Disabled tenants living in high-rise flats at risk of fire are taking legal action against the Government for failing to implement recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
This comes after the Home Office revealed it would not introduce personal emergency evacuation plans, known as PEEPs, despite advice given in the inquiry’s first phase.
The Government claimed the plans would not be practical, proportionate, or safe - instead saying disabled residents should stay put or rely on rescue by firefighters in the event of a fire.
Sarah Rennie and Georgie Hulme, both disabled leaseholders, set up action group Claddag to advocate for disabled people living in homes with unsafe, Grenfell-style cladding.
They are now seeking a judicial review against the Government for backtracking on plans to implement evacuation procedures for disabled tenants.
‘Our homes are death traps’
Ms Rennie, who lives in a tower block in Birmingham, told NationalWorld: “It’s unconscionable. Disabled people who could not evacuate disproportionately died in the Grenfell Tower fire.
“Our homes are death traps.”
Ms Hulme, who lives in Manchester and has Chronic Pain Syndrome, Irlens Syndrome, and adult onset Tourette’s Syndrome, added: “It’s had a major impact on my mental health and those who care about me are really worried.
“I inherited my flat from my late Mum, who was also disabled and a wheelchair user, who thought that by giving me her flat it would give me home security for life and take me out of the waiting for appropriate social housing and all that stress.
“It breaks my heart that this isn’t the case.”
When Ms Rennie bought her flat, she was told the lifts were constructed to firefighting standards and could be used in an evacuation.
After Grenfell, it was revealed that her building had unsafe cladding - and the lifts weren’t safe to use.
She has since acquired an evacuation chair, and has a personal assistant who is trained to use the chair.
Ms Rennie explained: “I created this plan myself, and I have proved it’s possible. You just need to have the conversations.
“Even if we could click our fingers and the cladding issue disappeared, we still need an evacuation plan. Everybody needs a Plan B.
“We just want the government to implement that policy.”
‘It shows that so many view our lives as less’
Following the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans consultation, the Government has launched a new ‘Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing+’ consultation which concludes on 10 August 2022.
The Home Office said it encourages stakeholders to respond to the consultation, and in the meantime, is holding a series of workshops to continue the conversation around PEEPs.
But Ms Hulme argued the workshops are not accessible spaces as people “with lived experiences are hardly represented.”
She explained that those who have been deemed financially responsible for the plans are rallying hard against PEEPs - and often have the loudest voice in the room.
“Our lives are discussed as not being a proportionate cost to something like an evacuation chair. It shows that so many view our lives as less,” she added.
Ms Rennie said: “It’s very traumatic to be talked about in such a matter-of-fact, cold way. It’s like we’re objects.
“It’s very hard to advocate in those spaces.”
What the Home Office said
The Home Office told NationalWorld: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy must never be allowed to happen again. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has apologised for its past failures in its oversight of building safety - and they continue to support the inquiry throughout its investigations to help get to the truth.
“Our fire reforms will go further than ever before to protect vulnerable people as we are determined to improve the safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.
“Our response to the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) consultation makes clear the substantial difficulties of mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings, especially around practicality, proportionality and safety.”
But Claddag argues PEEPs are essential for disabled tenants’ safety - and has condemned the ‘stay put’ recommendation put forward by the Government.
Ms Rennie said: “You can’t always wait for the fire service. There’s the time it takes to get on site, then the time to reach you. You may not even be able to communicate with the service if you are disabled.
“When you hear a fire alarm, you know to get out of the building because it’s not safe. Why is it safe for us to stay put, especially when we’re going to take longer?”
What London Fire Brigade said
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson told NationalWorld: “It’s vitally important that people feel safe in their own homes and have certainty about how to leave their building in the event of a fire or other emergency.
“The responsible person for the building should have a plan in place to support disabled residents or those that need support to evacuate.
“We still need to see a culture change in the industry when it comes to fire safety in residential buildings. It is extremely concerning that the number of buildings with serious fire safety failings has been at more than 1,000 for almost a year.”
Claddag is taking legal action against the Government and is crowdfunding to protect them against the Home Office’s legal fees.
Ms Rennie said: “This is a campaign for justice. It’s an issue society needs to look into - it shouldn’t be an individual issue.
“We feel let down as a community - and in the fight for justice for Grenfell. This is not honouring the people who lost their lives.”
You can donate to Claddag via their crowdfunding page.