We, at Claddag, recently had a meeting with the engagement team of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Despite assurances in January 2022, the Secretary of State is yet to meet us or with disabled people affected by the building safety crisis.
We fear the Government is unprepared for the reality of how disabled people will be affected by remediation works over the coming years. Every person and family living in a building site will experience considerable disruption and distress but disabled people are/will be additionally impacted. In some cases this will cause actual harm.
Remediation works involve drilling and banging for long periods without warning. Many conditions and disabilities result in heightened noise sensitivity, e.g. autism, sensory processing disorder and PTSD. Such high levels of noise make it difficult to communicate with family/care assistants and is extremely challenging for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There is no escape from dust during remediation works. This will impact people with asthma and respiratory issues by aggravating the lungs. Particles can also irritate eyes, skin and the throat. One leaseholder who has obsessive compulsive disorder is experiencing great anxiety and physical pain because of this. Mitigating the impact through extra cleaning and removing layers of dust from furniture needs to be addressed in social care packages with sufficient hours of support. The DWP and Minister for Disabled People refuse to discuss the matter with us.
As flammable cladding is removed but not replaced, flats are left freezing cold. This is especially dangerous for older people and those with existing health conditions. As disabled people face additional energy bills, coupled with the cost of living crisis, this will increase risk of serious damage to health.
Breaks and leaving the house
It’s not possible for everyone to take a break from the works by leaving the house. One disabled leaseholder who works from home cannot work in coffee shops as she needs to access a toilet with her hoist. If a person does not have a care package (and/or an available social network) in place, their opportunity to leave the flat for a break will be limited or non-existent. Many leaseholders have shared with us their worries about the distress caused to them by the works and their inability to leave their flat.
Leaseholders are required to complete confusing and poorly worded paperwork – most recently the Deed of Certificate relating to “qualifying leases” under the Building Safety Act 2022. They are accompanied by alarming warnings that incorrectly completed forms result in exclusion from financial support. We are aware of leaseholders living with mental health problems who are experiencing sleepless nights over confusion with the forms and missing the deadlines.
Temporary alternative accommodation
The building safety crisis is more than just cladding and external works – leaseholders face years of disruption involving internal works too. Many have been warned that they will have to move out temporarily at some point when internal remediation works make their flats uninhabitable. For some disabled people who live in adapted flats, finding temporary accommodation that is safe and suitable will be impossible. One disabled leaseholder is considering staying with her parents as a solution but her social care contract prohibits her from living outside her local authority area. Another leaseholder has been advised that they can access an accessible temporary respite flat but only for up to six weeks. We do not believe that local authorities have plans in place to support disabled people who are made temporarily homeless, let alone the accessible housing stock as a potential solution.
Social care crisis
Problems with recruitment and retention of care workers, often on minimum wage, are well-documented. Working in cold, noisy building sites, for months on end with interrupted rest opportunities and no natural light is not an attractive proposition for care workers.
Trapped in unsuitable housing
It’s now been five years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy which revealed the true nature of how our homes were constructed. Many older and disabled people desperately need to move home, particularly as their impairments/health conditions have deteriorated. Those who have been fortunate enough to find more accessible homes are losing those rare opportunities because they simply can’t sell. Living in unsuitable housing is having a detrimental impact on their health and impairments.
How you can help
Whilst we at Claddag are focusing our energy on our legal challenge over evacuation plans, we urge disabled and older people (along with our allies) to raise these issues with their MPs and ask for urgent attention from the Secretary of State.
Please share your stories, concerns and questions with the engagement team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities via ResidentEngagement@levellingup.gov.uk