HARDWORKING buy-to-let investors are shaming the Government for ‘stealing’ their life savings because of the cladding crisis at The Decks apartments in Runcorn.

Pensioners, single mums, and hard-working parents, invested in apartments to rent out as part of their retirement plans, but are now set to lose their money.

A mistake in building regulations means that the buildings are coated in a treacherous material similar to Grenfell Tower, the tragedy which killed 72 people.

Husband-and-wife, Joan and David Astbury, from Warrington, spent ‘every penny they had’ on two flats at The Deck, after Joan worked for 50 years in the NHS, and David, for a similar length of time at the Environment Agency.

“We’ve lost it all through no fault of our own,” explained Joan. “Why should we have to pay for a mistake in building regulations? It has nothing to do with us. If I made a mistake at work, I would be responsible. It’s wholeheartedly and morally wrong that we are being forced to foot the bill.

“I’ll be an old lady standing in the dock because I can’t afford to pay this. I’ve given up 50 years of my life for the NHS and to care for others. I’ve had not a penny off the state. And the Government are taking my life savings away.”

Joan and David Astbury lost their pension

Joan and David Astbury lost their pension

Over the past two years, Joan and David have been billed £8,000 for fire alarms and increased insurance costs. And now the estimated cost for replacing the cladding is £40,000 per flat.

Joan added: “This year, my investment has been reduced to zero. The insurance at the Decks has gone from £30,000 to over half a million pounds in just a few years. Add with the extortionate costs of new fire alarms, I am now not receiving a pension.”

Philip Symes, from Penketh in Warrington, also invested his pension on an apartment at The Decks after retiring from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 2017, where he worked for the Ministry of Defence providing support ships for the Royal Navy.

He said: “The government has offered £5 billion to replace cladding. This is woefully short as it is estimated to cost £15 billion nationwide.

“To make matters worse only buildings over 18 metres qualify.

Philip Symes

Philip Symes

“Of the six buildings at the Decks, three are over 18 metres with 6 floors and the other three are just below 18 metres with five floors.

“0ur apartments are the latter with the Government offering a loan for us to pay it back. The estimate per apartment at the Deck is £40,000 each!

“This would take me 80 years to repay leaving me in serious negative equity, unless I lived to 150!”

Mhari Oakes, aged 43, a single mum from Northwich, invested in an apartment at The Deck three years ago. She said: “I can’t sleep at night over the injustice of it all.

“The best way I can describe the unfairness of the situation, is to imagine someone crashes into your parked car. It’s clearly their fault, and then the person responsible offers you a loan for you to pay for the damage. Why should you pay for their error?

“I have worked incredibly hard, running my own businesses, to save for that apartment to rent out as an income for me and my daughter. It really was blood, sweat and now tears.

Mhairi and daughter Cameron

Mhairi and daughter Cameron

“They need to do what’s ethically right and replace the flammable cladding on all buildings, not just those over 18m. They’ve picked that number out of thin air because it saves them money. It’s ludicrous. Common sense tells you that it’s highly dangerous to try and escape from any apartment block covered in material that is 10 times more flammable than it should be!”

Fiona Osborne, age 44, from Grappenhall, inherited The Decks riverside flat from her mum, Elizabeth Duncan (also known as Beryl), who passed away in November last year.

In her final moments, she apologised for leaving her daughter the apartment which had caused her family stress and anxiety.

Fiona described that awful moment: “We told her how she has inspired us all, and that we all loved her. She said how proud she was of her family and beloved grandson. Then she brought up the flat and apologised for leaving it to us. It should have brought her comfort to know she was leaving her family a good investment but instead it brought her nothing but regret and anxiety.”

Elizabeth worked for Warrington Borough Council, training hundreds of young people from the town in office skills and preparing them for future careers. When she retired, she bought the Runcorn flat to earn a small rental income.

Her daughter Fiona, continued: “For my Mum's sake I have tried not to get into a state of panic about it, but I can't say I've been all that successful. Her flat is in one of the blocks that doesn't qualify for funding as it’s just one storey shorter than other blocks on the same complex, so I will have to pay for it forever, just because the developer used dangerous cladding.

“There is currently no rent coming in from the flat and we can't sell it with the current fire risks.

“The lack of political support and recognition of the unfairness of this is endlessly disappointing.

“Meanwhile, the developers and corporations involved continue to make huge profits while the ordinary people who invested their relatively small life savings are the ones at risk - financially, emotionally and physically.”

A crucial date is on the horizon as the Fire Safety Bill returns to Parliament on February 24.

Joan added: “All we are asking is for politicians to do the right thing and for all flat owners to be protected from the costs of fixing unsafe buildings as part of the Bill.”