Government unprepared for impact of remediation works on disabled people

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.

Noise

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.

Dust

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.

Cold temperatures

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.

Documentation burden

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.

View from the window of a flat in a building undergoing works. The building is covered in white sheeting and there is no natural light. Scaffolding sits between the windows and the sheeting

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

Fundraising successful and court date set

Three months ago we launched a crowdfund appeal to help us raise funds to protect ourselves against adverse costs should our legal challenge against the Government over its failure to implement key Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations be unsuccessful. Last month, the court approved our application to proceed with the challenge but set the limit for an adverse costs order at a higher level than we had hoped.

However, we are thrilled to say we have raised over £21,500 and can now proceed with the legal challenge without personal risk. Thank you!

Thank you! written on a note with a red heart


We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, neighbours, campaigners, allies and complete strangers. Each donation, no matter the size, has been gratefully received. We also deeply value the in-kind support such as awareness-raising and campaigning which led to us reaching our target.

Particular gratitude must go to Law for Change without whom we would never have reached our target. They kicked off our crowdfund initiative with a generous donation of £10,000 and have now pledged the remaining funds we need. We thank the Law for Change team for their support, solidarity and commitment to this public interest case.

Law for Change fund" in alternating red and black words
The Law for Change fund was established in the belief that “there are real societal harms that can and need to be addressed through legal actions in the public interest”

The hearing is set for 6-7 December 2022 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. We plan to attend in person as much as we are physically able to and subject to the court’s willingness to make reasonable adjustments.

Court grants Claddag permission to apply for judicial review

Good news! Last week, the High Court gave us permission to apply for judicial review. This means that the judge considered that we have an arguable case and she considered that it should be brought before the court swiftly. We hope that the hearing will take take place before the end of the year.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommended that all disabled people living in high-rise buildings should have the right to a personal emergency evacuation plan but the Government is refusing to make those fundamental changes. We believe the Government must be held to account for this.

The judge also agreed to grant us a cost capping order as this is a public interest case. This means that if our case is not successful we will only have to pay the Home Office’s legal fees up to the sum of £20,000. We also need to pay for Court fees which we estimate will be up to £1,500.  

This is still, of course, a lot of money we don’t have. Law for Change has kindly donated £10,000 and our supporters have kindly donated £5,805 so far through our crowdfund appeal. So we need to raise a further £5,695 if we are to be able to proceed.

We therefore ask those that support us if you could kindly spread the word to friends, family or colleagues who would want to give a small donation to help provide us with the safety net to pursue this case on behalf of the disabled, deaf and older community. 

As a reminder, our legal team are working on the case ‘no win no fee’ and if we are successful all unused donations will be returned.

Thank you for your continued support, kindness and solidarity.

Georgie and Sarah

Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing consultation: a handy summary

The Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing consultation closes on 21 August 2022*. It’s important that disabled, Deaf and older residents have their voices heard. You can respond to the consultation via the Home Office survey or just email your views to FireSafetyUnitconsultations@homeoffice.gov.uk

We understand the documents are long, complicated and potentially upsetting to read, so we’ve produced this summary of the consultation and our views on it. 

A London urban landscape at dusk of five residential tower blocks, the one in the centre is Grenfell Tower with a green heart on the sheeting
Grenfell Tower, UK

Background

In 2019, the Grenfell Inquiry recommended that that there should be a legal requirement on owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (“PEEPs”) for all residents who would struggle to self-evacuate in an emergency and to keep relevant and up-to-date information about such residents and their PEEPs in a premises information box.

In the 5 years since the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government has not implemented this recommendation, despite promising to do so. Over 40% of those who died in Grenfell Tower were disabled and none of them had evacuation plans. 

In 2021, the Home Office consulted on plans for PEEPs and the majority of respondents agreed with the proposals. 

After the consultation closed, the Home Office acknowledges that it had private meetings with housing associations and local authorities.

