With reports that Grenfell Tower survivors are being re-housed as far away as Preston, one of the UK’s leading social housing lawyers has called on the government to bypass current housing law and council policy to give those left homeless by the fire more certainty over their future.
Jayesh Kunwardia, partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen says he has become “increasingly concerned” that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has yet to explain how its current homelessness policy – which sets out the council’s duty of care under the Housing Act – will apply to the hundreds of people it now has to house.
He says: “I’ve already spoken to a number of former Grenfell Tower residents who have refused RBKC’s offer of temporary accommodation outside of the borough and have opted to stay with family or friends instead.
“However, by doing so, this means that under the council’s current policy, RBKC could now refuse to accept a duty to house them under the Housing Act as they have made themselves “intentionally homeless.
“I’m worried that former Grenfell Tower residents, who have very good reasons for refusing an offer of accommodation, because of potential difficulties with work, schooling, medical appointments or their social network, may be penalised as a result. It seems to me that there is a lack of transparency by RBKC on the legal rights available to the victims of this tragic disaster.”
Kunwardia says the council has to make clear to each tenant about how any decisions they make now will impact their chances of being housed later on.
“Better still, RBKC should immediately revoke its own housing policy for all Grenfell Tower’s former residents and commit to working with each resident to find suitable accommodation. No resident should be at risk of losing their right to be housed if they refuse accommodation that is unsuitable.”
Given the extraordinary circumstances, he says the government could also invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This would allow ministers to create emergency temporary legislation that would just apply to this disaster that would help RBKC change its current policy.
Any emergency provisions would then have to be presented to Parliament for approval. Parliament may amend the regulations but must approve them within seven days of laying.
Yesterday (June 19) the prime minister chaired the third meeting of the Grenfell Tower Recovery Taskforce.
She received updates on the support for those affected, including on housing, access to payments from the discretionary fund, healthcare and co-ordination on the ground.
While it was clear some progress is being made, the PM will continue to receive daily updates to ensure that the steps taken are being carried forward at sufficient scale and speed that help is getting to people who need it.
An officials-led taskforce meeting is due to take place today (June 20) and the PM will chair a further secretary of state level meeting on Wednesday when she expects to receive significant updates on the proportion of people who have received support across the areas identified.
Key updates include:
- Five government departments now have staff embedded within the Grenfell Fire Response Team on the ground, with a number of additional departments providing additional capability. Those Departments are: Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Work and Pensions, Home Office, Foreign Office, and Department for Transport
- DWP has begun administering the first £5,000 payments from the discretionary fund directly into the bank accounts of eligible households affected by the fire
- Nearly 100 letters providing further advice on how to come forward and claim discretionary payments have been personally delivered to affected residents staying in temporary accommodation, to ensure nobody who is eligible for support misses out on this funding to help with immediate costs
- The prime minister received reassurances that the commitment to re-home people within the same or neighbouring borough would be met within the three-week deadline – and that reports of people being offered homes hundreds of miles away were false
- Work is ongoing to assess the housing needs of all residents who have had to leave their home – with the first rehousing offers made today
- A dedicated, 24/7 NHS mental health response line is now active to provide services and advice to anyone affected directly, or indirectly. Enhanced support has begun for first responders from today and the NHS London bereavement pathway has been put in place to support bereaved families in the longer term
- Local NHS primary care services are also providing enhanced support, including primary care and pharmaceutical services at rest centres and extended opening hours at local GP services
- DCLG today (June 20) expected to receive figures from all local authorities and housing associations in England on the total number of high-rise buildings across the country which would be subject to additional safety checks
- DCLG has written to the heads of Local Authorities providing more details to help councils identify a particular type of cladding which is being subject to additional checks – facilities have been set up for testing of samples to begin from tomorrow once the first returns are received from councils
- There will be a further boost to the number of council workers visible on the ground to provide direct assistance to residents
- The lord chief justice is expected to appoint a judge to oversee the independent inquiry in the next couple of days and the PM has reiterated her commitment that residents would be consulted on the terms of reference for the inquiry before they are finalised.