Islington’s disabled tenants ‘scared for their lives’ over fire safety
Vulnerable residents urge Town Hall chiefs to 'make them a priority' over fears they will be stuck in their homes if a blaze breaks out
29 March, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
Rose-Marie McDonald: ‘In light of Grenfell, the council must make the vulnerable, frail and disabled a priority’
DISABLED and vulnerable residents have demanded that Town Hall chiefs “make them a priority” amid fears they could be stuck in their houses and die if fire breaks out.
Council bosses faced criticism after claiming that personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs), used on housing estates to help frail residents in the event of a fire, were not “feasible”.
Disability campaigners who heard this at a Town Hall scrutiny committee meeting were outraged. Rose-Marie McDonald, a member of Disability in Action Islington, told the Tribune: “In light of Grenfell, the council must make the vulnerable, frail and disabled a priority. We have members who are scared for their lives and believe they will be stuck if a fire does break out.”
A PEEP is a bespoke “escape plan” for individuals who may not be able to reach a safe place unaided or within a satisfactory period of time.
Islington’s housing committee called for PEEPs to be produced for estates they manage last year. It wants to encourage housing associations and landlord Partners for Improvement, which looks after about 6,500 homes, to do the same.
But the Town Hall’s official response said: “PEEPs are still considered an unreasonable burden on landlords, but more importantly would be very difficult to implement effectively in practice.”
Ms McDonald met council officers before the committee meeting to discuss PEEPs. She added: “They said it is too difficult and people change all the time, in other words it is not worth it.
“There are particular problems and particular worries for people who are frail and elderly living in high-rise flats. When you are thinking of vacating [in an emergency], you’re not thinking of the lady who is bed-bound on the 12th floor.”
Housing director Maxime Holdsworth
Committee chairman Councillor Michael O’Sullivan said: “I am a bit concerned about this. What the council seems to be saying here is that we are not concerned with vulnerable people in the buildings. People with mobility issues. People who are blind.
“These times people don’t often know their neighbours and keep to themselves. Vulnerable people, in the event of an evacuation, could be left behind.”
Government and London Fire Brigade guidelines consider that PEEPs will not be required in general-needs, purpose-built blocks of flats or converted street houses.
Maxime Holdsworth was seconded to Kensington and Chelsea Council for 18 months to play a role in the Grenfell Tower tragedy response before returning to the council to take up the housing director post.
She said: “I think there is more we could do and should be doing. We have 35,000 properties. We need to take an approach that looks at higher-risk buildings.
“We have worked very closely with the LFB on which are the tall buildings with a complex layout where the LFB would need assistance. In Grenfell tower they were asking for the plans and didn’t get the plans immediately.”
But she added that it would be “very difficult” to keep up-to-date PEEPs for every disabled resident.
The council is piloting a scheme where “premises information boxes” have been installed at Braithwaite House, near Old Street, Perth House and Selkirk House on the Bemerton estate, and Fyfield, on the Six Acres estate in Finsbury Park. These will direct firefighters to vulnerable tenants.
Ms Holdsworth said she would meet up with the Disability Housing Panel to discuss their concerns.
The panel’s spokesman Andy Greene said: “We are pleased to see that the council acknowledges the reality of the situation which we are in – that we have a large number of disabled residents living in properties for which there is currently little or no effective collective vision of how we keep them safe in the event of an emergency.
“The council and other agencies involved must do everything in their power to make this happen.
“Saving people’s lives must be the overriding principle with which all other decisions must align.”