A CONTROVERSIAL house-building firm that boasted £1bn profit off the back of the help-to-buy scheme has written to 1,000 residents - including in Taunton and Yeovil - warning their properties may be a FIRE HAZARD.

Persimmon Homes has been accused of putting lives at risk by skimping on fire safety measures after contacting hundreds of people living in new builds about a problem.

The firm says the homes may have been built without essential barriers to slow the spread of fires, potentially putting lives at risk.

The issue was first highlighted after a fire broke out and was able to spread from house to house on an estate in Exeter in April last year.

Paul Frost, a resident of the Greenacres estate in Exeter, made the shocking discovery after watching how quickly the blaze spread.

With more than 30 years' experience in the building trade, Paul entered the roof of his own property to look for the fire safety barriers.

But he was shocked to learn they were missing and approached the National House Building Council (NHBC).

They described the lack of barriers as an 'imminent risk to health and safety', and a breach of building regulations.

Persimmon Homes rectified the issue at Mr Frost's home within 24 hours, but has now sent a letter to other homeowners across the South West.

It is feared the issue could be a nationwide problem, but six sites in total have already been identified by a whistle-blower as having failed health and safety inspections.

They include Devon sites in Paignton, Ivybridge, and two in Exeter, ones in Yeovil and Taunton in Somerset and one in Shaftesbury in Dorset.

It is understood that more than 1,000 people across multiple sites - including another in Truro, Cornwall - have now received a letter from Persimmon saying their properties would have to be checked.

The letter stated: "We are conducting a check of roof spaces on your development to make sure the roof space cavity has been installed correctly following a recent inspection within the development."

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One resident in Truro said he feared his house "is potentially a massive fire risk".

He said: "I'm extremely concerned because I have a family, including two children, living in this house.

The homeowner, who did not want to be named, said recent inspections of his five-year-old house revealed "a vast amount" of fire barriers were missing.

Another resident who identified a problem was Samuel Maule, who lives at one of the affected Persimmon Homes development in Exeter.

He said he only noticed the problem after his 14ft African Rock Python escaped into the walls.

He said: "My snake managed to get through a gap which should not have been there at the back of my toilet and it managed to get up the wall and through the eaves and into a space above between my flat and the one above.

"Can you imagine if there had been a fire? It would have spread quite quickly.

"My snake going missing did me and the other residents a favour as we would have not known the flats were dangerous."

Mr Frost, who has carried out his own investigation, said that he fears that it is not just an issue with Persimmon but with the sector as a whole.

He said: "The way forward is to encourage better quality construction and certainly the installation of heat sensors in roof voids, as a minimum outcome of this horrific situation of risking peoples lives for what can only be seen as better profits.

"I want to try to make this a national campaign of some of sorts, to at least help to reduce the possibility of loss of life."

Fire safety consultant Alan Cox said blazes "could easily travel from one compartment or property to another" if there were missing barriers "at roof level".

Persimmon's website says it builds 16,000 new homes a year.

And the firm said it was taking the situation seriously and that properties were being checked.

A spokesperson said: "To date more than 400 properties have been inspected.

"However, while investigations are live, we are not in a position to advise of the results."

Persimmon is at risk of seeing its lucrative Help to Buy contract removed, after showing pre-tax profits of more than £1billion last year.

Nearly half of those sales were to people using the Help to Buy scheme.