Fuel Poverty Action – An Open Letter to the Secretary of State

Sixteen months after the Grenfell fire, on Wednesday 17 October, 50 people stood together in the the rain, outside of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to deliver an Open Letter that demanded safe and warm tower block homes. The demonstration was organised by Fuel Poverty Action. 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 including the National Union of Students (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 delivery of the letter 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.

The Letter (with signatories) is reproduced below:

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
17th October 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

We were very glad to hear of the government’s intention to fully fund replacement of flammable cladding on social housing tower blocks. The announcement (16 May) brought hope to many homes. However, the commitments made so far are not nearly enough.

The government’s history on this issue is disgraceful.

Eleven months after the Grenfell fire, when this announcement was made, only 7 out of over 300 tower blocks had been re-clad. On a third of the 158 social housing blocks deemed to be in danger, work had not even started. People who were initially told they could move out of dangerous buildings have been denied the opportunity to do so. On private blocks, leaseholders have been told to fund the works themselves – which they cannot afford – or continue to live in a fire-trap. Leaseholders in these blocks often have trouble meeting even their normal heating bills, and many go cold each winter. Nothing had been done, or offered, for people in danger in flammable office blocks, hotels, or other workplaces, or in schools or hospitals.

Then, after months of refusing urgent requests from local authorities, the government promised to fully fund re-cladding costs for social housing, estimated at £400 million, to be taken from housing budgets. Yet BBC research in December 2017 found that the cost of planned post-Grenfell fire safety measures for councils and housing associations alone had already reached at least £600m, a figure said to be likely to be a considerable underestimate. Safety from fire requires both non-combustible exteriors and safe windows, doors, compartmentalisation, and sprinklers. Shelter cites one social landlord that originally estimated £2 million to replace cladding but found it cost £18 million in the end. Meanwhile MHCLG handed back £817 million to the Treasury in unspent cash, money also originally earmarked for housing.

The government must now fulfill its promise of June 2017: “We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.” Costs must be met in full, and without delay.

Moreover, the health and safety of residents must not be sacrificed during the process that the government now promises to fund.

Cold, like fire, kills. Even in a normal year, thousands die each year when they cannot heat their homes. Residents in many blocks already going through re-cladding know that when cladding is off in the winter, uninsulated flats are places of constant cold, condensation, damp and mould, and astronomical bills. Works can go on for months, with families constantly ill. Some are scheduled for nearly two years.

It is difficult for residents to legally enforce their human rights to decent housing. Nevertheless, landlords have a duty of care to the residents of their properties. The government must ensure that this duty is fulfilled, and for social housing must provide the necessary funds.

On 16 May the Prime Minister accepted that paying for re-cladding works “must not undermine” housing providers’ “ability to do important maintenance and repair work”. Similarly, paying for residents to keep safe and warm until the works are completed must not undermine local budgets — either housing budgets, or already devastated budgets for health and social care.

In the light of the appalling history of residents not being listened to, of promises being broken, and work necessary for health and/or safety being delayed, done badly, or not done at all, we believe it is essential to establish some principles for how the new funding will be implemented in practice.

For social housing, the government must “fully fund” replacement of all flammable cladding and insulation, and other necessary fire safety measures, regardless of the £400 million estimated total. No housing provider must be turned away. Both cladding and insulation components must be non-combustible.

For private housing, central government must cover the initial costs, and then seek to recover costs from landlords, developers and contractors. Student residences must also be covered.

All residents should be guaranteed that they will not pay more for using extra energy over the winter. Payments for extra costs should be paid direct to residents, and should be made in time to cover the bills or prepayment meter costs when needed.
Where cladding/insulation has been removed landlords are still responsible for protecting residents from cold, damp and mould, and other hazards.

Residents forced to live temporarily in blocks which still have flammable cladding should be protected, without cost to themselves, by fire wardens, alarms, and sprinklers. Where it is unsafe for people to remain in their homes, alternative local housing should be offered.
Until cladding and insulation are completely restored, residents should be offered a package of special measures. These measures should include, as required: approved damp and mould treatment; dehumidifiers; safe space heaters; draught-proofing; immediate repairs to faulty or inadequate boilers, heating controls, windows, and vents; enhanced out-of-hours services; hot meals for those who need them; warm and comfortable places to go in the daytime; and facilities to exercise (e.g. free gym/pool use). Again, where homes cannot be made fit for habitation, alternative local housing should be offered.

