Many readers may be aware that this is a major issue, but I am going to do my utmost to condense its main aspects into this blog. Obviously different people will have a varying spectrum of knowledge on this subject, but I am writing here from the perspective that many might be unaware or have limited knowledge of the issues involved.

What is a PEEP?

PEEP stands for a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan. Its purpose is to provide people who are unable to self evacuate unaided from a building, or to a place of safety, with a plan to help ensure that they can.

Not everyone identifies as disabled or with a health condition, and whether they do or not, some people may not realise that PEEPs exist, or that they could benefit from one. I know I didn’t.

Some might need a PEEP for a temporary period, e.g. while they have a broken leg, whilst others need them long-term, and the PEEP may need to be updated as needs change. I would argue it is in everyone’s interests for PEEPs to be readily available, not only as a principle, but also because nobody has any idea if they might need one, either on a short-term basis or permanently. I have not been disabled for most of my life, for instance.

Brief Background

It is utterly shameful, to put it politely, to think that 42% of those who lost their lives in Grenfell were disabled. None had PEEPs, and it seems to me there has been no will by Government or those who make such decisions, to even try and increase access to PEEPs.

Four years on, and only now has the Government recently opened a consultation. This has been due to what has (and continues to) come out of the Grenfell Inquiry. It isn’t an easy listen or read. More poignantly, bereaved families, survivors and others have fought the injustice throughout, including going to court over this major issue. That should never be forgotten. We would not be having this consultation otherwise, even though it has taken far too long.
It should also be noted that PEEPs are nothing new: they have existed for decades. Although I think it is clear that current law legislates for them, arguably this has been and is being continuously contested by various parties. Due to the current situation, as described below, I will not focus on that here, for reasons that will hopefully become clear.

My Experience

When major fire safety issues were found in our building, our evacuation procedure changed from ‘stay put’ to simultaneous evacuation. It was assumed that all of us could self evacuate. Those who could not were not even considered, let alone acknowledged. Maybe it did not occur to those involved in making this decision? So installing a Gerda box (secure and fireproof for the storage of PEEPs) turned out to be pure tokenism. Initially it gave me hope, thinking that finally we were going to have PEEPs stored where the Fire and Rescue Service could easily access the necessary information. I had been refused a PEEP countless times and advised that I needed to ‘stay put.’ That because I am disabled I would have to wait to be rescued, while my neighbours, who can self evacuate, should do so. But I had to wait.

Can you imagine being told that? Many disabled people will have been told this already. I know people who have. Sadly, more people have a similar experience than a positive one. Something else to have to fight for on top of everything else, when some of us are also at risk of losing our homes and having no choice but to declare bankruptcy, due to the huge fire safety remediation work that would be necessary, and other associated costs. The failure to include the cost of complying with a PEEP assessment in the service charge shared by everyone is discussed later.

However, a company kindly undertook a PEEP assessment with me, without charging a fee. As a wheelchair user with complex needs, including support to leave their flat, the PEEP advised a specific model evac chair that I would need to safely evacuate with a ‘buddy.’ In my situation, my ‘buddies’ include: my partner, my Personal Assistants and neighbours. If nobody is with me and there is a fire, I can contact neighbours via text. I keep my phone near me at all times in case.

This advice was not accepted by my managing agent, management company or the Fire and Rescue Service. There was not even a discussion, just people in offices or zoom meetings, making this decision without me. Not a trivial decision, but one that could, in the event of a fire, leave me injured or worse. This is about all the lives unnecessarily lost already, about my life and anyone’s who can’t self evacuate. It is about all those people who have lost loved ones and those who care about disabled peoples’ safety. It is yet another example of disabled people not being classed as equal. Classic ableism.

If able bodied people were told that they had to be rescued and only disabled people could evacuate first, do you think that would be accepted? Do any of these people making such decisions wonder what it would be like for them or someone they care about to be in this situation? Physically trapped and in my case, as in many others, in a building that was built unsafe. This obviously increases the risk of a fire and therefore of injury and death.
If the building had been built to higher safety standards, then I feel that the risk of living on the third floor is a reasonable one for me. Others may disagree with that, but then to ‘stay put,’ in my experience, either before I became disabled or after, was standard and I wasn’t aware of other options. Now the situation is very different and yet I, like so many others, are plainly refused.

Such a decision made me feel extremely upset, angry and as previously explained, that my life and disabled peoples’ lives aren’t viewed as equal. We know this already, but even in such serious situations, it is often the case. Surely being rescued should be a last resort, not your only option. For some people there might not be an alternative or one they feel comfortable with, and/or some may prefer to be rescued. For me and so many others, that is not the case.

There should be financial support for aids and adaptations to enable evacuation. As a reasonable adjustment, disabled people should not legally have to pay and the cost should not be added to service charges. It should apply generally, let alone during the current building safety crisis. Having huge bills, or expecting them, is a recipe for disaster and can lead to hate crime. I have known it to happen: disabled people being targeted by those worried about their precarious financial situations. This can and does happen, whether people are impacted by the building safety crisis or not.

This has not been my experience, although my management company made me aware that if my PEEP was accepted, that it would be added onto the service charge. The recommended equipment tends to not be viewed in the same way as installing a new door, a new light, or having car lifts repaired. Not everyone uses everything that is included in the service charge, but evacuation aids are seen differently from other things included. Up to a point, I understand, as it should be classed as a reasonable adjustment, but anger should not be directed at the disabled person. There should be a central fund that people can apply to, and PEEPs need to be offered as standard. In some places they are, in Oldham, for example: but this is not typical by any means. If the Government is really serious about reducing fire risk to a vulnerable group of people, then they need to provide adequate funding. Local councils cannot be squeezed even more.