In May 2022, the Government announced plans to scrap the proposal for PEEPs on grounds of “proportionality, practicality and safety”. It launched this latest consultation proposing ‘Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing’ instead of PEEPs. On 5 August 2022, the Government published an easyread version, 2 weeks before the consultation closing date and 2 months after it was requested. The Home Office has since moved the deadline back by 2 working days.

The Home Office has held four workshops for the public and professionals as part of the consultation process. They have all been on Microsoft Teams and the Home Office claimed it was unable to provide a BSL interpreter.

Instead of a right to PEEPs, the Home Office proposes that:

  • The onus is on disabled people to tell the ‘responsible person’ if they might not be able to self-evacuate
  • The Responsible Person would then perform a ‘person-centred fire risk assessment’ with them
  • The RP would share this information with the Fire & Rescue Service
A nighttime seen on a residential street. Three fire fire fighters are walking alongside a row of fire engines
The responsibility will fall on the Fire Service to rescue disabled and older people who will not have evacuation plans

Our concerns

The Government’s proposal does not give disabled people the right to a plan which actively gets them away from a fire and to a place of safety.

The proposals only apply to ‘high risk’ buildings with simultaneous evacuation strategies in place. Mid and high rise buildings which are subject to a ‘stay put’ strategies might need to switch to an emergency evacuation in the event of a fire at any time. Everyone needs a Plan B. A rescue by the fire service should be Plan C.

The Home Office accepts that it takes the fire service some time to reach a fire in high rise building and/or start rescuing people after they get on site. Disabled and older people should be able to start evacuating as soon as possible, without wasting any time, and not wait unnecessarily to be ‘rescued’.

The consultation focuses on mobility-impaired people. It ignores that 1 in 5 of the UK are disabled. A much wider group of people may experience barriers to evacuation, including Deaf people, those with visual impairments, cognitive impairments and learning disabilities.

The Home Office relies on dangerous assumptions without providing evidence to support them, including the following claims:

  • Disabled people slow down the evacuation of other residents; and
  • Disabled people cannot safely be evacuated. 

The proposal claims that there are liability issues for disabled residents to rely on “untrained or non-professional people” to help them evacuate (such as family, PAs or neighbours). However, there are nearly 14 million unpaid carers in the UK who the Government relies upon to provide care for disabled children, adults and older people and deems them to be fully competent and safe.

Placing the burden on disabled people to ‘self identify’ for an assessment is wrong. A disabled resident may not know the barriers they would experience in an evacuation, particularly if it has not happened before.

The only information which the Government proposes is shared with the Fire Service is the floor/flat number of the disabled person. How will a Deaf or non-verbal person communicate with the Fire Service?

The proposal says that the costs of evacuation aids should fall on the individual disabled, Deaf or older person. This is not fair (when adaptation to common parts benefit everyone, including visitors) and individuals will not be able to afford it.

The Home Office’s equality impact assessment is poor. There is very little data in it to show the true impact of the proposals. The Home Office is wrong to conclude that race and gender are not relevant factors to the potential disproportionate negative impacts of their proposed policy.

Cute illustrations of people of different ages, genders and ethnicities sleeping in their beds.
The Government fails to recognise the disproportionate impact on people with protected characteristics

Our asks

We believe that everyone should have a right to evacuate a block of flats in an emergency. This must include disabled, Deaf and older people, as well as pregnant women and children.

Every resident unable to self-evacuate should have the right to a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) which enables them to reach an ultimate place of safety, and this should not depend on an arbitrary categorisation of buildings.

Disabled people must have an equal right to evacuate in good time and as safely as possible. Forcing us to wait, waste time and then be subject to an unplanned rescue is wrong and will inevitably result in life-changing injuries. 

The Government must provide non-means tested funding for any costs associated with putting PEEPs in place.

We do not believe that there is a need for an on-site individual to facilitate evacuation of disabled people. PEEPs should include putting reasonable and workable measures in place. The starting point must be a positive one, rather than using extreme scenarios to justify the denial of a right for all. Guidance should confirm that PEEPs may involve buddies (including willing family and neighbours).

