Government ‘failing in its duty’ to protect cladding residents

Government ‘failing in its duty’ to protect cladding residents

THE EQUALITY and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) stated that the UK government is ‘breaching fundamental obligations’ to protect the lives of those living in building covered in combustible cladding.

The Guardian reported on the comments from the UK human rights watchdog, which noted that the government is not only ‘flouting human rights’ over the combustible cladding that remains on high rises nationwide, but that it is ‘failing in its duty to protect citizens’ lives’. It also added that the government is ‘breaching fundamental obligations’ to protect citizens’ ‘right to life’, mostly by failing to ‘address the systemic problems’ that led to the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

In addition to the comments, the EHRC has written to the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG) ‘outlining its concerns’ over the continued use of combustible cladding on existing buildings, as well as advising the DHCLG ‘of its responsibilities under human rights laws to protect lives’. So far, the EHRC has ‘yet to receive’ a response from the government, though it was noted that there is currently a consultation into banning combustible cladding.

The commission was ‘concerned’ that the consultation ‘omits any reference’ to the government’s duty to protect lives, ‘under article 2 of the European convention on human rights and schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998’. While additional measures such as wardens and sprinklers have been implemented since Grenfell, the EHRC warned that leaseholders ‘are being held to pay for the costs’ of removal and replacement, and noted that it was ‘concerned’ about this also.

Its consultation response read: ‘This paramount duty requires the state to take appropriate steps within its power to effectively protect the lives of individuals and groups in situations where there is a known real risk to life, or where the authorities ought to have known that. Unfortunately, over a year after the catastrophic loss of more than 70 residents’ lives, many of the very systemic failings that led to the Grenfell Tower fire still exist now, giving rise, in our view, to an ongoing violation of article 2 ECHR/HRA by the state.’

On leaseholder payments, the EHRC stated: ‘Combustible cladding is still present in many other buildings as well, including schools, leisure centres and hospitals. Estimates of the number of buildings affected run into the thousands, with the estimated costs of replacing combustible materials running into many millions of pounds. All those costs stem from the state’s failure to provide a building construction and fire safety system that is fit for purpose.’

A spokesman for the DHCLG said it ‘would consider’ the EHRC’s submission, stating: ‘The cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. Work is now under way on 70% of social housing with unsafe cladding.’