On 14 June 2017, a high-rise fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London. 72 people died (including 15 disabled people), with more than 70 others being injured and 223 people escaping.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission report expressed particular concern around the placing of disabled people, including wheelchair users, on upper storeys of tower blocks without any consideration about how they could escape in a fire or other emergency. The report considered disabled people had faced discriminatory treatment amounting to breaches of the right to life, the right to safe, adequate housing; and the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, further noting that degrading treatment continued after the fire with disabled people being housed in inaccessible premises.
Following the report, the Government decided that all disabled people in high-rise housing should be given a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan, also known as a PEEP. The aim of a PEEP is to provide people who cannot get themselves out of a building unaided with the necessary information and assistance to be able to manage their escape to a place of safety and to ensure that the correct level of assistance is always available.
Trustee of Harrow Association of Disabled people, Adam Gabsi, is a wheelchair user who has been housed in a sixth floor flat in Harrow. His two lifts are constantly breaking down, leaving him trapped in his flat unable to leave. He is totally paraplegic and unable to use the stairs. His landlord is MTVH (Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing). He worked with Harrow Law Centre and started a tenants committee (@TP_ActionGroup), putting pressure on MTVH to hold regular meetings with residents and improve their communication. A major demand was the addressing of equal access to the individuals abode.
Adam appeared on BBC London News in a segment discussing this issue.
After a strong campaign for change, supported by Harrow Association of Disabled people and Harrow Law Centre, waking watch were put in place to assist residents incase of emergency. A waking watch is when on-site personnel are required in a building which has moved from the 'stay put' strategy to simultaneous evacuation due to fire safety failings. The aim of the waking watch is to ensure residents have sufficient warning in the event of a fire to support the evacuation strategy.
(HAD Trustee - Councillor Krishna Suresh)
The situation at Trident Point highlights an issue for many disabled people in London.
Adam has been supported by the BBC and appeared on Radio London with the host Eddie Nestor who covered this topic. Gareth Thomas MP for Harrow West was also interviewed on the show as Trident Point falls under his constituency. This interview follows another lift outage which left Adam unable to escape during a national heatwave where temperatures reached 40C.
(Part One - Adam Gabsi)
(Part Two - Gareth Thomas MP)
The story was then taken by Shadia Edwards-Dashti at Channel 5, who also believes that PEEPs should be in place for all who need one.
Shadia said "When visiting Adam I was appalled to discover he hadn’t got a PEEP in place. Not only is this a flagrant breach of rules and regulations, in light of tragedies such as Grenfell, it could be fatal. On top of this, fixing the lifts clearly was not a priority of the management. The result is that disabled tenants are essentially confined to being prisoners in their own home. Since visiting Adam, neither issue has been fully resolved."
Following a year long campaign from @TP_ActionGroup, housing association Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing have agreed to replace both lifts at no cost to residents. This would be in line with the Equality Act 2010 and allow disabled residents equal access to their flats. This is the first success in the ongoing fight for PEEPs.
Adam adds "I am extremely proud of the successes here at Trident Point and will be very relieved when this ongoing saga is over and the lifts are replaced. Access is a very basic and fundamental human right. If accessible accommodation is built in a high-rise building, surely emergency evacuation plans are essential and were thought about prior to building? I am very grateful for the support that HAD have shown me, as well as Jackson Caines from Harrow Law Centre, Inclusion London and my local MP Gareth Thomas. "
(Adam Gabsi asks the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, about the need for PEEPs and using his position to influence government decisions.)
(BBC News Report about CLADDAG taking the Government to court regarding PEEPs)
(ITV News Report about CLADDAG taking the Government to court regarding PEEPs)
Claddag (founded by Sarah Rennie and Georgie Hulme) had a meeting with the engagement team of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Despite assurances, the Secretary of State is yet to meet with disabled people affected by the building safety crisis. Our vice chair Adam Gabsi has been working closely with the action group.
On 6 December 2022, the High Court heard that government officials had already decided against the key recommendation of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry back in September 2021. Mandating PEEPs in high-rise buildings was one of the key proposals of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, where 41% of the 72 people who tragically died were disabled residents.
Despite the government’s commitment to implement all the recommendations of the inquiry, in a consultation document in May, it announced that the “evidence base for PEEPs [was] not sufficient to mandate their implementation in high-rise residential buildings at this stage”. The government followed this decision by launching a new consultation, called Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing Plus (EEIS+), which would instead share the location of disabled residents with fire services.
During the two-day hearing, internal records were disclosed by the government to the High Court, detailing the decision-making process behind the rejection to make PEEPs a legal requirement in high-rise buildings.
It is expected that the High Court’s ruling on the judicial review will take place in 2023.
(Adam Gabsi speaks with MP David Lammy on LBC, about Grenfell, after Michael Gove's admission that bad guidance was partly to blame for what happened on that night.)
HAD are starting a service to get PEEPs (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans) in place for individuals in Harrow that need one. Please contact general@HAD.org.uk if you feel that we can provide assistance and help you get an evacuation plan in place.
(Adam Gabsi speaking about PEEPs at an event by the Greater London Authority at City Hall)