A prominent firm of local estate agents has been fined £30,000 after failing to tell buyers “critical information” about the property’s Grenfell Tower style cladding until after the sale.
Haslams, in Reading, Berkshire, did not tell the purchasers of a flat that the building was covered in high-flammable cladding.
The new owners found out 30 minutes after collecting the keys.
The firm was fined by Reading magistrates after a Trading Standards investigation.
This revealed that Haslams accepted an offer on the flat in Kings Road, close to the centre of Reading, in October 2017. Haslams had been instructed to market the flat by Savills on behalf of the owner.
The following month, an inspection of the building found that the cladding contained aluminium composite material.
The material is similar to that which had been used on Grenfell Tower where 72 people died in June 2017.
Haslams was sent the results of the inspection of the Kings Road building on the same day (November 3, 2017) as the inspection, and before exchange of contracts.
However, the lettings team, which has let several flats in the building and which received the information, did not share the information with the sales team.
The inspection led to the fire service recommending that the basement car park be closed due to fears of a vehicle fire spreading to the flats. Residents however remained in their homes.
When news of the Kings Road cladding was made public on November 16, the sales team tried to get instructions from Savills on what to do.
However, the sale completed the following day. The buyers said they would have pulled out of the purchase had they known.
Last night, buyer Jo Sparks told the BBC: “Even if we had found out between exchange and completion, we would still have pulled out.”
The buyers complained to Reading Borough Council’s Trading Standards Team.
Haslams pleaded guilty and at the sentencing hearing the firm cited previous good character and said that the buyers had received some compensation from the firm.
Trading Standards said that the only way that the buyers could have known about the cladding was from Haslams or the seller. It was not, said the council, an issue highlighted by the usual conveyancing searches.
The court was told that Haslams had co-operated with the investigation and that a government scheme was now in place to manage the costs of replacing the cladding.
Cllr Ellie Embersom, of Reading Council, said: “This was an important prosecution which involved a business failing to pass on critical information to a consumer which has understandably caused them a high level of stress and anxiety.
“The council’s Trading Standards team has welcomed Haslams’ response to the investigation and the improvements it has made to prevent it happening again.”
In a statement, the firm told EYE: “Haslams is probably the most trusted estate agency in the area having served the people of Reading for over 180 years.
“Every day our staff receive thousands of calls and emails from our customers looking for our help or assistance.
“Unfortunately, this incident occurred because a communication received was not passed between departments in a timely manner.
“We pleaded guilty due to strict liability and fully acknowledge there was a breakdown in internal communication. However we must stress that there was never any intent to delay informing the buyer or mislead them in any way.
“As soon as the problem came to light, Steve Woodford (MD of Haslams) proactively contacted the buyer and offered a series of measures including subsidising the rent and charging no fees for letting and managing their property, which was accepted.
“A comprehensive review of the matter was conducted immediately and it was concluded to be a failing of the system rather than any one person.
“Consequently, new processes and procedures have been implemented to ensure that such an incident never happens again.”
Altogether, Haslams was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,646 plus a victim surcharge of £170.
Reading Council reported the case on its website: