Cladding concerns continue to haunt residents of Ilford's Raphael House
- Credit: Samantha Ingham
Residents of an Ilford apartment complex continue to suffer because of unresolved cladding issues.
They say a lack of progress in repair works and escalating interim charges are creating an unbearable situation.
In the week Labour held an opposition day vote seeking to further protect leaseholders, residents of Raphael House spoke out about the ongoing difficulties they're facing.
This High Road building was identified as needing remediation work following Grenfell, when it was ordered that the non-ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding present on the tower be removed from all buildings.
Three and a half years on and repairs have yet to begin, with leaseholders continuing to face huge associative costs.
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Resident Samantha Ingham, speaking on behalf of the Raphael House Leaseholder group, said: "We aren’t really any further forward with our situation. The Building Safety Fund (BSF) haven’t confirmed if we’re eligible.
"More worrying, our managing agent has been replaced and the new agents are known to charge anything up four per cent on the remediation bill. Everyone wants a slice of leaseholders it seems."
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The £1billion BSF - announced last March - is intended to ensure leaseholders don't foot the cost of removing non-ACM cladding.
Almost a year on and Samantha is dismayed at the lack of update. The Recorder put this to E&M Ltd, which acts on behalf of landlord Brigante Properties Limited.
A spokesperson for Brigante said: "Registration with BSF has been completed, however, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is yet to confirm the technical eligibility of Raphael House and this has been followed up a number of times.
"In any event, all professional fees, including for but not limited to, surveyors and fire engineers should be covered by the BSF, provided the application is successful."
This assurance does nothing to quell concerns that remediation work is still yet to begin, nor prevent costs escalating in the meantime.
Samantha said residents were hit with a bill of "almost £750,000" last year to pay for a new fire alarm system and waking watch fire marshals, both of which need to be in place while the wait for remediation goes on.
This bill was divided between 154 flats, with Samantha's annual service charge rising from around £2,300 to almost £6,000 as a result.
A Waking Watch Relief Fund (for the installation of fire alarm systems) has since opened up, but Samantha explained they weren't eligible as the fund does not apply retrospectively.
She said that although the fire alarm is now paid for, residents are due another bill in the coming months to fund the fire marshals.
These interim costs are crippling residents, particularly Santosh Seelampally, who shared his story with Ilford South's Sam Tarry on Monday, February 1.
Santosh told the MP - whose party won yesterday's non-binding vote 263-0 - that he's currently facing a service charge of £800 per month, which he's finding almost impossible to manage having just been made unemployed. He also has a wife and two young children.
Mr Tarry laments that "almost four years on" from Grenfell, "many of my constituents continue to live in dangerous and potentially life-threatening housing".
He said his party's victory, though currently not binding, is "good news" for Raphael House residents.
He commended them - alongside similarly affected Ilford residents from The Paragon and Centreway Apartments - for "battling" their freeholders "to do the right thing".
Referring to a finding cited in the vote by shadow housing minister Thangam Debbonaire, Samantha said: "Eleven million people could be affected by this. Why are we waiting? E&M have acted with no urgency and that is unforgiveable, particularly during a pandemic."
The longer the wait, the greater the risk. She believes the dangers can be seen in the fact that a 24/7 fire marshal is still required to patrol the building, even though Raphael House has a new fire alarm system and heat sensors in every flat.
When asked, Brigante's spokesperson confirmed the presence of both measures "is in line with guidance" from the Fire Brigade.
They also confirmed the installation of new managing agents Rendall & Rittner from February 1.