Consultation must ensure that residents are fully informed about options and cladding is replaced in accordance with their wishes. Residents must be kept informed about progress and timetables. Residents Associations must be supported and must have the opportunity to interrogate any delays or shortfalls and receive answers.

All new developments, and refurbishments, must be effectively monitored and inspected by authorities that are independent, and legally accountable. New and refurbished homes should be safe and well-insulated in practice, not just in theory.

Immediate safe, good, permanent housing must be offered in the area of their choice for Grenfell survivors; no deportations of affected individuals; criminal charges against those responsible for the fire.

To prevent such disasters in the future there must be a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to, and responsibility and accountability must rest with clearly identifiable senior individuals. These principles (recommended in the Hackitt Review), must apply to insulation from cold as well as fire safety.
The standards and practices that led to the Grenfell fire must not go on to cost more lives.

Yours sincerely,

Syed Ahmed, Director, Energy for London
Judith Amanthis, Housing Association Residents Action (HARA)
Cathy Augustine, Women’s Officer, Wantage & Didcot Constituency Labour Party
Molly Ayton, Genesis Residents Association
Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
Ben Beach, Cities Inquiry Group
Daniel Benjamin, Tenant, Salix Homes
Hannah Berry, Co-ordinator, Greater Manchester Housing Action
Sian Berry AM, London Assembly Member, Camden Councillor and co-leader of the Green Party
Miriam Binder, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) Brighton
Paul Blomfield MP, Sheffield Central
Brenda Boardman, Emeritus Fellow with Lower Carbon Futures Programme, University of Oxford
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union (NEU)
Tom Brake MP, Carshalton and Wallington
Peter Brown, NV Buildings Salford Quays Management Limited
John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON
Linda Burnip, Bob Ellard, Paula Peters, Steering Group members, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Ruth Cadbury MP, Brentford & Isleworth
Amy Cameron, Director, 10:10 Climate Action
Jumbo Chan, Councillor, Brent
Alison Clarke, Councillor, Liverpool Knotty Ash
Chris Claridge, Chair, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO)
Frances Clarke, Founder, Tower Blocks UK
Sarah Cleo, Architect, Concrete Action
Ellen Clifford, Inclusion London
Vernon Coaker MP, Gedling
David Collins, Former Chairman of Grenfell Tower Residents’ Compact
Rosie Cooper MP, West Lancashire
Vickie Cooper, Lecturer, The Open University
Kieran Crowe, Secretary, Barnet Trades Union Council
Jon Cruddas MP, Dagenham and Rainham
Alex Cunningham MP, Stockton North
Jim Cunningham MP, Coventry South
Ed Davey MP, Kingston & Surbiton
Durga Davis, South East London Sisters Uncut
Martyn Day MP, Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Michael Deas, London Renters Union
Aysen Dennis, Chair , Wendover Community Tenants and Residents Association; and Fight4theAylesbury
Emma Dent Coad MP, Kensington
Fleur Disney, Community Energy London
Divest London, Campaign, Divest London
Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, Oxford, Personal Capacity
David Drew MP, Stroud
Jack Dromey MP, Birmingham & Erdington
Dr Rowland Dye, Scientist
Dame Louise Ellman MP, Liverpool Riverside
Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt MSc, Coordinator, John Mordaunt Trust. Usersvoice.org
Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director, Biofuelwatch
Craig Farlow, UNITE the Union NEYH (North East, Yorkshire and Humberside)
David Forman, Secretary, Harlow Trades Union Council
Ishmael Francis-Murray, Former Grenfell resident and Film Maker, “Failed by the State”
Mick Gilgunn, Treasurer, Construction Safety Campaign
Roger Godsiff MP, Birmingham Hall Green
John Grayson, Co-chair, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)
Danielle Gregory, Co-founder, Ledbury Action Group
Sally Grey, Treasurer, Bevin Court Tenants and Residents Association
Scarlet Hall, Coal Action Network
Steven Hall, President, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils
Darren Hartley, Chief Executive, TAROE Trust
Revd David Haslam MBE, Methodist Minister
Carol Hayton, Treasurer, Defend Council Housing
Sam Hayward and Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action
