Darren Hartley who is chairing the Residents Voice Working Group of the Hackitt Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety post Grenfell Tower has written this article specifically for Tower Blocks UK. The Hackitt report review is due to report on Thursday 17 May.
Darren is Chief Executive of TAROE (Tenants and Residents Organisations of England )
Post-Grenfell: The importance of re-building the trust and confidence of residents
9 May 2018.
As the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire approaches, it is worthwhile reflecting on what lessons need to be learnt to ensure that the voices of residents are heard, and that trust and confidence can be re-built.
In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons captured this zeitgeist:
‘Just a few miles from the Houses of Parliament and in the heart of our great city – people live a fundamentally different life, do not feel the state works for them and are therefore mistrustful of it.’ (Hansard, 22 June 2017, Column 166)
The tragic events at Grenfell in June 2017 must represent a watershed for the housing sector to ensure that history cannot repeat itself. Unfortunately, the incidents at Ronan Point in 1968 and more recently Lakanal House in 2009 show that the housing sector’s track record is not a good one. Incidents such Hillsborough show that events of this magnitude can take many years to investigate and respond to. For many residents, the continued presence of potentially flammable materials on their buildings, the waking watches, and unanswered questions about the safety of other building features means that progress to resolve the potential “ticking time bomb” of their home is inexorably slow.
One area which offers the potential for more immediate action is the Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety being led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Some of the findings from the Interim Report published in December 2017 highlighted the need for significant reform. It included:
less than 10% of residents responding to the Review’s Call for Evidence thought that the current systems available to residents to raise concerns were adequate;
there were calls for residents to have greater participation in the fire risk assessment process;
limited options and routes are available for residents to raise concerns; and,
the lack of a national tenants’ representative body made it difficult for residents to gain advice on the options available to them.
As Chief Executive of TAROE Trust, a small tenant charity, I was fortunate to be offered the role of Chairing the Residents’ Voice Working Group as part of the Hackitt Review work during Spring 2018. The report is due to be published later this month, and it will be interesting to see what recommendations make it into the Final Report.
Some of the key changes that TAROE Trust would like to see implemented within a strengthened building control and fire safety system for ‘complex’ buildings to help re-build resident trust are the following:
1) Statutory obligations to be placed on ‘duty holders’ to consult and engage with residents on matters of building safety. This means that building owners and managers should be required by law to provide key information to residents about the building they live in.
2) Fire safety management systems should be clearly visible across all complex and high-rise buildings, to help residents both to feel safe and ensure that they are safe.
3) Whilst in the first instance, the resolution of concerns should be dealt with between the duty holder and residents, this needs to be backed up with clear and direct escalation routes to an independent statutory body. This body should have overall responsibility for fire safety matters, and have the requisite knowledge, resources and sanctions available to it to ensure statutory requirements are enforced effectively. Our feedback from residents is that one body that continues to command the respect and confidence of residents is the Fire and Rescue Service, and their involvement with this statutory body will be critical to rebuilding trust and confidence.
4) In the long term, the goal must be to ensure complex buildings are designed and built to meet the needs of vulnerable and disabled groups. Further work is required with specialist disability groups to identify what this may entail. However, more could also be done to ensure that the specific needs of disabled and vulnerable groups are taken into account within existing buildings. One specific option would be the enactment of Section 36 of the Equality Act 2010 which would require landlords to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to common building parts to allow for improved access and egress from buildings. An audit tool for the assessment of regulatory compliance of individual buildings would also be helpful.
5) There is a need to recognise the value of effective resident engagement at every level of a building owner / manager’s decision-making process. Within the social housing sector, there are regulations such as the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard that represent a good starting point for this, but these need to form part of a proactive regulatory enforcement system that views consumer matters as of at least equal importance to economic matters.
6) The establishment and funding for a national tenant body to help support and direct residents on the options available to them when they have concerns about safety matters would go some way to addressing some of the current gaps in this area. The recent review of Ombudsman redress routes across all housing tenures also provides opportunities to strengthen the wider regulatory systems available.
In our experience, when residents are engaged effectively, it leads to richer and more effective decision-making. These benefits will mean that many landlords will recognise this as a matter of course. However, where matters of health and safety are concerned, we feel that minimum prescriptive standards, backed up by statutory powers, are essential to ensure the fairness and safety of all residents. Statutory obligations will not be enough, but the arena of anti-discrimination legislation has demonstrated how it can form part of an approach that brings about wider cultural change. There is undoubtedly a need to enhanced standards, for the use and greater access to technical experts, but ultimately the goal must be to engender a culture of partnership where residents’ voices are valued, and decisions can be reached collaboratively for the benefit of all.
TAROE Trust is a charity formed in 2013 out of the former national tenant representative organisation, Tenants and Resident Organisations of England (TAROE). It has been established to further charitable objects which can be summarised as follows:
The relief of financial hardship by providing free advice and assistance on housing issues to persons who would otherwise be unable to obtain it.
To promote social inclusion for the public benefit among people who are excluded from society or part of society by:
Providing advice and assistance and building capacity on housing matters
Working to promote the needs of people who are socially excluded and to raise awareness of those needs among housing providers, service agencies and the general public
Researching links between housing and social exclusion and publishing the useful results thereof
To develop capacity and skills among members of socially and economically disadvantaged communities which evidence deprivation in such ways that they are better able to identify, and help meet, their needs in housing related matters in particular, and to participate more fully in society.
Further information about TAROE Trust can be located on their website, located here: www.taroetrust.org.uk