August 2017 – “Take Action on Grenfell Tower” Campaign

August 2017 – “Take Action on Grenfell Tower” Campaign

Thank you for contacting me about the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy was one of the worst this nation has experienced in many years. It is impossible to comprehend what those affected by the fire have had to deal with. The response of people who provided help, compassion and support, once again showed the fantastic spirit of London and the best of Britain. I also pay tribute to the emergency services, who put their lives in danger to save others.

The Government has been working with local government officials and organisations to provide support to the victims, both in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and in the long term. Everyone whose home was destroyed will be guaranteed a new one on the same terms as the one they lost, and nobody will be forced to move somewhere they do not want to go.

Every household whose home has been destroyed is receiving a guaranteed £5,500 minimum down payment from a new £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund. This money could be used to cover loss of possessions, funerals and emergency supplies. I understand that the fund will be kept under review and will increase if necessary.

The Government will also do everything possible to seek justice for those people who have been failed. A full, judge-led public inquiry will investigate what happened and who was responsible for the disaster, to give people the answers they deserve. I agree it is vital that the voices of survivors are heard: I am assured that they will have their legal representation funded. An independent expert advisory panel has also been appointed to advise the Government on any immediate action that should be taken on fire safety.

There may have been people living in flats that were illegally sublet. So that all tenants can be confident about coming forward with information for the authorities, the Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear that there will be no prosecution of tenants at Grenfell Tower who may have been illegally subletting their property.

The Government believes it was right that the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) took the decision to move on. The new leader of the RBKC, Elizabeth Campbell, has given a fulsome apology for the inadequate initial response. She also asked for help from central government to put things right.

On 5th July, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced that he would put in place an independent Recovery Taskforce to assist RBCK in dealing with the longer term recovery of the Grenfell Tower fire. This taskforce has now been appointed and it will provide assurance to the Secretary of State that RBKC has the capacity and capability to deliver an effective long term recovery plan for its residents taking into account their views.

In addition, the Communities Secretary has announced that there will be full-scale, independent review of building regulations and fire safety, with a focus on tall residential buildings. This will help ensure all homes will be as safe as they can be in future.  For more detail on these points, I have included below the text of two letters that the Communities Secretary sent to MPs on this subject.

It is obviously disturbing that there are such a large number of buildings with combustible cladding. Landlords must keep residential buildings safe for their tenants. Advice has been provided to landlords on the measures to take if the testing shows cladding material is unlikely to be compliant with current Building Regulations. The failure rate emphasises the importance of urgent testing and the Government is now advising those submitting samples to put measures in place without waiting for the results first.

Other owners, landlords and managers of private sector residential blocks should consider their own buildings and the testing facility has been made freely available to them. Checks are also taking place on wider public sector buildings, including hospitals and schools.

Given the high failure rate, questions have been asked about the effectiveness of the testing regime. The Communities Secretary therefore asked for the testing regime to be independently assessed. I am assured that this was carried out by the Research Institutes of Sweden and they have confirmed they believe the process to be sound.

The initial cladding tests were only looking at whether the core or filler of panel samples being submitted was of limited combustibility. It is possible, therefore, that panels that have a core material that is not of limited combustibility, might be safe if installed as part of a whole system that has sufficient fire resistance. For the use of the panels to be safe landlords need to be confident that the whole system has been tested and shown to be safe.

New large-scale tests, recommended by the independent panel and commissioned by the Government as a matter of urgency, will help establish how three different types of ACM cladding in combination with two different types of insulation behave in a fire. The results of these tests will help landlords make decisions on any further measures that may need to be put in place to make their buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The disaster at Grenfell Tower should never have happened: the police investigation and public inquiry will find out why it did, to ensure this can never happen again.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Letter from Sajid Javid – 28 July 2017

Dear Colleague,

In my 20 July statement on the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, I promised to keep Members updated on any developments during the summer recess. This letter, which is being sent to all Members, is the first of those updates.

As I explained last week, following advice from the Independent Expert Advisory Panel, the Government commissioned six large-scale tests of combinations of three different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with either foam or mineral wool insulation, each with the required cavity barriers in place.

The first test was of a wall cladding system consisting of ACM with polyethylene filler and foam insulation.

The expert panel have advised that the test showed that this combination did not achieve the BR135 classification in accordance with the British Standard 8414 -1 test – which, in plain English, means that it does not comply with current Building Regulations guidance for use on high rise buildings over 18 metres tall.

We have identified 82 tall buildings that have this combination of materials in their wall cladding systems – 47 of which are Local Authority or Housing association owned or managed, with 35 other buildings also identified. The owners of all 82 have been informed and advised on what steps to take as a result, based on advice from the Independent Expert Advisory Panel, which has been provided to them and to other interested parties.

