Man, 95, in hospital 'over stress after bill for Grenfell-type cladding removal'

A 95-year-old man facing a vast bill to have Grenfell-style cladding removed from his home is being treated in hospital due to stress, a tribunal has heard.

Leaseholders at Citiscape, two connected buildings holding 95 flats in the south London borough, are being asked to foot a £2 million bill after flammable material was found wrapped around the complex.

FirstPort Property Services Ltd manages the development and has gone to a first-tier property tribunal in an effort to make residents pay towards safety works.

Richard Low-Foon, whose elderly father Luc lived in the block, said he was trapped in a "catch 22".

He told the hearing: "I cannot see a way out of it at this stage unless ?through a miracle we get some funding.

"At the moment he is staying in hospital because of all this - it got too much for him.

"I had to put him in a care home before Christmas on the understanding that I would defer payment until I sell the property, not that I am able to sell the property because of this."

Mr Low-Foon added that he did not have the means to pay for the cladding replacement himself.

Tenants should not be forced to fund the work as it is an "enhancement" rather than repair or maintenance, he continued.

"I'm personally nervous on that note because I don't know how to pay towards the costs, especially with my father being 95.

"At the age of 95 - the property is my father's - there is no chance of my father receiving extra funding."

The devastated Grenfell Tower in west London (David Mirzoeff/PA)
The devastated Grenfell Tower in west London (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Judge Angus Andrew Said he had a "good point", adding: "Leaving the legality to one side, everyone, including FirstPort, accept it is a really difficult situation that you and your father find yourselves in."

It is estimated that the total cost of the replacement will be £2 million, but at least £500,000 is required to strip the cladding.

The management firm claims it was denied a loan by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which said it would only deal with individual leaseholders, and indicated it will not be covered by insurance.

It is also seeking to recoup the cost of hiring fire wardens to monitor the blocks full time at £4,000 a week, so far running up bills of approximately £128,000 since June 26 2017.

FirstPort regional director Paul Atkinson told the hearing: "We have no other funding options.

"I know we have discussed with RBS - but I wasn't privy to that conversation - the bank wouldn't be willing to loan it to us but they would be willing to talk to individual leaseholders."

Both blocks failed fire tests ordered by the Government in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which left 71 dead last year.

It is suspected unsafe cladding contributed to the inferno's spread, leading to plans for similar panelling to be stripped from the Croydon development.

An initial survey into the cost of replacing the cladding fell widely short of the eventual expected cost at £500,000, it was heard.

The cladding at the Citiscape building in Croydon (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
The cladding at the Citiscape building in Croydon (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

FirstPort hopes to claw the cash back through service charges, but at the time of the deadline for last year - the end of August 2017 - they only had the £500,000 estimate to put to residents.

This means full work to replace the cladding post-removal cannot begin until they formally levy the remaining £1.5 million costs, which will happen this year.

"By getting a very sketchy estimate, Firstport has lost a year in time in being to carry out the work," said Amanda Gourlay, representing leaseholders.

Mr Atkinson replied: "In the absence of any other funding options."

Judge Angus Andrew, who is chairing the panel at the tribunal, asked: "It is an uncomfortable issue - what happens if the money doesn't come?"

Mr Atkinson said: "It is difficult. We know we don't have the capacity to loan as much as required.

"We were with the MP for Croydon a few weeks ago urging him to speak to a (Department for Communities and Local Government) minister, which he did."

The weekly costs of paying for the fire watch will continue to rack up until the point where cladding is removed, the tribunal was told.

It could be possible for temporary scaffolding to be assembled in place of the cladding between a replacement being installed, the tribunal heard.

Ms Gourlay grilled the company's health and safety adviser Thomas Smith about the decision to keep the costly fire warden scheme in place when other options were available.

According to guidance on the issue, she said: "This alternative is likely to be the least reliable, most resource-intensive and may not be suitable for the highest risk situations."

Asked about her line of questioning by the judge, she agreed she was establishing that: "It was unnecessary to have a working watch and they should have put in a fire alarm and, in any event, they didn't put in the working watching effectively so the cost (being imposed on residents) is unreasonable."

The tribunal will adjourn after Tuesday to determine whether the "payability and reasonableness of proposed service charges for major works".

It will reconvene in around four weeks, the judge said.

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