On Friday, Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) published its approach to permanently rehousing former residents of Grenfell Tower and the adjacent Grenfell Walk who lost their homes, their possessions and in some cases loved ones as a result of the fire. Here are the main points of what the council calls its “exceptional rehousing policy”:
- Households affected will not have to pay rent or “core utility bills” within the first year of accepting either a permanent new home or a “stage two” temporary one (meaning proper flat or house occupied on a temporary basis as opposed to a hotel or similar).
- A “fresh start” sum of £10,000 will be given to each household by the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, a charity set up in 2008 to combat disadvantage in the borough. This is in addition to the government’s contribution of £5,000 per household plus £500 for each household member over the age of 16. The Foundation’s Grenfell Tower Fund currently stands at £4.5m, of which £2.5m is, in the words of its website, “already committed to helping individuals and families directly affect”. All the fund money is to be spent on the families and in the local community. (If you wish to donate, click here).
- The council says that “newly built permanent housing is now available to residents, who will choose where they move to”. It is stressed that no one will be “forced to accept an offer of social housing if they don’t wish to, and will only move to a permanent home if they are happy with that home”. It adds that a letter has been issued to all the residents concerned explaining how the rehousing process will work. This includes the option of converting a stage two temporary home into a permanent one, if that turns out to be what the household in question would like.
- After the 12-month rent and bills-free period is up, residents who had been housed by the council before “will pay no more than the rent they paid at Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk, even if rehoused to a larger home”, the council says. Others, presumably the leaseholder households (of which there were 14 in the tower), will be charged rent at “a social rent level”.
- The policy applies to everyone who was living in Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk “immediately before the fire as their main home” and includes tenants of non-resident leaseholders and, significantly, any lodgers or subtenants of resident leaseholder or council tenants (see paragraph 2). The issue of subtenants had been controversial because subletting is illegal. The rehousing policy does not extend to non-resident leaseholders. The document also underlines that residents who would otherwise be ineligible for a new tenancy due to their immigration status are to be granted “leave to remain” and offered homes. In the case of households that want to split into two or more, each newly formed household will be assessed separately.
- Permanent homes will be offered by RBKC, neighbouring councils and housing associations. If the home is a council one, secure lifetime tenancies will be offered. In the case of housing associations, they will be assured tenancies. Secure council tenants will have “pre-Localism” rights of succession.
- Survivor households will be given the maximum number of housing eligibility points, meaning they go to the top of the waiting list. Those bereaved by the fire will be given highest (“first band”) priority, households containing someone with a mental or serious physical disability will be next, followed by households with dependent children.
The policy can be read here, the council’s written commitment to those who lived in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk is here, and the explanatory letter from its new chief executive Barry Quirk is here.
A couple of well-qualified Labour people I know have looked at the policy and concluded that it appears pretty sound, with no obvious catches or flaws. And, to me, it seems more generous than some critics of the council might have expected. There are, though, matters related to others affected by the fire that it doesn’t address. These include the circumstances of people who lived close to the tower and were evacuated and the conditions they have now returned to. There are also reports of residents of other parts of RBKC who have been homeless for a long time being perhaps understandably distressed by being overtaken on the council’s waiting lists.
Much has been revealed by the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, not all of it instantly newsworthy or immediately obvious. More on that to come.