In addition, PEEPs should be made available to anyone who cannot self evacuate, regardless of building height. Currently the Government are focussing on buildings 18 metres and above. PEEPs should be person-centred and not building-centred. Fire does not discriminate in terms of height. If you need help to evacuate, then you need help, however high the building you live in.

So after a lot of thought and in desperation, I decided to crowd-fund for the evac chair. Within 3 days, mainly people I didn’t know kindly donated enough to reach the target amount. A couple of days after, the evac chair was delivered and my buddies have been trained how to use it.

I’m only one person impacted, but not everyone can crowd-fund for equipment – and nobody should have to, under any circumstances. It is shameful.

My fear was that without a plan there was a risk of injury or death, either to myself or others trying to help me, who would not feel able to leave me behind. This is not just about me, but about people who care about me. Now I have a plan and appropriate equipment, that reduces the risk to all. Several months back we nearly had an electrical fire, which made the potential situation even more real to me. We did not have to evacuate, but it made me even more aware of the fact that I could not even if I needed to. This petrified me and the feeling has stayed with me. Hopefully there will not be a fire, but if there is, I am as prepared as I can be though my management agent still has not accepted my PEEP, or acknowledged that I need one.

Who are Claddag?

Claddag is a Direct Action Group for Disabled Leaseholders and those with health conditions, impacted by the building safety crisis/cladding scandal. I am one of the co-founders. I was painfully aware that disabled people were not being considered or included in any part of the response to the building safety crisis and not only wanted this to change, but believed it had to. Another disabled activist, Sarah Rennie, was trying to do the same and although we’ve never met in person, via social media we founded Claddag.

Obviously PEEPs impact a much wider range of people than those at whom Claddag is primarily aimed. It affects people in different circumstances, across housing tenures, whether impacted by the building safety crisis or not. So part of our campaign is focusing on PEEPs and this consultation is extremely important. It will inform legislation that is vital to those who need evacuation plans.

Further to our open letter, we are making progress!

The Government has been forced to think again on whether disabled people have the right to an evacuation plan within blocks of flats. Here is a recent Channel 4 report highlighting the dangerous situation disabled people are in, and the refusals of landlords/agents to agree evacuation plans.

Call to Action – How to Help?

The consultation on evacuation plans (known as ‘PEEPs’) has a short window for response. We know there will be a lot of opposition and so it is vital that disabled individuals, allies, MPs, DDPOs and charities make their voices heard. We need as many responses as possible.

We are simply asking for:
• PEEPs for every disabled resident
• PEEPs must be the responsibility of the Responsible Person
• PEEPs must be clear and accessible
• PEEPs must be secure and up-to-date

We are happy to distribute our draft response to anyone who might find it useful. If so, please contact us. Our contact details are on our website (link included below). The deadline to respond is 19 July 2021. Examples of lived experience is invaluable, so please encourage the groups and individuals you know and/or meet to respond.

Some disabled people are struggling to get the consultation in alternative formats, so please let us know if you hear anything concerning that, which we should raise with the Home Office.

Any questions please let us know. It would be very, very helpful to know if you do submit a response.

More materials/stories about the impact of the building safety crisis can be found on Claddag’s website (https://claddag.org/).

URGENT

PLEASE FILL OUT THE CONSULTATION (LINK BELOW) BY July 19th ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A TENANT and/or LIVING IN A BLOCK OF FLATS, and/or A TENANT and/or LIVING WITH A DISABILITY!

The consultation on evacuation plans (known as ‘PEEPs’) has a short window for response. We know there will be a lot of opposition and so it is vital that disabled individuals, allies, MPs, DDPOs and charities make their voices heard. We need as many responses as possible.

We are simply asking for:
• PEEPs for every disabled resident
• PEEPs must be the responsibility of the Responsible Person
• PEEPs must be clear and accessible
• PEEPs must be secure and up-to-date

We are happy to distribute our draft response to anyone who might find it useful. If so, please contact us. Our contact details are on our website (link included below). The deadline to respond is 19 July 2021. Examples of lived experience is invaluable, so please encourage the groups and individuals you know and/or meet to respond.

Some disabled people are struggling to get the consultation in alternative formats, so please let us know if you hear anything concerning that, which we should raise with the Home Office.

Any questions please let us know. It would be very, very helpful to know if you do submit a response.

More materials/stories about the impact of the building safety crisis can be found on Claddag’s website (https://claddag.org/).

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5 Comments

  1. Tony Jewell says:

    This is very interesting and as I Chair a Residents Management Board and will pursue this issue. Can you give an idea on costs in your specific case and any general information on the range of costs of evacuation equipment.

    1. Thank you for your interest Tony. Cost is obviously an important issue. I’ve attached a link to one of our Mythbusting series (5 in total) from Claddag’s website. This one includes some of the varied equipment that might be required and that in many cases no cost is necessarily required. Regarding equipment for people like myself which includes physical disability, the range of equipment is also wide and not everyone would either need an evac chair or the model, as I have complex needs. Within our response we do suggest a central fund that could be accessed or if current ones, like Disabled Facilities Grants or Assistive Technology Teams for example could widen their criteria to cover evacuation equipment. As it varies between peoples’ needs and their situation, personally I don’t find it helpful to discuss one situation if that makes sense. Some services dependent on where people live might provide some equipment or know where best to access what’s required. I hope the link helps:
      https://claddag.org/2021/06/23/mythbusting-peeps-3-you-always-need-a-buddy/

  2. Peter Mayer says:

    Weshould support this campaign

    1. Thank you Peter for your supportive comment. I’ve asked if this is possible within the period of the deadline.

  3. Vera Garth says:

    Excellent article. I like the style of writing here

Comments are closed.

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