Government bows to pressure on leaseholders’ cladding costs! Now for protection from cold.

For 18 months thousands of leaseholders in high rise buildings have lived in fear of fire, financial ruin, or both, as freeholders, developers and the government have debated who should pay for re-cladding buildings with Grenfell-style walls.  

In October, FPA presented to the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government an open letter signed by nearly 150 representatives, including leaseholders, tenants, trade unions, and 28 MPs from four parties, demanding immediate replacement of flammable cladding for the homes of both tenants and leaseholders – without cost to the residents themselves.

We said, “For private housing, central government must cover the initial costs, and then seek to recover costs from landlords, developers and contractors. “

This week’s news that “the government will now provide cash to councils to carry out works on private blocks on the basis that they would have the powers to reclaim it” (Councils cleared to rip Grenfell-style cladding from private buildings“, Guardian, 29 November) appears to accede to that demand, and residents are – cautiously – hopeful.   Beverley Reynolds-Logue, a Green Quarter, Manchester representative who was among the residents meeting the MHCLG with the Open Letter in October, says, “I think this is good news! Let’s hope they stick to their word.  Thank you so much for involving our group in Green Quarter in all that you’ve done on this issue.”

But while insulation is off the buildings – in social or private housing – residents must not be left to freeze this winter.  FPA’s Open Letter also demanded a guarantee that these residents living in buildings with cladding removed will not pay more for using extra energy to heat their homes, and will have access to extra provisions for warmth, including safe space heaters and damp and mould treatments. Where homes cannot be made fit for habitation, alternative local housing should be offered. The government must ensure that people affected by this disastrous failure of building regulations do not add to the thousands who, every winter, die because they cannot heat their homes  — a death toll that leapt by 40% last winter.

On 22 November James Brokenshire wrote to us in response to our Open Letter,  “. . . The Government expects landlords to protect residents, where possible, from any disruption caused by the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding and to communicate with them regularly during this process. That includes programming and sequencing their work, in consultation with residents, to ensure that people are not unduly exposed to cold”.  

However there is no government policy to provide funds for this purpose, or to enforce legal standards for habitable homes.  Winter is upon us. This cannot take another 18 months.

 

Report of SCIN Day of Action – Safe Cladding and Insulation Now! – 17/10/18

Phil Murphy, ex-firefighter and member of SCIN, speaks at the demo

Sixteen months after the Grenfell fire, 50 people stood together in the the rain, outside of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), to deliver an Open Letter that demanded safe and warm tower block homes. The demonstration was organised by Fuel Poverty Action (FPA). Many of those who came, spoke out. 

Speakers included residents living with Grenfell-style cladding, people from the Grenfell community, and supporters. The speeches covered a wide range of issues, including the plight of children at Grenfell, the needs of disabled people in high rise blocks, and the threat of climate change and associated extreme cold weather to residents whose insulation has been removed. The common thread of safe and warm homes tied it all together, and many, including the Fire Brigades Union, Unite Housing Workers and other major trade union bodies, pledged their support to the campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now (SCIN). This support lays bare the outrage felt because thousands are still living in tinderbox homes or homes that are freezing, mould-ridden and expensive to heat when winter comes.

When the speeches were through, the letter was unrolled. Now standing at nearly 150 signatories, which includes 28 MPs from four major political parties, 5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches, NUS, 5 councillors, 44 housing and Grenfell-related groups, 16 poverty and discrimination organisations, 15 environmental and anti-fracking groups and many others, the letter carried real weight. Three people living with Grenfell-style cladding and a member of FPA walked into the MHCLG to hand-deliver the letter. The group spoke with a civil servant from the department, who took down details of specific affected towers, listened to the grievances of the residents and promised that the letter would arrive on Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s desk that day. FPA are awaiting the promised swift response.

Following the hand-in, the demonstrators marched to the House of Commons and held a two hour long meeting, including Emma Dent Coad, the Grenfell MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Alison Stoecker, secretary to John McDonnell MP. Residents and MPs declared their commitment to the campaign and discussed how to – together – force action to ensure that residents are protected both from fire and from cold.

The last event of the Day of Action – 17th October – was a crowded tenants and residents meeting called by Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations. Held to highlight the lack of accountability in councils and the way tenants organisations are increasingly disempowered, beaten down, and deprived of resources when they try to campaign for better housing conditions, the event echoed some of the demands of the Open Letter.  As the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell fire acknowledged, it is residents who hold the key to housing safety.

