05/07/2017 07:54 BST

Most Grenfell Tower Survivors Still In Hotels Three Weeks After Disaster

The majority of Grenfell Tower survivors remain in hotels three weeks after the deadly blaze as the Government attempts to find them suitable accommodation.

Just nine households hoping to be moved out of emergency accommodation have accepted offers for more permanent living arrangements, Grenfell Response Team (GRT) said. 

Some 139 offers had been made following 158 housing needs assessments, on the eve of the three-week deadline the Government set itself for offering housing to all of those displaced by the blaze.

GRT said every household that wanted to move from emergency accommodation had been made offers in Kensington and Chelsea or neighbouring boroughs, while 19 families were contacted and had either refused assistance or were abroad.

This was for a range of reasons, including some who were looking after relatives in hospital, and the response team was "ready to provide them with accommodation when they were ready". 

Campaigners and residents claim little headway has been made, with some survivors reportedly being offered new accommodation with rent up to triple the amount they paid before.

Many are said to have been offered properties that are either out of the borough, too expensive or on a one-year contract.

One resident reported being shown a two-bed property when they required a three-bed, others had been offered places in high-rises, and another survivor was said to have been offered permanent accommodation with the caveat that no guests could stay overnight.

GRT has said rent will be suspended for one year and thereafter will be of a "similar scale to a council house social rent", while survivors should feel under no pressure to take up the first offers.

Pilgrim Tucker, a campaigner working with Grenfell Tower families, told the Press Association: "Their concern is they are not being talked to properly, just being presented with an offer.

"People are being texted saying 'here is your offer, it is rent free for a year and then it is £400 a week' - that is triple what they are paying before."

She said the example of tripled rent had come from one specific survivor from the tower. It is not clear how many others had been offered similar deals.

Jamal Williams, a resident from a block nearby which has also been evacuated, said he had spoken to survivors being offered homes in different boroughs.

"I spoke to one woman who has been offered a place in Harlesden.

"The concern really is that residents are not happy about the tenancy agreements - it is not clear enough.

"There have been some that are being offered ones where they will be put for a year.

"The concern is what it will be afterwards. I think people are looking for a lifetime tenancy arrangement."

A spokesman for the North Kensington Law Centre called on the Government to ensure messages were being communicated clearly on the ground to prevent survivors experiencing "additional stress".

He said: "Three weeks on from the Grenfell Fire disaster, many of our clients are still staying in short-term, temporary accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs.

"The Government have made promises about putting the survivors in temporary and permanent housing, which is welcome.

"However, there are unanswered questions about whether those residents will have to pay more rent than they did previously, and whether their new tenancies, both temporary and permanent, will guarantee them the same rights and protections they had before."

Most of the 160 households evacuated from the "finger blocks" surrounding the tower - Testerton Walk, Hurstway Walk and Barandon Walk - are still in emergency accommodation, a Kensington and Chelsea council spokesman said.

A number of households had gone back to their homes, he said, while some families were returning in the day to cook meals and spending the nights in hotels.

Repair work on a broken boiler affecting the properties was due to be completed by Wednesday, he added.

It comes as the Lord Chancellor stepped in to defend the chairman of the public inquiry into the disaster, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, amid political pressure for him to quit.

David Lidington said he had "complete confidence" in the retired judge, after shadow fire minister Chris Williamson and Labour MP Emma Dent Coad called for him to step down amid concerns from survivors. 

It was also revealed that cladding from 190 high-rise buildings in 51 local authority areas have failed combustibility tests conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Every sample sent in has been found to be combustible, continuing the 100% failure rate, the DCLG said.

Buildings at three NHS trusts in England - North Middlesex University Hospitals, King's College Hospital and Sheffield Children's NHS Trusts - have also failed the tests, health officials said.

Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of Southwark Council and spokeswoman for the Grenfell Response Team, would not be drawn on whether displaced residents should be given a guarantee that their rents will not rise in their new accommodation.

She told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I would recommend to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that they recognise the commitment they have to these people and that is a very, very long term decision." 

Asked if it would be reasonable for the rents not to increase, she said: "I think that it would be perfectly reasonable for these people to be financially, and emotionally and socially supported for the rest of their lives."

Ms Kelly denied residents had been told that they would not pay rent for a year before paying a greater fee in the future.

Cabinet minister Chris Grayling would not put a deadline on finding permanent accommodation for the Grenfell survivors.

"It's going to depend on the individual families. They are taking decisions about their own circumstances and we want to work with them to make sure those decisions are the right ones for them," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Transport Secretary added: "No local authority in London simply has a big block of vacant permanent accommodation available, so what we are trying to do is make sure that people are properly housed in the meantime and those permanent solutions are available as quickly as possible. 

"All of us feel desperately, desperately sorry and concerned for those who have been through such a traumatic event and everyone wants to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible."