Army of staff working to find homes for Grenfell survivors, says council chief

An army of staff is working around the clock to find new properties for Grenfell Tower survivors, the leader of the local council said, amid criticism that many remained homeless six months on.

Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said 300 homes will have been bought by Christmas to ensure that when families were ready to move on "we will be ready for them".

But she acknowledged there was a "lack of trust" in the council among survivors and it was "perfectly understandable" that some had refused initial offers of accommodation because they thought it would push them down the list of people trying to find a permanent home.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded action from the Prime Minister after it emerged more than 100 households that escaped the blaze were facing Christmas in hotels.

Only 42 families from the tower have moved in to permanent new homes since the fire on June 14, a pace described by the Labour leader as a "disgrace".

This week will see survivors and bereaved families mark the six-month anniversary of the tragedy, while the public inquiry into its causes will hold two hearings.

Elizabeth Campbell  defended the council's actions (Victoria Jones/PA)
Elizabeth Campbell defended the council's actions (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Corbyn said in a statement: "Six months on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government is failing to learn its lessons and, more importantly, failing the survivors.

"It is a disgrace that the majority of Grenfell residents have still not been given homes and that tower blocks across our country have still not been made safe. We need answers from the Government and we need action."

Ms Campbell defended the council's actions to respond to the situation: "We have taken on about 300 extra people - housing officers and lawyers and key workers and we have got wraparound care.

"We have got an army of people out there working 24 hours a day, seven days a week because we actually really do care, we do want to get people rehoused. We have been buying homes in this part of London at a rate of about two a day."

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She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will have 300 homes very shortly so everyone will have a choice, and then I guess it's about relationships.

"It's about individual-by-individual, family-by-family, figuring out what they want and trying to get them into a position where they feel ready to accept and ready to move on. And when they are ready to move on, we are ready for them."

She said that "every family" in a hotel had been offered "alternative accommodation" but many had refused "for perfectly understandable reasons".

Some felt that "if we take up an offer, we're out of a hotel, we will go down the list of priorities, we will be forgotten about - that's the lack of trust".

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The judge-led probe into the disaster was thrust back into the spotlight over the weekend as Labour backed an overhaul of its format and Britain's official human rights watchdog expressed misgivings.

Labour highlighted a petition launched by bereaved families and survivors in recent weeks, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to install an expert panel from a diverse range of backgrounds to sit alongside inquiry head Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who has been accused of being out of touch.

On Monday the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced its own investigation into the blaze, examining whether authorities failed in their legal obligations to residents.

"The Grenfell fire has become a symbol of the inequality that exists in our country." #FollowingGrenfell will look into the potential human rights and equality breaches.

-- EHRC (@EHRC) December 11, 2017

Its decision to carry out an independent review will be interpreted by some as a vote of no confidence in certain aspects of Sir Martin's work.

Despite the watchdog's eagerness to play down a rift, one arm of the project will look at whether the Government adequately investigated the fire, including through the public inquiry.

Sir Martin's inquiry is holding procedural hearings on Monday and Tuesday at the Holborn Bars in central London.

The Grenfell Tower National Memorial Service will then be held at St Paul's Cathedral on Thursday, attended by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

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