'Frustrated, angry and left in tears' Cardiff cladding scandal victim speaks out as safety costs spiral

By Zara Pereira

A Cardiff cladding scandal victim has described feeling 'frustrated, angry and left in tears' as safety costs spiral.

Four years after the Grenfell Tower fire exposed widespread fire safety issues in buildings across the UK, residents in Cardiff are still dealing with the aftermath.

A number of buildings in the capital and across Wales were found to have unsafe flammable cladding, while some were found to have other safety defects such as poor compartmentation and fire breaks to stop fires from spreading within buildings. Many need a waking watch, in case a fire does break out.

Read more: The row about how to help Cardiff's victims of the cladding and fire safety scandal

Residents in Victoria Wharf, Cardiff Bay, are just some of those still battling for more help after losing thousands of pounds due to hefty service and repair costs.

One resident Deborah Polverino has described feeling frustrated and worried about the huge costs of repair work on their flats. The costs involve fixing poor internal firebreaks and unstable cladding.

Deborah cried when she found out her service bill had gone up by £4800 last year (Deborah Polverino)

On top of these repair costs, Deborah's annual service charge rose from £3000 to nearly £7800 after her building failed fire safety tests.

Deborah has lived at Victoria Wharf with her partner for 10 years. After renting in the apartment complex for five years, she eventually bought a three-bedroom flat in 2016.

She said: "There were no problems at all when we moved in because we weren't aware of the cladding issues.

"Then a few years ago someone at Victoria Wharf tried to sell their property and was refused because of the flammable cladding.

"Our block was tested and it was confirmed we had the same issues and then they slowly tested and confirmed it for the other blocks as well.

"We can't re-mortgage and sell the flat. Only one person I know has sold their flat - but through auction at a massively reduced cost."

Despite the flat being worth at least £400,000 based on other flats in the area, the sold price would be up to £200,000 due to the cladding issues.

Deborah said: "I would lose almost half and that's the best-case scenario."

As well as not being able to resell their property, Deborah and other Victoria Wharf residents have to pay additional service charges for the lack of fire safety in the complex.

Deborah said: "My flat's insurance increased to £1,725 more a year. It's unbelievable.

"My average service charge is around £3,000. but last year it jumped to under £7,800 because we had to pay for heat detectors to get installed. Who pays £7800 a year in service charges?

"When I first saw the bills, I cried. I'm so frustrated and angry. This year, my service charge has been £5000 - £2000 above what we expected when we bought the flat.

"It's astronomical. We have no choice but to pay to get this work done otherwise our insurance premiums will never go down which means my service charges will be increasing forever."

Part of Victoria Wharf, Cardiff (PA)

Deborah said: "We paid for survey costs, waking watch, fire wardens. On top of that, we are paying for extortionate insurance and extra levy's for the repairs."

Deborah also isn't happy about the developers, Taylor Wimpey, who in agreement with the management company FirstPort, plan to only fund half of the compartmentation works in the building.

She said: "They are only paying 50% for what is 100% their failure. They told us they didn't legally have to pay anything but I think they have a moral obligation to pay all of it.

"They did the work, the errors - yet we are the ones having to pay for it.

"I know an occupant who called Taylor Wimpey wanting to buy a house and when they found out she lived in Victoria Wharf, said they couldn't help her due to cladding issues. Yet they were the ones who built it!

"It's unbelievable that's their attitude. They won't even help out people in their own property because of the issues."

When asked to comment, a Taylor Wimpey spokesperson replied saying they recognise this is a difficult situation for residents at Victoria Wharf and that customer safety is of 'paramount importance'.

They also said: "We have always looked to do the right thing and are taking steps where appropriate to help our customers with fire safety measures.

"We are closely engaged with FirstPort, the Management Company at Victoria Wharf, regarding funding and further updates will be provided to residents as soon as possible."

Taylor Wimpey previously announced a £40 million provision to cover replacement of ACM cladding on high-risk buildings over 18 metres.

They said: "We recently announced £125 million of additional funding to bring apartment buildings constructed by Taylor Wimpey over the last 20 years up to current RICS EWS1 standard, including buildings below 18 metres.”

With heat detectors and a leave policy implemented in her block, Deborah feels for those who are 'absolutely terrified' in other blocks because they do not have any fire safety as of yet as well as those who are unable to afford the high service charges.

She said: "People who are unable to pay may have to leave their property.

"The government set up a fund during COVID to help people pay their rent. I think that was a good response from the Welsh Government. I think they should be doing the same for us - why should anyone lose their home just because the Welsh Government can't get their act together?

"Our insurance went up by ten folds, the government should pay the difference.

"I've always loved Victoria Wharf - but there's this underlying feeling of discomfort now this is all going on. It's really frustrating. This is my home. I have good connections and a community here.

"It infuriates me how if I want to move house, I will lose money, just because of the government."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “These building defects are having a significant impact on leaseholders and residents. We are committed to supporting them and are working hard to develop funding options.

“Building safety issues are often are more than just cladding related – we are working hard to deliver a funding offer which will go further than cladding only.

“This is a complex matter and it is important we consider all the options available and the consequences fully. The complex nature of this issue is affecting the pace of this work and is not a reflection of any lack of support for those affected.”

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