Whilst FPA and SCIN campaign supporters demonstrated in London, Right to Energy Coalition held a solidarity action outside of the British embassy in Brussels. Marking this as a transnational Day of Action and just one of many steps to achieve safe and warm tower block homes for all.

Media coverage includes:
The Daily Mail
Worcester News 
Salford Star
Radio London with Vanessa Feltz
Morning Star (article included as a picture below)
Manchester Evening News and many many others!

Also:
Please see excellent videos of the day produced by Reel News →
3 minute version 
9 minute version 

The Open Letter is unrolled
MPs, residents, FPA and trade unionists in the House of Commons
Right to Energy Coalition Solidarity demo outside British embassy in Brussels
Coverage in the Morning Star

Today: Handing in our letter to the Secretary of State

At our demonstration today outside the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government we’ll be handing in our letter to the Secretary of State, the wording of which has been signed by nearly 150 different organisations, MPs and councillors, including:

  • 28 MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and SNP
  • 5 Councillors
  • 44 housing groups, residents associations and Grenfell related froups
  • 16 poverty, discrimination and health organisations
  • 5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches, and NUS

STOP PRESS: Fire Brigades Union joins Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign

We were delighted this week to receive the support of the Fire Brigades Union for our Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign! Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the union, has signed our open letter to the Secretary of State outlining that people are still not safe in their homes one year after Grenfell. You can read the latest statement by the FBU on government action (or inaction) post Grenfell here. They will be taking part in the Day of Action on 17 October.  Fire Brigades Union Logo
The FBU join a growing list of other unions and union branches in support of our campaign including:

  • Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union BFAWU
  • National Education Union NEU
  • Public and Commercial Services Union PCS

Branches/officers

  • UNISON Greater Manchester Mental Health Branch  (affiliated)
  • UNISON Salford City (signed Open Letter, and supporting Salford residents contingent to come to London for the Day of Action)
  • Adam Lambert, Regional Officer, Unite the Union (signed Open Letter)
  • Rob Miguel, National Health and Safety Advisor, Unite the Union (signed Open Letter)
  • Unite  Bermondsey  Construction Branch (signed Open Letter),
  • Unite Housing Workers Branch (signed Open Letter and affiliated)
  • Unite Branch 0742M (Runcorn) (signed Open Letter)
  • Unite Retired Members Swansea Area Branch (signed Open Letter)
  • Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside
  • Unite Unite NE/408/26

The support of these unions is invaluable in the continuation of our campaign. You can sign our open letter here and affiliate to the Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign here as a trade union or here as an individual.
National Education Union Logo .                      Image result for bakers union logo .                        Image result for pcs union logo

Safe cladding and Insulation NOW Day of Action – 17th October

flyer for safe cladding and insulation now demo flyer for safe cladding and insulation now demo
After searing pressure from campaigners all over the UK, the government finally conceded £400 million to replace Grenfell-style cladding on tower blocks. Whilst this is a step toward justice, it is not enough to make buildings fire-safe and does nothing for private tower blocks, student residences, buildings under 18M high, schools, hospitals or workplaces.
There is every sign that only a few buildings will be fully re-clad before next winter – with works finished on one in ten public sector buildings since June 2017. Last winter residents left without cladding or insulation were freezing in their homes. More will face cold and damp this winter and the next, if nothing is done. Cold. like fire, kills.
Join the campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now. Demonstration at 1pm, Wednesday 17th October outside Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF. Followed by a house of commons event hosted by Emma Dent Coad MP.
Please read our Open Letter to the Secretary of State which highlights our demands.
If it would be useful to print off this flyer there are some options here.

Mirror image of Grenfell Tower – Spruce Court, Salford fears disaster

Earlier this summer, residents of the Salford tower block, Spruce Court, asked to meet Grenfell survivors, and we organised for them to meet with Grenfell United, along with other residents of dangerous high rise blocks.  The Grenfell community has long insisted on one legacy: no one else should suffer what they went through.  They were instrumental in winning the promised £400 million to re-clad social housing, but are now forced to watch this work proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Residents of hundreds of buildings like Spruce Court continue to live with the same dangerous structures, materials and policies that destroyed so many lives, and, like Grenfell residents over the years leading up to the fire, continue to be ignored.
You can read the full guardian report of the link between these two flammable towers here. Below is our own comparison, the “Mirror Document” which helped to spark the Guardian report. There are many more buildings that still “mirror” Grenfell Tower as it was.

