Kensington and Chelsea RBC has been “too slow” in rehousing the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, despite a “huge effort” from the council’s housing department, according to the independent taskforce’s second report.
Citing an “urgent” requirement to attend to households in emergency accommodation, the taskforce said the council needed to do more to recognise complex needs and requirements.
The taskforce also reported the “gulf in trust” between the community and the council remained a “major impediment” to progress.
“We recognise considerable effort has been made by the council to build a better working relationship with many of the main groups within the affected community,” the taskforce said in its latest report.
While some progress had been made since the first report was published last November, this latest update said: “There remain however many areas where we feel that more could be done and faster by the council, or they have not acted on our advice as we might have wished.
“Overall, we continue to see a lack of consistency in the quality of service to the bereaved, survivors and wider community. It is therefore our considered view that [the council] has made only limited progress over the period.”
While the report noted “the numbers of those temporarily and permanently re-housed is going up” it said “the pace has been too slow”. It added: “We have been concerned about the alignment between the housing on offer and peoples expressed preferences or aspirations. There is evidence that [the council] has adapted policies in response to needs and preferences where they think that they can and are learning lessons as they continue to develop those policies in light of the reality of individual needs.”
The taskforce said in its report the council “now has a good deal of granular detail which should enable it to more effectively rehouse people” but added: “However, it is our view that this has been too slow in coming and this more personalised approach should have been afforded much greater priority from the outset.”
In its first report, the taskforce said community trust had been “eroded to such an extent that to recover from this will require a major shift in the members’ awareness and focus.”
The taskforce reported conversations with many members of the local community in addition to council employees and reported that problems surrounding communication have continued with a slight improvement.
“Complaints have reduced but not disappeared,” the latest report said. “A variety of training has been provided to frontline officers and councillors but we still hear of unsympathetic or inappropriate responses from council staff and councillors.”
One voluntary sector organisation was anonymously quoted saying: “It’s hard to get our views across, they don’t always listen to us, and we’re not sure they pick up on the information about what our communities need.”
The report recommends the council listen more to local organisations such as residents’ associations to help improve engagement.
Responding to the report Kensington & Chelsea RBC leader Elizabeth Campbell (Con) said: “Firstly, what is clear from this report is that our pace, especially in rehousing families, is not quick enough. So we will be addressing that issue first and foremost.”
She said the taskforce was “right to point out clear areas for improvement” and added: “We accept that more can be done, and more we will do. We have to make sure that the resources and finances we have allocated make a difference to the individuals and families we want to help.”
On the issue of trust, she said that rebuilding that “takes time and trust takes action” while getting the council to be “more consistent” in its approaches is “a difficult balance and one that officers are getting to grips with as we seek to drive through some of the changes we want in the council’s overall culture and the way we interact with our communities.”
Confusion over number households that need new homes
Housing minister Dominic Raab told the communities and local government committee on 12 March Kensington & Chelsea RBC “must be guided” by the Grenfell survivors, noting that 30% of households had still not accepted temporary or permanent accommodation.
Mr Raab said: “[There are] 208 households that require housing - of which, 59 have accepted temporary accommodation and 60 are in permanent accommodation.” That is up 16 since 25 January.
Responding to the taskforce’s findings in Parliament on Thursday, Emma Dent Coad (Lab), shadow cabinet office minister, said she was “confused” by the government’s statistics on rehoused residents from the Grenfell estate and walkway.
Ms Dent Coad said: “In November, we were told there were 209 displaced households, but I was given the true figures from the council’s housing department which was 376.
“There’s just a total mismatch, originally we were told displaced people made homeless was 863 so these figures have been washed, let’s just put it like that.”
Housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid responded saying Ms Dent Coad’s statistics referred to the wider estate and not the Grenfell tower and walkway alone.