Wera Hobhouse MP, Bath
Dr Stuart Hodkinson, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Leeds
Ian Hodson, National President, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)
Zita Holbourne, National Chair, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK
Rachel Hopkins, Councillor, Luton
George Howarth MP, Knowsley
Emma Hughes, Switched On London
Lorraine Inglis, Frack Off London
Claire James, Campaign Against Climate Change
Barry Johnson, Branch Secretary, UNITE NE/406/29
Eva Crossan Jory and Zamzam Ibrahim, Vice Presidents of Welfare, and Society and Citizenship, National Union of Students (NUS)
Paul Kershaw, Chair, London Housing Workers Branch, UNITE the Union
Suzy Killip, Chair, Pembroke Park Residents Association
David King, Co-chair, Peabody Family Voice
Ted Knight, Executive member Croydon TUC; Regional Committee member UNITE Norman Lamb MP, North Norfolk
Adam Lambert, Regional Officer, UNITE the Union
Graeme Langton, Chair, Malus Court Tenants and Residents Association, Salford
Frances Leader, Anti Fracking International
Ellen Lebethe, Chair, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group
Jane Lee, Branch Officer, Greater Manchester Mental Health Branch, UNISON
Sampson Low, Head of Policy, UNISON
Rachel Loudain, Victoria Wharf Residents
Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion
Hannan Majid, Co-Director, Rainbow Collective & Films For Food
Carl Makin, Secretary, Tenants Union UK
Fanny Malinen, Debt Resistance UK
Alec McFadden, Press officer, Salford TUC
Ian McIntyre, Branch Secretary, UNITEthe Union 0742M Branch (Runcorn)
Rob Miguel, National Health and Safety Advisor, UNITE the Union
Mr F Mohamed, Tenant, Chalcots Estate, London
Grahame Morris MP, Easington
Phil Murphy, Former Fire Safety Officer, Greater Manchester, Manchester Sustainable Communities
Tytus Murphy, Reclaim the Power London
Finnian Murtagh, Fossil Free London
Colin Nickless, Housing activist
Rev Paul Nicolson, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty
Steven North, Branch Secretary, Salford City UNISON
Tony O’Brien, Chair , Bermondsey UNITE Construction Branch
Francis O’Connor, blog author/editor, Grenfell Action Group
Saskia O’Hara, Focus E15 Campaign
Uzoamaka Okafor, Chair, Myatts Field North Residents Association and PFI Monitoring Board (MFN-RAMB)
Elizabeth Okpo, Spruce Court Action Group (Salford)
Danielle Paffard, UK Campaigner, 350.org
Robert Palgrave, Treasurer, Hereford Green Party
Steve Parry, Chair, Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition
Mick Patrick, Chair, Harlow Defend Council Housing
Jacky Peacock, CEO, Advice4Renters
Nadine Pfrang, Apartment Owner, Green Quarter, Manchester
Sue Plain, Vice-Chair UNISON National Service Group Executive (personal capacity)
Faisal Rashid MP, Warrington South
Fran Reddington, Leaseholder, Green Quarter, Manchester
Jonathan Reynolds MP, Stalybridge and Hyde
Beverley Reynolds-Logue, Representative, Green Quarter Residents, Manchester
Dereck Roberts, UNITE Retired Members Swansea Area Branch Equalities Officer; Former Local Councillor
Tina Rothery, UK Nanas
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Brighton Kemptown
Rutiparna Saha, Leaseholder, building with type A3 ACM cladding in Bromley
Bridgit Sam-Bailey, Chair, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Jacob Secker, Secretary, Broadwater Farm Residents’ Association
Anne Schuman, Secretary, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Arthur Shaw, Treasurer, Bromley Trades Council
Jan Shortt, General Secretary, National Pensioners Convention
Tulip Siddiq MP, Hampstead and Kilburn
Anthony Simpson, Vice Chair, UNITE SIMA Wales Branch
Gee Sinha, Director, ReSpace Projects
Natasha Sivanandan, Equalities advisor, London
Diane Skidmore, Secretary, Tulse Hill New Community Group
Andy Slaughter MP, Hammersmith
Marilyn Smith, Executive Director, EnAct Energy Action Project
Paul Sng, Director, Velvet Joy Productions
Georgie Stephanou, Spoken word artist (Grenfell Britain), Potent Whisper
Jo Swinson MP, East Dunbartonshire
Franklin Thomas, Northumberland Park Decides
Steve Tombs, Professor of Criminology, The Open University
Steve Turner, Secretary, Chorley and District Trades Council
Anuj Vats, Citiscape resident
Matt Western MP, Warwick & Leamington
David Wilson, President, Lancashire Association of Trades Councils
Chris Williamson MP, Derby North
Gerard Woodhouse, Councillor, Liverpool
Tom Woolley, Architect
Matt Wrack, General Secretary, The Fire Brigades Union (FBU)

