Welsh Government reveals scheme to buy flats caught up in unsafe cladding crisis
The Welsh Government will become the first in the UK to offer to buy homes from leaseholders whose property have been affected by the building safety crisis.
Climate Change Minister Julie James announced this week in the Senedd that a scheme aimed at leaseholders who have found themselves in “significant” financial hardship will be launched in the new year
Buildings with identified defects where leaseholders cannot sell their properties on the open market and individuals most affected by the cladding scandal will be targeted, aiming to prevent bankruptcy in the longer term.
Announcing the government’s intention to launch the scheme Ms James said: “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.
“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.”
Ms James noted that many leaseholders have tried and failed to sell their homes or are now living in unsuitable homes because their family situation has changed.
She said: “What we want to do is we want to see, in honesty, how many people have attempted to sell their house on the open market and have failed to do so because it puts them into negative equity or because the terms on which they’re able to do so are too punitive for them to be able to countenance that.
“I want to be able to see what we can do to help people who are going into mortgage arrears, for example, or have other severe financial difficulties because they’ve managed to pay their mortgage but as a result, they have other financial difficulty.
“I’m prepared to look at people who are clearly in overcrowded situations as a result of having had to stay, perhaps, in a premises that was intended as a Starter Home and now they’re a larger family. There are a number of areas of hardship that we’re prepared to look at.”
Ms James added: “Developers and those responsible for these building defects must step up and do more to resolve the crisis.
“They created these problems and continue to leave leaseholders facing financial hardship and suffering from stress and anxiety.
“This update demonstrates this government’s ongoing commitment to building safety and the intense work that is being progressed.”
Since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 and the subsequent revelation of widespread dangerous building defects, thousands of leaseholders have faced huge bills to fix their homes leaving them at risk of homelessness or bankruptcy.
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.
The Welsh Cladiators, a campaign group representing leaseholders in Wales, said they “welcomed” the announcement but criticised the Welsh Government over “a lack of urgency” in finding a solution.
Speaking to The Big Issue, Mark Thomas from the group said he and his fellow residents at the 450 flats at Celestia apartments in Cardiff Bay are facing a £15m bill to remediate their building.
He fears that leaseholders may still lose out as it is unclear whether the scheme will buy properties at market value.
He said: “I think any support or help from government at the moment is very welcome.
“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.”
Mr Thomas 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.”
Janet Finch-Saunders, Conservative MS Aberconwy and housing spokesperson, called for clarity on how long the Welsh Government would own the flats and questioned how they would be managed.
Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor pressed the minister to say how many people will be eligible for the scheme, and how the government will define “significant financial hardship”.
Ms James said the scheme would be up and running for the new financial year and in the meantime the government would “start to process” people who want to be part of it.
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