With reports that Grenfell Tower survivors are being re-housed as far away as Preston, one of the UK’s leading social housing lawyers has called on the Government to bypass current housing law and council policy to give those left homeless by the fire more certainty over their future.
Jayesh Kunwardia, partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen says he has become increasingly concerned that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has yet to explain how its current homelessness policy – which sets out the council’s duty of care under the Housing Act – will apply to the hundreds of people it now has to house.
He says: “I’ve already spoken to a number of former Grenfell Tower residents who have refused RBKC’s offer of temporary accommodation outside of the borough and have opted to stay with family or friends instead. However, by doing so, this means that under the council’s current policy, RBKC could now refuse to accept a duty to house them under the Housing Act as they have made themselves “intentionally homeless”.
“I’m worried that former Grenfell Tower residents, who have very good reasons for refusing an offer of accommodation, because of potential difficulties with work, schooling, medical appointments or their social network, may be penalised as a result. It seems to me that there is a lack of transparency by RBKC on the legal rights available to the victims of this tragic disaster.”
Jayesh Kunwardia says the council has to make clear to each tenant about how any decisions they make now will impact their chances of being housed later on.
“Better still, RBKC should immediately revoke its own housing policy for all Grenfell Tower’s former residents and commit to working with each resident to find suitable accommodation. No resident should be at risk of losing their right to be housed if they refuse accommodation that is unsuitable.”
Given the extraordinary circumstances, he says the Government could also invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This would allow ministers to create emergency temporary legislation that would just apply to this disaster that would help RBKC change its current policy.
Any emergency provisions would then have to be presented to Parliament for approval. Parliament may amend the regulations but must approve them within seven days of laying.
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones & Allen acted in the inquests of those killed following the New Cross fire and in the litigation arising from the King’s Cross fire and the Marchioness disaster.
- The firm is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen, recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by Solicitors Journal.
- For 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016, the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.