One of these days, you the good people of Folkestone & Hythe District are going to get good local government – and you are not going to like it. But while we’ve got what we’ve got, you won’t be surprised to learn the Council once again is, failing in its legal duty to protect its Cllrs, its tenants, and even its visitors.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a legal duty on the council to ensure there is, an adequate means of escape from their buildings for everyone likely to be using the premises.
Those with certain types of disabilities such as:
- Sight impairment
- Mobility impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Cognitive impairment
- A medical condition or injury which might cause them to need assistance to evacuate
will more likely than not need a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEPs). These are a bespoke ‘escape plan’s‘ for individuals who may not be able to reach an ultimate place of safety unaided or within a satisfactory period of time in the event of any emergency.
The key question to ask is “Can this person leave the building unaided in an emergency?” If the answer is No, they need their own evacuation plan, no ifs or buts.
Sometimes the requirement for a PEEP may also be temporary for instance, someone who is using a wheelchair because of a broken leg or someone in the late stages of pregnancy. The PEEP must not rely on the Fire and Rescue Service’s intervention to make the plan work
On 24 May 2023, at the Annual General Meeting held in the Council chamber, apart from a fire door being propped open when it should not have been, it is also known that no PEEP was put in place for a Cllr, when one was most definitely needed. As such, this was discrimination against the individual and a breach of the “anticipatory duty” under the Equality Act 2010.
In the Council’s Fire Safety Policy it states at page 34:
The Council will ensure that all disabled residents and/or employees within buildings requiring a fire risk assessment will have a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) and that this PEEP will be reviewed annually by a competent person. This will be kept in the Fire Safety Log held securely on site and made available to the fire service in the event of an evacuation.
The Civic centre requires a fire risk assessment, as does a lot of the Council’s social housing. All these people who fit the requirements, as above eg sight impairment etc, would need a PEEP by law. But we’ve spoken to disabled tenants who live in Council owned social housing and they do not recall any forms regarding evacuation from the building they live in. Examples of a PEEP form can be found at pages 6 – 13 here
The Fire Safety Policy goes onto say at page 34
Where the Council has been notified that a resident within a building requiring a fire risk assessment is storing oxygen in their home for medical use the organisation will ensure that they have a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) in place and that this PEEP will be reviewed annually by a competent person.
PEEPs apply as much to Council employees, as they do to their disabled tenants in their social housing. We know more than 15 tenants who have oxygen in their homes, yet do NOT have a PEEP in place.
Back in April 2022, legal advice to the Local Government Association suggested Councils could face large legal claims for discrimination unless they put in place personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for disabled tenants, local authorities were warned.
Summarising the legal advice to the LGA, it read:
‘Councils need to consider themselves as being under an anticipatory duty to consider the requirements of their disabled residents without those residents having to ask for special treatment and to make adjustments accordingly.
‘The anticipatory duty means that council landlords will need to anticipate the need for emergency evacuation of disabled persons from their properties and make appropriate provision so as to comply with the Equality Act 2010.
‘Therefore, councils should be aware of their disabled tenants and their families and put in place PEEPs for them.
‘They should accept that there could be successful claims of disability discrimination against them if they fail to make such plans.’
‘Where it is not possible to make a reasonable adjustment so that there is an appropriate PEEP for a particular location, councils may need to seek to move a resident with disabilities to a different property.
Moving along, when the Council are organising or hosting meetings at which outside visitors or members of the public will be attending, they too are responsible for ensuring that all their visitors can be safely evacuated from the building. Wherever possible, meeting organisers should try to ascertain, prior to the commencement of the meeting, whether any of their guests have any special requirements appertaining to accessibility.
So which Council Officers and Cabinet Members are responsible for these failings?
For Social Housing Tenants it would be Coporate Director for Housing, Andy Blaszkowicz, and Chief Officer for Housing, Gill Butler as Officers and Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Rebecca Shoob (Green).
Under Section 5 of the Local Government & Housing Act 1989 which requires the Council to appoint an Officer to act as the Council’s Monitoring Officer. The Act provides that it is the personal duty of the Monitoring Officer to report formally to the Council on any proposal, decision or omission by the Council, which has given rise to, or is likely to, or would, give rise to, the contravention of any enactment, rule of law or statutory code of practice. Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s monitoring officer is Amandeep Khroud.
The very fact PEEPS are not in place for a Cllr, tenants, or visitors is a breach of the anticipatory duty of the Equality Act 2010. As such the Monitoring Officer has also failed in her responsibilities as well, as she should have issued a s5 report.
Council Officers and Cllrs are so they say wedded to the truth, but like other married couples they so often live apart.
The Shepway Vox Team
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