The authors of this letter invited signatures from organisations, MPs, and others with relevant positions of influence or expertise. These signatures are above. Also appended are the names of private individuals, who although this letter was not a petition, felt strongly on the issue and have added their names:

Charlotte Aitken, Global Administrator, ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation
Deniz Akdogan, Senior Section Assistant, ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation
Fraser Anderson, Unite Member
Andrea, Unite Member
Simon Baker, Campaigner
James Bartholomeusz
Peter Bell
Steve Bennett, Shop steward, Unite the Union
David Bettles, Facilities Manager, ITF
Peter Billington, Secretary, Lancashire Association of Trades Councils
Alyssa Bougie, Development Assistant, EnAct Energy Action Project
Danielle Butler, Researcher
Kat Calderon, Writer/Photographer
Louise Calton, Unite Member
Patrick J Casey, Labour Activist
Ester Cervero, Unite Member
Ana Coric, Social Media Coordinator, The ENERGY ACTION Project
E.D. Crum
Damian Donnelly
Elizabeth, Fuel Poverty Action member
Emmaluna, Independent Community Support Volunteer
Julia Emmerson
Jodi Evans
Mariëlle Feenstra, PhD researcher gender and energy poverty
Victor Figueroa
Claudia Firth
Fozia, Community activist
Emilie Francois
John H Grigg
Ameen Hadi, Treasurer, Salford City Unison
Ali Howes, Our Public Transport programme
William Jarrett, Unite activist, Unite NE/408/26
Astrid Gabel Jeary, Claims Handler, ITF
Patricia jockins, Unite Member
L Johns, Unite Member
Audrey King
Steve Kingsnorth, Mechanical Engineer – Steel Industry
Carole Lakomski
Bahir Laattoe, member of NEU and Minutes Secretary of Barnet TUC
Peter Lazenby, Unite Community member
Helen Le Fleming, Event Manager, Unite The Union
Steve Leggett
Chris Mason-Ryan, Trade Union Member and Delegate on the National Pensioners Convention
Denise Morgan, HR Manager, ITF
Michael Odriscoll
Christopher O’Connor, Shop Steward, UKDCA
Grace Omer-McWalter, Political Engagement Officer, Fire Brigades Union
Roger Paul, Unite Community Member
Stewart Pearson, Retired, County Council
Dave Postles, Unite Community member
Brian Rayner
Scott Reeve
Pam Remon
Susie Rundle, Admin, ITF
SANDRA, Citizen
Sean Sayer, ITF
Anne Schuman, Secretary, Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum
Anthony Simpson, CBM Tech
Sandra Smith
Kieran Stoneley, Union Activist, Unite the Union
Anita Sturdy, Concerned member of public
Gavin Sumpter, Systems Analyst
Andrew Sutherland, Tenant
Steve Tombs, Professor of Criminology
Evelin Tomson
Pilgrim Tucker, Community Organiser and Campaigner
Nichole Tugwell, Human being, mother, daughter, sister, teacher
Jimmy Tyson
Carmen Vazquez
Mr Derek Ware, Unite member
Andrew Wastling, Homeless Support Worker, Drug & Alcohol Abstinence Project
Dean Weston
Lynn Whittaker
Jane Williamson
Lillian Winter
Lisa Wormsley, Photographer, Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle
Neil Wynne, Electrical Manager
Steve Yandell, An individual citizen

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