'Devastating' fake cladding inspection scams fleece leaseholders out of thousands

26 August 2020, 23:00

Scammers are taking advantage of confusion over cladding
Scammers are taking advantage of confusion over cladding. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Scammers have stolen thousands of pounds from leaseholders after "taking advantage of panic and desperation over cladding regulations" with fake inspection forms.

Confusion over cladding regulation is being exploited by fraudsters who are faking the inspection forms amid concerns over fire safety.

Gareth Shaw from Which? told Tom Swarbrick on LBC that as we have seen with this, "scammers are always going to take advantage of vulnerable people."

He said that they have seen at least one firm issuing fake External Wall Fire Review (EWS1) forms to several high rise buildings across the country.

The forged forms, which are used to confirm whether a building contains materials that carry an increased fire risk, could have been used to contract out thousands of pounds of work based on incorrect assessments, Which? has warned.

The crisis has its roots in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, and the realisation that thousands of buildings had a similar, dangerous cladding.

Gareth continued: "The worst thing is we are talking about a desperate group of people who brought their property in good faith and found that they are potentially on the hook to lose thousands of pounds to cover the cost of the cladding otherwise it renders their home worthless.

"Leaseholders are being duped into spending thousands on these forms. We have seen evidence that at least one firm has issued fake forms to several apartment buildings across the country.

"It could be anywhere from £5000 to £20,000 that gets taken. One in Cardiff was quoting £100,000 just for the survey.

"This form is a way of them trying to cover some of that cost and for them to be duped out of thousands of pounds for something that doesn't exist, that is such a blow for them."

When asked how people can get out of this situation and if banks can help, Gareth explained: "It is very difficult at the moment, banks are being really cautious on this.

"You should speak with neighbours and see what they are doing to try and accelerate the process.

"It's devastating, and this is what scammers do, they take moments of panic and desperation in people, they are looking for any opportunity to exploit people, these people are in a really desperate situation and some have fallen for a very nasty scam at the very worst time."

Last winter by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors brought out the EWS 1 form as a way of grading the safety of tower blocks with cladding.

It was meant to be just for buildings with cladding, over 18 metres tall, but at the start of the year Government regulations changed, and now lenders want this form for shorter buildings as well.

It’s thought that could leave around 300,000 buildings that might require an EWS1.

The problem, is that there are only 300 inspectors able to carry out the in depth, intrusive surveys, which has created a massive backlog and room for scammers to take advantage.

Scammers have been forging names and signatures of qualified surveyors to pass and fail buildings, with some forms being signed off by surveyors who don't exist.

Fake "cladding technicians" without necessary qualifications have also signed off EWS1 forms, potentially endangering thousands of lives.

LBC correspondent Rachael Venables has spoken to residents who are desperate and angry after being trapped in "unsellable" homes due to unsafe cladding on their building.

They range from residents in high rises, to those who live in short blocks of flats in places like Kent, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff.

Resident told LBC that after putting their flat on the market in the last few months and finding a buyer, they later found out that their home is now worthless.

Many freeholders have since told residents that they won't be carrying out an EWS1 because it's not a legal requirement.

Emma Jones lives in a flat in Walthamstow which she’s been trying to sell for months.

“The cladding is in the process of being removed and it’s due to be fully replaced by the middle of December 2020. However, the building owner has said that as the building is under 18 metres in height and the cladding is being removed that an EWS1 is not necessary and that they will not be conducting this survey," she told LBC.

“They have been unable to provide any other official documentation that will satisfy my buyers lender.

“As a result of this my buyer has just dropped out of the sale and we are at risk of the losing the house that we were hoping to buy, we have now spent thousands of pounds on conveyancing work and surveys as we were totally unaware that there was an issue with selling our flat.

“I am stuck on a high interest rate mortgage (5.3%) and am unable to re-mortgage or sell this property.

“We are trapped.”