Two campaigners are seeking the high court’s permission to challenge the government’s refusal to ensure disabled people can evacuate safely from high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.
Three years ago, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry called for all owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to be legally required to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
But home secretary Priti Patel rejected the recommendation on the grounds of “practicality”, “proportionality” and “safety”, even though prime minister Boris Johnson had promised to implement all the recommendations from the first phase of the inquiry.
The rejection came even though those who responded to a consultation on the PEEPs proposal overwhelmingly supported their introduction.
The Home Office is instead consulting on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing, which does not go as far as PEEPs and which will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”.
Now Georgie Hulme and Sarah Rennie, co-founders of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, have applied for a judicial review of the home secretary’s decision, through solicitors Bhatt Murphy.
The Grenfell fire led to 72 people losing their lives, including 15 of Grenfell’s 37 disabled residents, on the night of 14 June 2017.
This followed years of failure to plan for how disabled people living in Grenfell would evacuate if they needed to.
Claddag believes the Home Office PEEPs decision breaches its duty to protect life, and its duty not to discriminate against disabled people, under the European Convention on Human Rights.
It also believes the decision breaches the government’s public sector equality duty, under the Equality Act.
And it says the consultation process on the PEEPs proposal was unfair because the Home Office held follow-up meetings with representatives of local authorities and housing associations after the responses had been received, allowing concerns to be raised to which Claddag and others had no chance to respond.
Hulme and Rennie also argue that the Home Office has failed to understand the inquiry’s reasons for recommending the PEEPs proposal.
Rennie told Disability News Service: “Having our right to survive a fire being debated so coldly is hard enough, but meetings behind closed doors which provoke a U-turn in policy is something else entirely.
“People with lived experience must always be at the heart of developing policy and exploring solutions.
“The Home Office’s approach is not only condescending to our community but deeply dangerous and so, for that reason, we must challenge the lawfulness of the process.”
Rennie and Hulme hope the court will consider the case urgently and they expect to hear next month whether they have been granted permission to proceed with a judicial review.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
Picture: Sarah Rennie (left) and Georgie Hulme
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