Vulnerable residents at risk of being ‘left behind’ in fires, councillors warn

Cllr Sue Lukes (L), democratic services officer Ola Adeoye (C), Cllr Michael O’Sullivan (R).

Councillors responsible for examining Islington’s housing have issued stark warnings about the risks faced by vulnerable residents when fires break out.

Panellists on a 19 March scrutiny committee recommended the Town Hall examines the lack of personalised emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for elderly or disabled residents as a “matter of urgency”.

The committee advised the council to co-produce PEEPs with residents, but the response was that such plans were not “feasible” as a result of the lack of staff in general needs housing.

Cllr Michael O’Sullivan (Lab, Finsbury Park), chair of the housing scrutiny committee, said: “The response is that the council don’t see fit to have emergency evacuation plans. I’m a bit concerned about this.

“What the council seems to be saying here is that they’re not concerned that there’s vulnerable people in the building, so when it comes to an evacuation plan, how do you know if these people are there and how will the fire brigade know which people to prioritise?

“In these times, people don’t often know their neighbours but keep to themselves, so elderly people and others could be in a position in the event of an evacuation that they are left behind.”

According to the council, PEEPs are common in most workplaces buildings and sheltered accommodation facilities, but rely on members of staff being present to carry out the plan.

It is understood the Town Hall has received guidance that the co-production of PEEPs is “an unrealistic expectation on landlords”, as well as costing a “significant” amount of money.

Resident observer Rose-Marie McDonald added: “There have been several discussions with the disability committee and members of the council discussing this very same issue.

“One lady in a wheelchair said that her home still hadn’t been adapted, so she feels her life is at risk if there is a fire.

“We also discussed whether or not the caretakers on estates would have a list of vulnerable tenants and make it known ot the fire brigade and police.

“They said it was too difficult and people change all the time – in other words, it’s not worth it.

“There are particular worries for people who are frail and elderly who are living in high-rise flats and when you are thinking of vacating, you’re not thinking of the lady who is bedbound on the 12th floor.”

Council officer Maxine Holdsworth told the committee that the Town Hall is currently trialling the installation of premises information boxes (PIBs) for use by the London Fire Brigade on arrival at an emergency.

However, while a building’s layout could be usefully stored in a PIB, Holdsworth said there are “issues” with using them to store a resident’s information.

Holdsworth added: “There is certainly more that we could do. We need to take an approach that looks at higher risk buildings.

“We are doing building layout plans for the fire brigade, and looking at the tall buildings that have complex layouts. What’s difficult to achieve and keep up to date is a PEEP for every disabled resident.

“What we can do is have a vulnerable tenant register for all of our complex buildings, so that that’s something that in the event of a fire we have as part of our emergency plans.

“It’s not the same as a PEEP, but will tell you that on the 12th floor someone is registered blind, and allow the fire brigade to give that assistance.”

Holdsworth went on to point out that the council does keep PEEPs for those residents in supported housing.

However, McDonald argued that supported housing is “competely different, as it’s the people who don’t get the support who are in need of support”.