Join us for the AGM of Fuel Poverty Action – 13 September

Join us for the AGM of Fuel Poverty Action

Annual General Meeting

6.45pm for 7pm Thursday 13 September 2018

Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews NW5 2DX (off Caversham Road)  Fully wheelchair accessible

RSVP – please try to let us know if you’re coming.  There will be some food to share.

Whether you are an old hand, occasional helper, an ally, or just want to find out a bit more, you are very welcome!

Following AGM business (6.45) and a report of the year’s activities, this AGM will focus on one issue: safe housing.

Speakers confirmed so far: 

Elizabeth Okpo

Spruce Court Action Group, Salford, from a 22 storey block with Grenfell-style cladding and Nibe boilers

Anuj Vats

Leaseholder from Citiscape, Croydon, where cladding is now due to be replaced

Phil Murphy

Ex-fire fighter / safety officer, tower block resident and housing campaigner from Manchester who fought for lower prices on a district heating system – and won!

The Grenfell disaster exposed the chronic hazards in UK housing – often hidden behind a shiny facade – from the hazard of cold that kills nearly 10,000 a year, to the horror of fire, and the other hidden dangers from unsafe design and construction, poor standards and lack of effective regulation.
Fuel Poverty Action has been heavily engaged in the fight for warm, safe housing, and we invite you to discuss it with some experts on this issue and help explore next steps in our campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now.

Fuel Poverty Action is welcoming new members, and people who want to work with us in other ways.  Come along and raise your own issues, find out what’s happening, and consider how you might be part of it.

For a brief update on recent activities see here.

At a demonstration against fracking in Horse Hill, Surrey, 20th August 2018

 

Partial victories for warmth and safety in a Trafford Housing Trust tower block

 
Stretford House district heating price reduction poster
A poster informing residents when their heating price went down. Stretford House, Trafford, resident Phil Murphy gives the background to this, below. In relation to the poster he writes: “I posted it on a notice board in the foyer when we got news of the price drop (notification by letter from the trust didn’t arrive for a while after this point, it was the coldest time of year and I was aware many people were rationing their heating). Unfortunately THT took it down so many residents remained unaware of the new lower price for some time. I was ‘only’ a tenant (not Chair of the TRA) by this time, this was the excuse they used to prevent me circulating this information to my neighbours in the block who I knew were vulnerable to the cold and struggling to pay their bills so rationing their heating.”

Tenants and residents can take heart from what has been won so far at Stretford House in Trafford.  In 2010, as part of a refurbishment, a new communal heating system was installed (aka “district heating”) that in this case cost much more, and was not capable of keeping the flats warm.  The works to install the new system also compromised the building’s fire safety. Action by the former Chair of the TRA has now brought major improvements on both those fronts, although there is a long way to go.  Heating tariffs have been halved.
The following account is by Stretford House resident and former Tenants and Residents Association chair Phil Murphy, who is a former Fire Safety Officer with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).

* * * *

It was more than eight years ago when Trafford Housing Trust carried out a major refurb at Stretford House, a 23 storey single staircase property.
The works planned initially included:

  • New windows – the existing being past their life span were, in some cases, leaking
  • Insulating the building with an external rainscreen cladding system
  • New flat entrance doors and fire doors through the common areas
  • New bathrooms
  • New kitchens
  • New communal heating & hot water system

