Stress and anxiety of living in flats with Grenfell-style cladding causing relationship and family breakdowns, report says

Residents in blocks wrapped in now-banned material suffering from depression, anxiety and insomnia, according to report by UK Cladding Action Group 

Emma Snaith
Friday 26 April 2019 13:18 BST
There are 167 private tower blocks across England known to wrapped in the now-banned cladding that helped to spread the fire at Grenfell
There are 167 private tower blocks across England known to wrapped in the now-banned cladding that helped to spread the fire at Grenfell (Getty)

The stress of being forced to live in blocks of flats covered in Grenfell-style cladding is causing relationship breakdowns, absences from work and putting people off having families, a new report has found.

Hundreds of people living in private residential blocks wrapped in the panels that helped to spread the fire at Grenfell have revealed the toll on their mental health in a survey by the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG).

There are currently 166 private residential blocks across England known to be clad in aluminium composite material (ACM), which was banned after being blamed for helping flames tear through the west London tower block, killing 72 people, in June 2017.

Tens of thousands of people are estimated to live in these blocks, with no plans in place to remove the cladding from 36 of the buildings. Of the remaining blocks, only 10 have seen remediation started, according to latest government figures.

And with many freeholders refusing to pay, some leaseholders are facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds for the work to remove the cladding from their blocks.

The survey carried out by UKCAG of 196 people in 21 affected blocks across 10 councils found that for nearly two thirds, their mental health had been “hugely affected” by cladding problems.

Over 150 of those polled complained of stress, 50 said they had sought medical help and nine said they had suicidal thoughts or feelings of self-harm as a result of the cladding situation.

More than two thirds said that the ongoing financial pressure and safety fears had put a strain on their relationships with family and friends, while a quarter said they felt they cannot start a family.

And nearly 90 per cent said their mental health was worse now than it was before the cladding problems were discovered.

Among the testimonies collected by UKCAG, one anonymous leaseholder said: “I genuinely believe nothing will be done until we have a second tragedy in a private block... I feel constantly stressed, anxious, depressed, lost, abandoned and devastated by something that cannot be my responsibility.”

Another added: “We want to move so we can start a family but are unable to as the flat is not sellable, and we can’t raise a family in such a flammable building.”

One respondent said they were “diagnosed with stress by a GP and had to take two weeks off work” in response to the ongoing cladding problems.

Some respondents saw their relationships break down as a result. My boyfriend has moved to Italy without me as I cannot sell my flat,” one of the leaseholders said.

While others said they suffered from insomnia as a result of “constantly worrying about my future and safety”.

Another leaseholder simply said: “I feel hopeless.”

One of the major problems faced by leaseholders is the difficulty in selling their flats, which valuers have priced at fraction of their original price due to the ongoing safety concerns.

The UKCAG survey found that 66.3 per cent of leaseholders living in buildings with Grenfell-style cladding have been told by surveyors that their property is not currently sellable.

Paul, one of the leaseholders surveyed, said that he had been trying to sell his flat for nearly two years after his wife discovered she was pregnant in July 2017 shortly after the Grenfell fire.

The government has attempted to pressure the owners of private buildings wrapped in unsafe cladding to cover the cost of the works, but there is no legal mechanism to force them to do so.

This has led to frustration among leaseholders who point out that the government started releasing a £400m fund to remove unsafe cladding from social housing last October.

Meanwhile, many private leaseholders are facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds each to remove cladding from their homes. Some have even been conducting their own 24-hour fire watches to reduce the costs of keeping residents safe in the meantime.

In response to the UKCAG survey, housing secretary James Brokenshire said: "I fully recognise the anguish faced by those who continue to live in buildings with ACM cladding and ensuring their safety is of the utmost priority to me.

“Interim measures are in place to keep residents safe in all ACM-clad buildings, but ultimately, this cladding must be replaced.

“It is completely unacceptable that not all private building owners and developers are acting swiftly enough to ensure the long-term safety of their residents.

“Due to the lack of progress, the government is looking at a range of new additional measures to get building owners to do the right thing and get on with it.

“I am considering at pace additional interventions to see that progress can be made more swiftly so that residents can feel safe in their homes.”

Meanwhile, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said the cost of removing dangerous flammable must not fall onto building residents and urged the government to take more responsibility to ensure the work is done.

Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: "It’s a scandal that residents who are living in tower blocks covered in flammable cladding and where basic fire safety is substandard have no certainty whatsoever that their homes will be made safe.

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“Whether publicly or privately owned the remedial work needs to be completed quickly and the government must take responsibility for getting the job done."

William Martin, a member of UKCAG and one of the residents of the Metis building in Sheffield who faces a bill of tens of thousands of pounds to remove dangerous cladding from the building, said: “The threat of financial ruin combined with the safety fears that come from sleeping each night in a building which is known to be unsafe is ruining lives.

“It is beyond time for the government to step in and act.”

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