As a matter of urgency, reliable digital systems should be put in place for responsible persons to share complete and accurate information with the fire service, in a secure manner, which is available in an emergency situation.

Deaf and disabled persons organisations should be commissioned to co-produce any toolkits and guidance documents, like the Disability Access Review and Advisory Committee in the USA.

Responsible Persons (“RPs”) must be expressly obliged to remind, support and advise residents about the right to have a PEEP. All communication must be accessible, reassuring and be provided via multiple channels. They must be obliged to perform mandatory training and the standard of person-centred fire risk assessments need to be monitored. There needs to be a complaints process for individuals to challenge poor assessments.

The Home Office should review and publish the evidence (if it exists) on which it bases its assumptions in this consultation. It should also urgently re-perform the Equality Impact Assessment.

The Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing consultation closes on 17 August 2022. It’s important that disabled, Deaf and older residents have their voices heard. You can respond to the consultation via the Home Office survey or just email your views to FireSafetyUnitconsultations@homeoffice.gov.uk

Colourful graphic of a clipboard with a floor plan entitled 'evacuation plan'
  • * On 12 August 2022, the closing date for the consultation changed from 17 August to 21 August 2022.

Support for our legal claim

Many supporters, disabled people and allies ask us how they can help and, specifically, if we need to raise funds. The time has come for the answer to be yes: we are crowdfunding to cover the Home Office’s legal fees if we lose our case.

In support of disabled people’s right to escape their flat in a fire, and in the fight for justice for those who died in Grenfell Tower, please help us hold the Government to account so that it takes fire safety seriously for everyone.

Inappropriateness of using Waking Watch for evacuation plans

We have heard several reports of waking watch (fire wardens) being put in place or retained for the supposed benefit of specific disabled residents’ or to guard against perceived leaseholder liability. This is troubling on many counts.


The Government’s third, and most recent, consultation on disabled people and fire safety emphasises a degree of unreasonableness about the costs associated with implementing a waking watch service to enable the evacuation of disabled people. We are very disappointed by this provocative tactic to block sensible fire evacuation planning practices.

Evacuation plans are about planning, making collective informed discussions and taking all reasonable steps to mitigate against the risk of death and injury. We ask everyone to reflect on whether that process is an unreasonable ask.

We are not advocating ‘no risk’ duties which require all leaseholders to fund everything which might eradicate a risk. Risk assessment and mitigation in the real world doesn’t work like that. How do we expect the delivery driver to move our new washing machine from the van to our kitchen if a degree of risk of injury wasn’t acknowledged and mitigated? Or react to a stranger who performs CPR to the best of their ability on a loved one that they find unconscious on the pavement? This is simply about taking an opportunity to reasonably (not absolutely) mitigate risk to death and serious injury.

Waking watch should never be required by a ‘Responsible Person’ or the Fire and Rescue Service to stay in place for the benefit of the safety of disabled residents only. Any employer (aka a ‘responsible person’) who uses a waking watch service to specifically evacuate disabled people is bound by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (s.2-3) and should take legal advice and consult their insurers on whether prescribing this task is lawful.

Further, there should be a critique of the reality of the plans in place. Many of us (disabled people) have found ourselves subject to absurd PEEPs which have proven pointless in practice. For example:

  • Can the waking watch open the flat door if the Deaf/disabled person does not respond to the alarm? 
  • Can they cross the flat threshold if the person cannot come to the door? 
  • Can they (i.e. is each individual trained to) safely hoist a person from their bed to an evacuation chair if needed?

There is a great deal of ignorance and panic around this issue and we urge Responsible Persons to take legal advice if they feel pressured to implement such a practice ‘for show’.

As an example, Anthony is a wheelchair user living in Putney, London and his situation highlights the absurdity of waking watch being used without thought or consultation. Anthony has not left his flat for months due to a broken lift and cannot move to an accessible home.  A PEEP has been put in place for him without any consultation.

