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Housing

Welsh government offers to buy flats caught up in cladding crisis

Welsh leaders have become the first in the UK to offer leaseholders facing bankruptcy or homelessness due to dangerous cladding a way out of the post-Grenfell crisis.

The Welsh government has offered to buy flats from people who are unable to sell them because of dangerous cladding and fire defects.

Climate Change Minister Julie James announced the government’s intention to launch the scheme in the Senedd on December 14.

“There are some for whom the financial pressure of living in these buildings is becoming unbearable. I do not want to see people’s long-term futures blighted by bankruptcy, eviction and potential homelessness,” said James, as she announced the scheme.

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“The scheme will target provision where it is most needed in buildings with identified defects where individual leaseholders cannot sell their properties on the open market and find themselves in significant financial hardship due to escalating costs.”

There is still no clear solution to fixing Britain’s broken homes after the Grenfell Tower disaster uncovered dangerous building defects in 2017.

In the meantime, thousands of leaseholders have faced homelessness or bankruptcy over bills to fix their homes.

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The Welsh government is the first in the UK to offer to buy homes from leaseholders who have seen their property rendered virtually worthless due to the building safety crisis.

James said full details of the new leasehold support scheme but said it will help a “small number of leaseholders who find themselves in very significant financial hardship”.

The Welsh government has previously made £10.5m available to remove ACM cladding for homes in the social sector and has launched phase one of the Welsh Building Safety Fund to find out how many buildings are affected by fire defects.

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A campaign group representing leaseholders in Wales, the Welsh Cladiators, told The Big Issue they “welcomed” the announcement that some leaseholders will be able to sell their homes. But criticised the Welsh Government over “a lack of urgency” in finding a solution. 

Welsh Cladiators’ Mark Thomas told The Big Issue residents at the 450 flats at Celestia apartments in Cardiff Bay where he lives are facing a £15m to remediate their building.

He warned that it was unclear whether the scheme will buy properties at market value or whether leaseholders will still lose out.

“I think any support or help from government at the moment is very welcome,” said Thomas. “However, at the same time, we think that the announcement will probably only help a very small minority of leaseholders who are in absolutely dire straits.

“I think the minister echoed that in some of the detailed questions that she followed up that it will be a small group. Our bigger concern still remains the lack of urgency from the Welsh government on this issue.”

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Thomas, 64, originally bought his home for his retirement but the building safety crisis has significantly affected his plans.

He first learned of the cladding issues and fire defects at his property in March 2019 meaning 2022 will mark a fourth year of being caught up in the scandal.

“It’s just consumed my life,” he added. “When you wake up in the morning, it’s the first thing you think about and then you try to go to sleep and think about it then. And then there’s the mental stress over the financial concern. It’s insane.”

Leaseholders in other parts of the UK also face an impossible task to sell their home. In the summer, then-housing secretary Robert Jenrick said EWS1 safety required would not be needed for lenders to approve sales in tower blocks under 18 metres in height.

But earlier this month, the Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) refused to change its recommendation that EWS1 certificates are still required, a move the government described as “disappointing” and showing a “lack of ambition”.

Many leaseholders caught up in the crisis want central government to pay for all costs of replacing cladding and fixing fire defects before going after the parties responsible for building the unsafe homes in the first place.

Some leaseholders are even developing legislation to solve the crisis, such as the Polluter Pays Bill.

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