It’s been one week since the devastating Grenfell Tower fire shook North Kensington. But some victims of the blaze may never be identified due to subletting, believes a lawyer.
Some victims of last week’s fire were living in flats that were sublet without permission by the original tenants, according to the local North Kensington Law Centre.
At the time of writing, Scotland Yard has confirmed that the death toll stands at 79.
Some of those that survived the blaze were reluctant to seek help from the authorities, as they feared being detained over their unresolved immigration status, says Victoria Vasey, the Director of North Kensington Law Centre.
A further problem for survivors, she explains, is that those sent by the Kensington and Chelsea authority to hotels for emergency accommodation last week were all informed that they would have to leave by Tuesday (yesterday).
“They were told last Friday and spent all weekend stressing because there was no one available to answer questions,” Vasey states. “It affected scores of people, but they have now been reassured and allowed to stay where they are.”
Vasey also adds that the problem of identifying victims was being complicated by the fact that “a lot of people were irregular in their tenancies and some were subletting. Some of them were illegal sub-tenancies”.
Those who died in the fire may not be those recorded as the official tenants of the flats.
Vasey welcomes the large number of lawyers who have volunteered to help provide free legal advice.
Daily legal clinics have been set up to advise displaced tenants on housing problems.
“Many people were concerned about their immigration status,” Vasey reports. “Some were in the middle of applications [to be naturalised] and have lost all their papers. We are offering support to them.”
She continues: “Some of the people feel they can’t seek help because they are terrified they will be carted off to immigration detention. It’s a big problem. We are trying to get the word out to get them to come and see us. We can give them advice on the basis of client/lawyer confidentiality.”
While survivors may, at a later stage, consider bringing compensation claims or seek other ways to obtain justice, Vasey claims that families are at the moment focused on more immediate needs.
One issue that may become more important once the inquiry is launched is whether the cladding added to the exterior of Grenfell Tower was primarily for insulation purposes, or because it made the building more attractive. There have been allegations that the tower had been renovated to attract more upmarket tenants.
Vasey wrote to the Home Office on Friday, calling on officials to provide emergency help for those who have lost all of their documents.
“There has been nothing to suggest there will be a waiver of the fees,” she says. “Which would be important given the circumstances they are left in.”