“I’ve recently heard that there is someone stationed 24/7 sat outside my flat for my specific fire safety. This was news to me. I have no idea what my ‘evacuation plan’ is but apparently there is one and they’ve bought kit to help get me out without consulting me. The guys outside my flat know nothing about my body or needs – I don’t know how an ‘evac chair’ would work or what they would do to help me. Are they able to come into my flat if something happens I struggle to get out? Without training or practising drills with me, how is that legally safe for their employer to ask them to do this…or for, that matter, for me to take part? It would be safer for me to get down the stairs on my own, which I could do in an emergency – but no-one has asked me.”


As Anthony and many other disabled people are telling us, it is indeed ‘all show and no substance’. Several disabled people have contacted us about waking watch being held in place for their benefit only, without any training or knowledge of their needs.

This is the consequence of panic, knee-jerk reactive responses to the need for evacuation planning for disabled people. We are disappointed that the Home Office has allowed this to happen. Each resident who cannot self-evacuate without experiencing barriers, should go through an evacuation planning process. That process must be person-centred. One-size-fits-all solutions, whilst convenient, are impossible. That’s what it means to be human. Some disabled people will be children, some young, some old, some will be working, some will have partners, some will take a little longer to respond to a fire alarm than neighbours, some will be pregnant, some will have care support for none/some/all hours of the day. That is real life. We live varied lives.

One in five of the UK population are disabled. Sweeping statements about how ‘those people’ live are not accurate or helpful. Neither are fire industry, landlord lobbyist or leaseholder campaigner calling for boxed-up solutions. Disabled people need a right to a bespoke evacuation plan central to their requirements and location, not to the same one.

In the experience of experts who advise us, the number of cases where a disabled person in general needs housing whose risk cannot be reasonably mitigated is very low. To be clear, we do not consider the imposition of waking watch for the perceived safety of specific individuals to be reasonable. However, in those extreme cases, the Responsible Person should commission advice from those who have expertise in PEEPs.

We trust the leaseholders and tenants caught up in the building safety scandal – along with responsible managing agents, the Fire and Rescue Service and the fire risk assessing industry – will unequivocally stand shoulder to shoulder with the disabled community. Disabled people’s lives are in danger because of the stereotypes and assumptions upheld in the building design, build and management process. The costs of rectifying this should not be passed on to our neighbours and fellow disabled leaseholders and we should unite to resist this. However, the paramount issue is that no-one should die in a fire or emergency because their life was deemed too inconvenient or costly. Implementation and logistics should not be discussed in the debate on the clarification of this fundamental right.

Please sign our petition for the Grenfell Inquiry recommendation on disabled people and evacuation plans to be implemented.

Home Office workshops: Evacuation plans for disabled people and ‘information sharing’

The Government is hosting workshops as part of its Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing consultation. The consultation proposes scrapping the concept of mandatory evacuation plans for disabled people in blocks of flats, rejecting a key recommendation of the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

The workshops are an opportunity for Home Office officials to explain the proposals and for us to ask any questions. Secondly, it’s a chance for us to share our views on fire and evacuation for disabled people and those who cannot self-evacuate.

There are four workshops planned:

Tuesday 21st June, 2pm – 3.30pm via Teams

Monday 4th July, 4pm – 5.30pm – joining instructions to follow

Monday 4th July, 4pm – 5.30pm

Friday 15th July, 11am – 12.30 – joining instructions to follow

Wednesday 27th July, 5pm-6.30pm – joining instructions to follow

Each workshop is held on Microsoft Teams. We understand that the Home Office is providing a BSL Interpreter on the workshop planned for 15th July.

We have asked officials how the workshops will be a safe space for disabled people on a controversial and highly traumatic subject. The Home Office responded: “In chairing these workshops, we will do our best to make sure discussions are polite and respectful of differing viewpoints, however the nature of this type of engagement means that we expect some passionate and sometimes opposing viewpoints. Its right that they are heard as we want to hear all viewpoints and encourage a healthy level of debate.”