The detailed advice is also being shared publicly on Gov. UK. Briefly, it calls on building owners to ensure they have implemented the interim fire safety measures set out in our 22 June letter to local authorities, and to obtain and act on professional independent advice regarding what steps need to be taken to make their building safe.

While the immediate safety of existing tower block residents is our number one priority, we are also committed to making sure all homes will be as safe as they can be in future. To that end, I am today announcing a full-scale review of building regulations and fire safety, with a focus on tall residential buildings.

The review, which will be conducted independently of Government and will complement Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s public inquiry, will cover:
– the regulatory system around the design, construction and on-going management of buildings in relation to fire safety;
– related compliance and enforcement issues; and
– international regulation and experience in this area.

The full terms of reference will be published later in the summer, once the terms of reference for the public inquiry have been agreed.

The review will be led by Dame Judith Hackitt. She brings a wealth of experience to the role as a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a former president of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, and also as Chair of EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation. She is a respected, authoritative and, above all, independent voice in the engineering and manufacturing sector. She will provide the expert leadership the review requires, and I’m sure you’ll join me in offering her your full support.

Work will begin as soon as possible, with the aim of delivering an interim report to myself and the Home Secretary before the end of the year and a final report no later than the spring of 2018. This will allow the Government to take any required action as promptly as possible without compromising the integrity of the review.

Although building regulations and fire safety are the responsibility of devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, I would hope that any relevant insights are taken into account by authorities right across the UK.

The review will see to it that building regulations and fire safety are as effective as possible going forward. Meanwhile the programme of testing, both of cladding samples and full cladding systems, will continue; its results will be used to help tackle any immediate fire safety risks.

Since last month’s disaster, I know many of us have heard from constituents who are worried about fire safety. I hope our ongoing programme of action, which is designed to ensure that all our homes are as safe as they can be both now and in the future, will go some way to addressing those concerns.

The Government also wrote yesterday to all local authorities and housing associations to outline funding arrangements. The Government expects that building owners will fund measures designed to make a building fire safe, and will draw on their existing resources to do so.

However, where a relevant body has concerns about funding essential fire safety measures, we have said that they should approach the Government as soon as possible to discuss their position. We will work with them so current restrictions on the use of their financial resources do not prevent them from making essential fire safety upgrades to buildings.

As always, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office if you would like to discuss this matter further. I will provide a further update on action being taken as soon as it is appropriate to do so.

Letter from Sajid Javid – 22 June 2017

Dear Colleague,

I am writing, following the Prime Minister’s statement this morning, to update you on the Grenfell Tower disaster and the action we are taking in response.

This tragedy was one of the worst we have experienced as a nation in many years. So far 79 people have been confirmed dead or listed as missing presumed dead. Unfortunately, with work still ongoing to recover the bodies, we must be prepared for the number to increase.

Of course, all our thoughts are now with the friends, families and loved ones of the deceased, as well as with those who survived this heart-breaking event. We will do all we can to find them the answers they deserve and to provide them with the help and support they need at this tragic time.

Immediate support for victims

Let me first set out in detail the steps that we are have been taking to support the victims and to rehouse those who have lost their homes – work that is being led by the Grenfell Tower Recovery Taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister.

To co-ordinate the local response a central command centre was set up by government on Friday morning, with John Barradell, the chief executive of the City of London and former lead for London local government on resilience, and Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of the London borough of Southwark, in charge.

There are now around 600 people working on the site and in the immediate area providing support to the victims. The Westway sports centre is being used as an emergency community hub, with 40 officials from six government departments working there. They are making sure that people have essential documents such as driving licences and passports, which they need to get on with their lives.

Alongside them are experts from organisations including Transport for London, Citizens Advice and the Red Cross, NHS mental health staff, nurses, care managers, and a GP. Many of those working in and around the Westway are marked out by wearing hi-vis jackets so that they are easily recognisable. Anyone affected by the fire can walk in and access the support they need, and so far there have been almost 700 visits to the centre.

To reinforce this on-the-ground work we have also established a cross-Whitehall Victim Support Unit This is staffed with 20 officials from across government and based in my department. This unit gives a single point of contact for victims who need to deal with multiple government services in the wake of the disaster. This is helping to resolve a full range of issues facing victims – from benefits and immigration, to health and education – all in one place.

Support is also available outside the centre and anyone in need can contact the Red Cross’ 24 hour hotline on 0800 458 9472. They can also find the latest information about what support and services are available to them at http://www.gov.uk/grenfell-tower, or they can get in touch by emailing support@grenfellresponse.org.

We will all appreciate that those who are suffering most at this time are the people who have lost loved ones. To offer what support we can in this most difficult of times a Family Bereavement Centre has been set up, to give a place where people can be counselled and offered all the help we can give.

We set up a £5 million fund to cover the immediate needs of those who have been affected. To make sure that gets out quickly to those who need it each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a £5,000 down payment to enable them to buy food, clothes and other essentials. We want to ensure everyone entitled gets this so outreach workers are in place to achieve this. All additional adults over 16 in these households will also be paid £500 in cash.

