She has also contributed to a huge number of newspaper and magazine articles.
It’s all consuming – she refers to ‘cladmin’ as her second full time job. I’m so proud of her for fighting and many people have said how they admire her for what she’s done, but it has not been without huge personal cost.
What people don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes and the impact on her mental health – the days of despair, tears, and the struggle to keep this all going. The anxiety related to all this has also resulted in trips to the doctor with difficulty breathing.
As a mother, it’s so hard to see your daughter struggle in this way. Ironically, the fact that she is living in a dangerous building is put to the back of our minds because the financial impact can sometimes feel so much worse. It shouldn’t be that way. You encourage and support, when deep down you have those same bleak feelings, because there seems to be no way out. I do everything in my power to help her.
I’ve spent many hours reviewing and commenting on her draft articles, attending rallies, asking all my friends, colleagues and relatives to write to their MPs, writing for articles just like this one, and exploring legal avenues and other legal cases.
Each day I wake up and it feels like there’s a dark cloud above my head. I feel anger and frustration at the complete injustice of the situation, and helpless that I cannot do more. We’re all encouraged to ‘get on the housing ladder’, but now flat owners are being left high and dry.
In the meantime, both our lives are in limbo, and it could go on for years. Steph cannot sell, move on and continues to be forced to live in an unsafe building. Meanwhile, huge profits are being made by some who breached building regulations in the first place. Where was the enforcement? We need accountability, we need a solution and, most importantly, we just need this nightmare to end.
This was a guest article by Linda Pike. All views expressed were Linda’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.