If you would like to attend any of the workshops, please contact simon.glenville@homeoffice.gov.uk directly. You can also share any access adjustments you need to participate fully.

Disabled people, housing and fire consultations

We are conscious that there are several open consultations at the moment, related to disabled people, housing and fire. We’ve made a quick list below, including closing dates for responses, but please share with us any we have missed.

Fire Safety London Plan Guidance

Closes: 12 June 2022

Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing consultation

Closes: 10 August 2022

Higher risk buildings description consultation

Closes: 21 July 2022

Improving disabled people’s access to let residential premises: reasonable adjustments to common parts, a new duty – consultation

Closes: 18 August 2022

Shameful Government u-turn on evacuation plans for disabled people

We are horrified and deeply dismayed by Lord Greenhalgh’s announcement that the Government does not agree that disabled people should have a right to a personal emergency evacuation plan. This follows a 9-month wait since the Government’s second consultation on the matter. It now proposes to launch a third one.

It is unconscionable that the Government has dismissed, for a third time, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendation for personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled people living in high rise buildings. The tragedy involved the deaths of over 40% of disabled residents.

Lord Greenhalgh is wrong to assert that mobility-impaired people cannot evacuate without the fire and rescue service. Many of us do this already thanks to an evacuation plan drawn up with responsible managing agents and following an informed discussion, reflecting on the options, making some adjustments and briefing those involved. This is why it is called ‘a plan’. Radio and TV awareness campaigns encourage us all to have plans in place should our homes catch fire – the Government clearly believes this caution and responsibility should only extend to non-disabled people.

We were sickened to hear the Minister question whether any associated costs of evacuation plans are reasonable as he “seeks to protect residents and taxpayers” from costs. Lord Greenhalgh has repeated the tired myth that every evacuation plan involves a cost. Further, this comment is shocking given that the Government has done nothing to protect leaseholders across the UK from exhausting their life savings and facing bankruptcy as a result of the building safety crisis. Lord Greenhalgh is provoking fear and resentment among cash-strapped leaseholders against their disabled neighbours, based on a dangerous generalisation.

The final blow was Lord Greenhalgh’s attempt to shame disabled people into ‘staying put’ in a fire to avoid “hindering others” from evacuating. Please let that sink in.

It is preposterous for the Government to assert that it is ‘committed to supporting the fire safety of disabled people’ when it rejects the use of evacuation plans on the basis of costs, convenience and ableism. 

It is clear that the Government is poorly advised in this area of policy, as demonstrated by the Minister’s consistent references to people with “mobility concerns” only. Standard emergency evacuation protocols also exclude disabled and older people with a range of impairments including visual impairments, learning disabilities and Deaf people.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a duty on responsible persons to have procedures in place in the event of serious danger. There is no exclusion for disabled people. Any landlord who disregards this duty and refuses to implement an evacuation plan for a disabled person faces serious legal liability.

We do not support a third consultation. It is not necessary and is a shameful attempt to evade the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations.

Landscape photo of Grenfell Tower in the background, with the sheeting displaying the green heart. Four high rise buildings are in the foreground

Home Office’s delay and disregard for PEEPs: Write to your MP

This week, another peer expressed their concern about the Home Office’s handling on personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled people.

Baroness Grey-Thompson and Baroness Brinton proposed a series of amendments to the Building Safety Bill that would have added to the bill explicit references to the need to protect disabled people living in high-rise blocks of flats and other “higher-risk” buildings. Baroness Brinton also expressed support for Claddag’s legal action against the Home Secretary for awarding a fire safety contract to a company who notoriously opposes PEEPs for disabled people.

We have been asked a lot this week how best you can support this action. Below is a template letter which you can send to your MP urgently. If you need any help with this, please contact us.