Higher cost of safety in Letchworth fire death block

A RESIDENT in a block of flats where a man died in a fire has expressed her concern about the rising cost of fire alarm maintenance charges.

Edita Strelciunaite, who lives in Bittern Way, Letchworth GC, contacted the Comet after there were almost 40 visits to the six-storey block between April 2011 and February this year, resulting in charges rising from an estimated �9.79 to �230.24 for the period.

The visits by Britannia Fire Security Ltd were made on behalf of North Hertfordshire Homes (NHH), which manage the flats, and follow the death of 53-year-old Barry Collings in a blaze last April.

Private leaseholder Ms Strelciunaite said: “The majority of people in the building are council tenants so they’re not picking up the cost but it’s still taxpayers’ money and people like myself are still paying for it. It’s very very worrying.

“The residents of Bittern Way are very much aware of the importance of working fire alarms. I’m not questioning that. However, additional costs are alarming - there have been 34 visits from Britannia resulting in a �9,425.42 bill. Paying over �300 a month for one bedroom’s service charge, maintenance and council tax before considering water, electricity and a mortgage is a huge financial burden.”

Kevin Thompson, chief executive of NHH, said: “We are obliged to provide all our tenants, regardless of tenure, with a property that keeps them safe. The cost for repairs and maintenance to the structure, exterior and communal parts of a building are recovered through service charges, and we work hard to keep these as low as possible. It is unfortunate that in this particular situation, the early warning fire alarm system suffered from vandalism after installation. We worked closely with the police and took a course of action to address this. We also acted upon recommendations made by the Fire Protection Department.

“The result of these actions has meant an increase in the actual service charge applied for the year. We appreciate that this will be different from the estimated cost issued at the start of the year, however we do not anticipate that the costs will be as high in the coming months as the work has now been completed.”