February 10, 2021 / 2:10 PM / CBS News
London — The U.K. government announced an extra 3.5 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) of relief funding Wednesday to help millions of homeowners whose properties have been made unsellable by the discovery that common materials used to weatherproof buildings across Britain are extremely flammable.
Apartment buildings across the country are covered in cladding materials found to be unsafe after the devastating 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in central London. The blaze claimed 72 lives and showed just how quickly cladding can allow flames to spread around a building.
Unable to sell their homes because no bank will give mortgages on them, owners of apartments with dangerous cladding have also faced mounting costs associated with measures imposed to address the fire hazard, including paying for watchmen to patrol buildings.
The government announced an initial 1.5 billion pounds towards the removal of the unsafe cladding last year. But for some homeowners, the measures have come too late.
Hayley Tillotson, 28, realized her dream of home ownership by saving up the 10,000-pound deposit for her apartment in Leeds. She was recently forced to declare bankruptcy after unsafe cladding and other fire safety issues were found on her building.
“It didn’t for one second occur to me that they could sell me something that’s a death trap and completely unsuitable,” said Tillotson. “Now looking forward, the rest of my future’s ruined. It’s gone. And there are thousands and thousands of people just like me.”
The U.S. connection
The announcement of additional funding came amid an ongoing British government inquiry into the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire, which has revealed how some of the companies that manufactured the materials used in the cladding on Grenfell continued to market their products as safe despite some employees knowing they were flammable.
Among those companies is the American firm Arconic, which manufactured the cladding on Grenfell Tower through a French subsidiary.
Emails shared with the inquiry show that some Arconic employees knew of the danger of fire posed by the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, but that the company continued to sell it anyway.
In a statement, the Pittsburgh-based company said it was “continuing to offer their full support to the authorities as the inquiry works through the complex questions presented. It is not appropriate for us to comment further while the Inquiry is ongoing and before all evidence has been presented in Phase Two.”
“These corporations are still operating as if nothing has happened,” Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle was killed in the Grenfell Tower fire, told CBS News. “People should be safe in their homes. People shouldn’t have to feel like they’re going to sleep and not knowing if they’re going to wake up or not.”
BBC News’ Vinnie O’Dowd contributed to this report.