This is not the only financial support that is being made available. Additional cash payments are being paid out by the council on a discretionary basis, for example to those whose home has been severely impacted but not permanently destroyed. So far almost £1 million has been paid out to local households and residents.

It is absolutely essential that people understand they can keep the money they receive. They won’t be asked to pay a penny back, nor will they lose any legal rights as a result of accepting this financial help, nor any benefit entitlement.

It is also crucial that people are aware that this tragic incident will not be used as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing vital information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation. All victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation and we urge them to do so.

To cover short-term housing needs emergency hotel accommodation has been offered to everyone who has lost their home and we have made a firm commitment that within three weeks all will have been offered rehousing. These homes will be in the local area.
Of course where survivors want to move to another area we will support that – but no one will be forced to move to a place they do not want to go. If any colleague is made aware of a case where this is not happening then they should get in touch with my or the Prime Minister’s office and we will make sure this is put right.

The work to find suitable properties for rehousing is now well underway, with 164 already identified and being checked to ensure they are ready to be moved into. In the longer term we guarantee that everyone whose home was destroyed will be guaranteed a new one on the same terms as the one they lost.
Emergency hotel accommodation is also available for anyone who has had their property damaged and does not want to stay there, with almost 300 hotel rooms having already been provided. Practical support has also been put in place to help accelerate necessary repairs and they have already made use of expertise from the Army to assist with this.

Of course as well as concerns about their immediate needs families who have been caught up in this tragedy rightly demand the facts around what caused this disaster, whether it could have been prevented, and how we can ensure it does not happen again. That’s why we very quickly set up an independent, judge-led, public inquiry. This will get to the truth about what happened and who was responsible, and provide justice for the victims and their families who suffered so terribly.

The survivors and victims’ families will be at the heart of this. All of those who have been affected will be consulted about the terms of reference, and we will pay for their legal representation. Survivors have said they want support to come together as a group to have their voices heard, and so we will ensure they have the help they need to do so.

As the Prime Minister said in her statement these are people who for too long have been overlooked and ignored. We will ensure they are involved in the process at every step.

Providing immediate reassurance for those living in tower blocks

I know that many others living in tall residential buildings will have concerns about their safety after what happened at Grenfell Tower, and will have been in touch with colleagues expressing their concerns, so let me now move on to what action we are taking to ensure the safety of other tower blocks.

We have already instructed all social landlords to perform additional fire safety checks on tower blocks, and to ensure that they have the necessary safety and response measures in place, working in co-operation with local fire and rescue services. Private landlords are also able to use our checking facilities free of charge, and we have taken steps to make them aware of this offer.

One of the issues that has received a lot of attention in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire has been the material used in the cladding of the building. While it remains too early to say what caused this tragedy – and we must all be careful to avoid speculating about it – as a precaution we have now begun to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks.

We believe there are around 600 high rise buildings with cladding. These are being inspected by landlords (typically Local Authorities or Housing Associations) and where a form of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) is used, samples are being taken for testing. The tests, which are being conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), can be done within hours allowing us to test more than 100 samples a day, with capacity expandable if needed. We would urge any landlord who owns a building of this kind to send samples for testing as a matter of urgency.

As the Prime Minister said in her statement results have started coming in and a number of samples have been shown to be combustible. So far we have had samples from 11 high rise buildings in 8 local authority areas where the cladding has failed the test. All landlords and fire and rescue services for those local authorities have been alerted to the results and we are in touch with all these areas to support and monitor follow-up action.

The landlords for all the affected buildings will take action to inform tenants and implement the interim measures set out in guidance sent by the department this morning. We will make known any local authority or housing association whose sample has failed the test once they have informed local residents – to do so before, would be inappropriate. The only areas we can name at this point are Camden, Manchester and Plymouth.

I also want to reassure colleagues that you will be made aware if any sites are in your constituency by the local authority in the first instance – my department stands ready to assist colleagues if further information is required.

To ensure that local authorities and housing associations know how to respond where tests do show action is needed my department has today written to every one of them to ensure they know what immediate steps they should take if the testing shows cladding material is unlikely to be compliant with current Building Regulations, and I attach a copy of this for your information.

We should be clear that landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. Where they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. My department stands ready to work with local authorities to ensure they can meet their obligations to provide safety for their tenants. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.

Finally, I would like to say, as a minister I have always been prepared to make tough decisions. I understood the pressures that come with public life but this disaster has shaken my comprehension of what it means to be in office. I have met some of the victims of Grenfell, I have witnessed for myself the grief and anger of those who have lost so much – more than just their possessions but also their loved ones, their security and their memories.

This government will do everything possible not just to replace houses and provide immediate relief, but to seek justice for those people who have been failed. This tragedy should weigh on the consciousness of every person tasked with making a decision so this can never happen again.