Cladding fire checks have been branded a costly “shambles”, with leaseholders left in limbo over safety and facing huge bills.
Post-Grenfell inspections to reassure residents their homes are fireproof have delivered radically different results at the same blocks in London.
It means people who bought flats after being told they were safe are now unable to sell up and face costly repair bills because their cladding failed the latest External Wall System (EWS1) check.
A fire safety expert last night said the Government-backed inspections were not fit for purpose.
One 750-home complex in Royal Docks, East London, had THREE separate checks with different results in just 10 months.
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Last March, an inspector gave Waterside Park an EWS1 rating of A1 – meaning it had no materials that could cause a disaster.
A second check in September downgraded it to B1 after combustible substances were found but deemed to be a “sufficiently low” fire risk.
In December, freeholder Aviva Investors commissioned a third report that gave the seven blocks a B2 rating – the lowest possible.
Residents were told this month that inspectors found fire breaks – which could stop a blaze spreading and both the insulation and timber decking was flammable.
Leaseholders could now to receive bills of up to £75,000 to repair the problems, and even be forced into temporary accommodation.
Philip Chapman, 40, paid £375,000 for his two-bedroom flat at Waterside Park in 2014. The marketing manager said: “As far as we know, the building was never physically inspected the first two times. Only on the third did they drill into the wall.
“Three people bought flats here in the last 12 months believing the building was safe. They’ve now found their investments are worthless and face bills for repairs and fire patrols.
“The EWS1 process is a shambles. Nobody can have confidence in checks if they can be downgraded at any point.”
The 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze, which killed 72 people, laid bare years of building standards failings in tower blocks.
EWS1 certificates are now needed for mortgage firms to sign off sales.
But a shortage of chartered fire engineers has led to delays in checks being carried out. There has also been evidence of unqualified surveyors passing or failing buildings.
Stephen Mackenzie, a London fire safety manager, said the lack of standard inspection criteria made EWS1 useless.
He said: “You can’t diagnose a broken-down car by looking at it. It’s the same with a high-rise flat. These buildings need comprehensive forensic investigations.”
He has urged ministers to overhaul the inspection process, which can cost upwards of £10,000 per check.
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Thousands of sales are thought to have fallen through because of EWS1 issues. Salford – the area worst-hit by the crisis – has seen the biggest fall in property sales in England.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors plans to train more people to check smaller blocks. But buildings over 18m high need a qualified fire safety engineer.
Hollis, the firm behind the third inspection at Waterside Park, said: “We take an extremely diligent approach to the completion of EWS1 forms.”
The companies that carried out the first two checks did not respond to requests for a comment.
A Government spokes-man said: “The EWS1 is not a building safety certificate or a legal requirement, it is a mortgage valuation tool.
“Our £5billion funding will also protect those in the highest risk buildings from unaffordable costs.”