Residents of three blocks next to Grenfell Tower who are living in temporary accommodation fear that they will be forced to return when the estate is refurbished even though many have traumatic memories of the deadly fire.
There is concern among the 161 households from the so-called walkway blocks that new council rehousing guidelines mean they will face a series of restrictions and less secure tenancy terms if they move elsewhere.
Community leaders have accused Kensington and Chelsea council of breaking promises to residents of the Grenfell Tower estate as a result.
A spokesman from North Kensington Law Centre, which has worked closely with many Grenfell families, said they were “deeply concerned about the policy in its current form”.
He said: “Walkways residents will be faced with a difficult choice as to whether they forgo their housing security and some vital tenancy rights or face the trauma of having to return to the estate in the shadow of Grenfell.
“This policy runs the serious risk of failing to address residents’ needs, pressurising them into returning to the estate, potentially at the cost of their wellbeing and that of their children.”
Those who lived in the main tower, where at least 80 people died, and another badly-damaged block, Grenfell Walk, were told soon after the blaze that there would be no restrictions on their opportunities to choose a new council home.
However, people in the three walkway blocks adjoining the main tower – Barandon Walk, Hurstway Walk and Testerton Walk – have had to wait more than four months for news of their options.
A draft rehousing plan for the walkways, published before a council committee meeting on Monday night, says those wishing to move will only be given two chances to accept offers of new homes. If they refuse both, they will lose any priority.
It stipulates that walkway residents will be given a maximum of 900 “points” for the council’s housing list, not enough to automatically place them at the top for other homes. Tenant rehoused by a housing association or another council will not necessarily keep the same security of tenure, thus potentially losing a lifetime lease.
Jennifer Nadel, who stood for the Green party in Kensington in the June election and has worked as a volunteer supporting Grenfell survivors, said it was “utterly inhumane” to penalise the residents.
She said: “It puts tenants in the position of having to choose between their mental and emotional health and their housing rights. Yet again, the council has failed to respond with humanity to this tragedy.”
John Healey, the shadow housing minister, said: “Ministers promised they would do everything they can to support the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. That must include making sure that any residents affected by the fire do not lose out as a result of being rehoused.”
One community leader who has worked with many walkway families said the policy of giving residents just two choices of new homes seemed especially onerous: “Who’s going to monitor if they’ve been given appropriate choices? What if they’re offered a flat on a high floor of a tower block?”
One resident, who asked not to be named, said it was hard to overstate the emotional impact of returning to the estate: “Out of one window you have the investigations team and on the other side you have the tower. And then there’s the emotional impact of the night.”
The resident said the rehousing policy failed to address the needs of locals who might wish to eventually return home, but only once the fire-ravaged tower was covered up or removed.
“For me, the biggest problem is that it pressures people to move back and stipulates what happens if you move away. What it doesn’t say properly is what happens to people who want to move back but not yet.”
Kim Taylor-Smith, the Kensington and Chelsea councillor who leads on housing, said the council would be consulting residents: “It is going through a thorough serious consultation – starting with scrutiny from the public this very evening … [the council] understands that many of these people will also be severely traumatised by what they saw that night”.
“We believe that we have put forward a fair way to help people out of hotels and either back into their own homes, into temporary accommodation, or into a home in a different location.”