Grenfell: Ministers can and must regulate to protect social tenants

Published: by Deborah Garvie

Today marks 21 long months since the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower – the biggest housing tragedy in our history.

Yet still, we await the government’s new deal on social housing. It’s been seven months since they acknowledged there was a powerful case for strengthening regulation, to make sure it focuses not just on the governance and financial viability of housing associations, but also on how residents are treated and the level of service they should expect.

12 months after the fire, the Prime Minister said she understood how important it was that lessons were learned and that she wouldn’t tolerate unnecessary foot-dragging. The Secretary of State for Housing said the government would deliver the meaningful, lasting change needed by residents.

As the second anniversary of the fire rapidly approaches, it’s high time for change to come.

All of us who care that rented homes throughout our country are safe and well-managed must now stand with the Grenfell bereaved, survivors and residents. But they don’t want to be remembered for the horror of the inferno, or the homelessness and trauma they’ve had to deal with since.

They want to be remembered for the positive changes they’ve achieved.

But, with the police announcing last week that no charges are likely to be brought for another two years, survivors are frustrated and disheartened. We must let them know they are not forgotten nor alone.

It’s time for ministers to act to protect residents

At Shelter, we support the call of Grenfell United for a radical shake-up in the way social housing is regulated. The millions of people who rent homes owned by a council or housing association need a strong regulator which is solely focused on protecting their health, safety, and well-being.

This is not the first time that government has needed to step in to protect consumers after perceived regulatory failing led to deaths, scandals and a loss of faith:

  • Following the 2007/8 financial crisis, the government decided that the prudential regulation of banks must be separated from protection of consumers. The Financial Conduct Authority was designed to make sure people using banking and insurance products get a fair deal.
  • Following a series of high-profile food deaths, the government separated the regulation of the food industry to set up the Food Standards Agency, ensuring people can trust that the food they buy is safe and decent. The Food Standards Agency works with local enforcement officers to ensure standards are met.

If our food and financial service suppliers have regulators focused on protecting us from their failings, why can’t social landlords? Is it because people who pay to rent their homes matter less?

We can all demand the change we need

72 people, including 18 children, are confirmed to have died in the most horrifically painful of circumstances. And hundreds of survivors have had to deal with not only the loss of their home and neighbours, but in most cases, all their possessions.

Many in the neighbourhood have been so traumatised by what they witnessed – hearing children screaming for help at windows and through phones – [that they needed to move away](http://been so traumatised by what they witnessed). It was reported earlier this week that many children affected by the fire still need support to deal with their trauma.

I’ll never forget one mother who we advised. She told us how her son, who had seen people trapped, asked: ‘Mummy, does that mean if anything bad ever happens to us, no one will help?’.

We urge ministers to consider the testimony (part 2 at 1:57:00) of Hanan Wahabi. Along with Shelter Commissioner Ed Daffarn, Hanan was a member of the Grenfell Action Group which complained about fire safety. She and her family escaped the fire, but were helpless while her brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephews, including eight-year-old Mehdi, perished.

Hanan wants their deaths not to have been in vain, but a catalyst for positive change.

We must keep Mehdi, all those who were lost in the fire, and the many more who are living with the trauma of that night and fighting for justice, forever in our hearts.

After 21 long, relentless months, we’re calling for people to join us in backing Grenfell United. We are demanding the government creates a tough new housing regulator, focused on listening to the concerns of all residents, and setting – and rigorously enforcing – strict consumer standards.

We won’t accept anything less.

Please sign and share the petition.