Council landlords could face large legal claims for discrimination unless they put in place personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for disabled tenants, local authorities have been warned.
Legal advice to the Local Government Association (LGA) has suggested that existing case law based on the Equality Act 2010 seemed to place a responsibility on councils to plan for the evacuation of disabled residents by drawing up PEEPs.
Phase one of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people in 2017, called for PEEPs to be made mandatory.
A letter to councils summarising legal advice to the LGA 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.’
The advice continued: ‘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.
‘Accordingly, when allocating housing to new tenants and their families, where there is one or more disabled person in that family, council landlords will have to anticipate and act to address the need to make adjustments in relation to the needs arising from disability/ies at a very early stage and to keep this under specific review.’
The Grenfell inquiry’s first report in November 2019 pointed to a failure to provide the fire service with information on occupants with disabilities.
Chris Waterman, a Parliamentary advisor and expert on PEEPs, said: ‘I’m convinced that PEEPs are essential, as a disproportionate percentage of the people who died in Grenfell were disabled and did not have a PEEP.
‘The cost of PEEPs will be very high in many buildings, but much lower than the cost of avoidable deaths.’