The new district heating system cost doubled twice and it left us cold
Up until that time every flat had a warm air system fed through their own gas meter. It wasn’t expensive and we could all switch suppliers as we paid our own gas bills.   The new system, brought into our block and other THT tower blocks, has centralised boilers which feed hot water to heat exchangers in each flat. Tenants had no choice, we had to accept this, although leaseholders could opt out and some did hang onto their old warm air systems.
When the new system was to be brought in, they told us it would halve what we had to pay for heating and hot water.  That is not how it worked out. .
When the heat output of the new heating system was specified it was expected that it would be working in flats with new insulation and new windows. Following completion of all of the works except the windows and cladding, the programme was discontinued. Not only did this leave residents with a system operating without the expected insulation improvements, but the system was also not functioning correctly for many flats. It took three years to get the heating system working correctly.  It required the installation of new major pumps (indicating an incorrect specification in the first instance), new filters, and the whole system needed to be flushed out to remove debris from inside the system.
Many of the complaints over the three year period were not formally logged as complaints. At one point there were so many issues arising that the trust’s heating manager was in the foyer noting issues by hand, these issues were never logged as repairs. This means the trust’s published repairs and complaints for this period remain wildly inaccurate and don’t not reflect  the nightmare tenants in Stretford House were enduring. For us, the fight was draining.
During that period the system wasn’t operating as it should. It struggled to heat flats that were supposed to have improved windows and insulation. This resulted in some tenants having their heating on permanently and yet reporting that their flats never reached an acceptable temperature. Having the heating on for extended periods saw tenants receiving vastly increased energy bills.
Meanwhile the energy charges set by the trust ignored the issues, and having initially priced the unit cost at 2p/kwh, providing the energy savings that was promised to tenants before they were forced to accept the new system, the trust now had a monopoly on this energy (residents are unable to switch suppliers) and swiftly doubled the cost to 4p/kwh without even bothering to inform residents. Falling gas prices meant that residents were now paying significantly above the average consumer rate being charged by the  big six domestic energy suppliers. The following year they doubled it again to 8p/kwh.
Residents now had a heating and hot water system that didn’t work, they were without the planned efficiency savings of new windows and insulation, and were paying in excess of double that of their neighbours in houses in the surrounding streets.   I exhausted THT’s formal complaints procedure to no avail, twice. The saga began before I spent a year as Chair of the residents association and dragged on after that period
Fire safety
In addition, in installing the system, the contractors had totally trashed the compartmentation that was supposed to protect us from the spread of fire. There were holes in every flat, and between flats, that fire and smoke could come through.
In addition, some residents became so concerned about bills that they were relying entirely on the small fan heaters that the caretaker was distributing free of charge in acknowledgement of the issues. Even though this presents a fire risk residents were not advised of the increased risks.
What we did
As it happens, I am a former fire fighter and fire safety officer, and I was painfully aware of the danger. Inspired by the work of Stuart Hodkinson and Fuel Poverty Action, I wrote to my MP Kate Green detailing my concerns surrounding the adequacy of fire risk assessments, especially compartmentation that had been penetrated throughout the block with the installation of the new heating systems’ pipework, and the energy prices being forced on residents by the energy-monopoly landlords.
Having experienced the complaints procedure I took a different route and used my fire engineering knowledge to compose a fourteen page forensic analysis of the fire safety problems I suspected might exist. I gave it to a GMFRS Fire Safety Officer  who demanded immediate improvements. It turned out that everything in the report was correct. This was after Grenfell.
Results!
Fire safety improved:  The day after I submitted my 14 page report there were 20 vans (I have pictures) on the car park and a huge team of experts started working their way through the block.  Every flat, every riser, every common area had serious compartmentation problems. It took them ten months of working every day (I estimate a cost around £1 million) to put it right. An example of what they had to do: https://youtu.be/dYD1taS9ocM
Heating price halved: At the start of this year the independent expert concluded that the price could not be justified. The price was dropped from 8p/kwh to 3.9p/kwh and all residents received a refund amounting to the unnecessary charge they paid for the last 12 months (in most cases this ranged between £200 and £350).
However residents had been paying the super-charged energy rate for five years. While they await to see whether they’ll receive the full refund to which they are entitled, Trafford Housing Trust have brought in another independent consultant, presumably in an attempt to justify charging residents far in excess of what the trust are paying for the energy. Residents are wondering whether they’ll get the money they are owed, whether other tenants across the trust have also received a refund to which they are entitled, and whether they’ll have to switch to fan heaters again that carry an increased fire risk and are expensive to run but are at least easily controlled to limit their energy bills.

Burning Gas at Drax Power Station – Voice your Objections

Drax power station has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for permission to replace its two remaining coal-fired units with much larger ones burning fossil (natural) gas. You can read the full response we’ve submitted to this here.

If you agree that we should not allow Drax to increase carbon emissions by burning gas and wood biomass, you can help stop Drax’s proposed gas development by sending an objection to the Planning Inspectorate.
The deadline for responses is Wednesday the 29th of August at 11.59pm.
Further information and a model submission, which you can also sign on to, is at http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2018/drax-gas-alert/