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Mayo homeowners mystified and frustrated over rejection from government pyrite scheme

They were deemed ineligible despite reports from engineers stating their homes are damaged.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

HOMEOWNERS IN MAYO impacted by the pyrite scandal have called for clarity after their applications for the government’s Defective Blocks Scheme were rejected.

The scheme, which was set up to provide financial assistance to people whose homes were built with concrete blocks containing mica and pyrite, has been widely criticised by impacted homeowners in Donegal and Mayo.

They have said initial tests required to apply for the scheme are too expensive and are a barrier for many.

They also claim the grants to be provided under the scheme will not cover enough of the costs of the substantial work required to make their homes safe. Now homeowners in Mayo impacted by pyrite say they are confused about how applications are being assessed by Mayo County Council after 20 applicants recently received rejection letters.

Eimear Brady is one of 20 homeowners whose application was rejected by Mayo County Council. In a letter the council said its opinion was that “pattern cracking is not present” and using the standard for categorising these properties Brady’s home should therefore be classified as ‘Group 1 – Undamaged’.

“We had eight samples taken from the house and sent off to be tested and they all came back with high levels of pyrite and we were told it had a high susceptibility to deterioration. Two of the samples were not even intact by the time they made it to the lab, they had crumbled,” Brady told The Journal

“So we had the test results and we also had a report from our engineer who did an assessment. The report had photographic evidence of cracking inside and outside the house.

“This all seems to have been disregarded by the council.”

WhatsApp Image 2021-07-28 at 5.13.12 PM Source: Eimear Brady

Although the council’s letter to Brady stated pattern cracking is not present, the council’s own assessment report, seen by The Journal, notes pattern-like cracking is present in the external walls. This council report also had boxes ticked for web-like cracking externally and cracks at corners and horizontal cracks internally. 

Brady is now struggling to understand how Mayo County Council came to the conclusion that her home is ‘undamaged’ when its own assessment noted the presence of cracks both internally and externally. 

“No one from the council even came out to the house to look at it like our own engineer did, it seems to me that it’s just people sitting at desks making decisions.

“And we’re now left in a house that we can’t sell or rent out, we can’t get insurance. They’re leaving us here for this house to crumble down around us, it’s complete disregard for us, it’s shocking.

“We’re a young couple, we bought the house three years ago thinking now we’d be able to start our life and start planning a family, we had a baby girl and we’ve enough on our plate. If we had to knock the house down and rebuild, fine, we’d get on with it, but to be told the house is not bad enough is inhumane.”

Brady said they had to borrow €5,000 to get the pyrite test done and expected to get this money back through the scheme. 

“We were hoping that test would come back negative and tell us we didn’t have pyrite in the house and if that had happened it would have been the best €5,000 we ever spent. But we knew deep down it would be found and the evidence is there.

“We have done everything they wanted us to do, we got the tests, we got the engineer report that’s up to the specific standards, we applied in April and were told we’d hear back in five weeks and then 15 weeks later we get that letter to say we’re not eligible.”

Jamie Lee Donnelly in Ballina also received a rejection letter from the council and is now in the process of appealing the decision. Applicants have three weeks to appeal the council’s decision and the appeal is adjudicated upon by a council official who was not involved in the original assessment.

“I was in a bad way when I got the letter, it hit me hard,” she told The Journal. “What was worse was that I know so many of the others rejected too – my parents were rejected as well. I just had to take a break from everything last week to get my head around it.

“To think that you go to the trouble of getting a scientific report and an engineer report confirming you have pyrite in the house and you do have cracks and then they say ‘no’, it’s a kick in the teeth.

“My house is not even as bad as some, I’ve seen photos of some of the other houses that were refused and they’re worse, I’m scratching my head, I can’t understand it. Our engineer now is going back to all of the houses and he’s drawing on them with blue marker to show the cracks so they can’t miss them this time.”

Donnelly said the council back in April had requested more information from her engineer, stating that the cracks appeared to be minor and asking for confirmation that they were definitely due to pyrite and not other factors such as a lack of maintenance and upkeep to the house. 

She said the engineer wrote back to the council to confirm the damage is due to pyrite.

“For them to come back and not just say the crack are minor but to say they’re now non-existent is disgusting,” she said.

“I know our house isn’t one of the worst but we have cracks inside and out and we know they will get worse because we have pyrite. We’re not asking to be prioritised ahead of homes that are so bad they need to be knocked down and rebuilt but to flat out refuse to include us in the scheme and place the entire financial burden on us is just not good enough.”

Donnelly was one of the homeowners in the working group established by the government to review the scheme and address concerns. She said she and another homeowner from Mayo who was in the group tried to raise this issue at a meeting, but were told it could not be discussed. She has since left the working group.

Paddy Diver, one of the organisers of the large protest in Dublin in June, said he believes the two councils are “kicking the can down the road”.

He said many homeowners have been waiting months to get grant approval. Once applicants receive confirmation of eligibility (Stage 1) they apply for grant approval (Stage 2), providing estimated costs to fix their homes.

More than 300 homes in the two counties have received confirmation of eligibility, with just 30 receiving Stage 2 confirmation of grant approval.

“They’re just leaving people hanging in the balance,” Diver said. “The local authorities have let us down, we haven’t got the money to carry the can here.”

He said another protest is now being planned for the end of September. 

“People are just totally exhausted by this now. We’ll be marching in Dublin again and we’re asking every county in Ireland to come and help us because it could be your county. We need people to stand up for one another because our homes are falling down around us.”

In a statement Mayo County Council said it “totally understands the stress and trauma that householders have in relation to their homes”. 

However it said in a number of cases the applications did not meet the eligibility of the scheme. To date, the council has received 99 applications, of which 74 approvals have been granted. In the case of 20 applicants, it said “we are unable to confirm eligibility under the scheme”.

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The council declined to answer a number of questions about its process for assessing eligibility, stating that it will not be making further comment at this time as the appeals process is ongoing. 

The Department of Housing said under the regulations governing the scheme, the relevant local authority has responsibility for the detailed administration.

“This includes the assessment of applications for eligibility, approval of remediation options and payment of grants to homeowners in respect of the specific remediation option approved,” it said.

The department said that while an engineer’s report informs a local authority’s assessment, the final decision on eligibility rests with the local authority. 

“It is a matter for the relevant local authority, which is independent in the exercise of its functions, to determine based on the facts and evidence in each individual case whether an applicant is eligible for grant assistance under the scheme at that particular time as detailed in S.I. 25 of 2020 (the regulations governing the scheme).”

The department said the Budget provides funding of €20 million for the operation of the grant scheme for Donegal and Mayo. 

“Both these local authorities are supported with regard to the full recoupment of claims and the department ensures payments are made as expeditiously as possible, this includes both grants paid to homeowners and local authority costs in administering the scheme,” it said.

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