Tower block residents 'still suffering' one year on from fire (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Residents of Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone 'still suffering' one year on from fire
FAMILIES who were forced to move out of their homes when a fire ripped through a tower block are still suffering a year later, a report has claimed.
A total of 24 people were rescued and dozens of flats damaged when flames engulfed the 13th and 14th floors of the Fred Wigg Tower in Montague Road, Leytonstone, last December.
Many residents were moved into temporary accommodation for several months while the block was repaired, during which time several of the flats were broken into by burglars.
Now a survey by social justice campaign group Newham Montoring Project (NMP) found most respondents were still struggling with the consequences of the fire and remain critical of the way the authorities handled the situation.
It said 30 per cent of residents in both Fred Wigg and its adjacent John Walsh tower block had taken part in the research, with the total number of flats believed to be 234.
Estelle du Boulay, director of NMP, said: "The response received was overwhelming. "One year on, residents are still facing ongoing problems, have been left out of pocket by the fire and a number of historical problems have not been resolved."
It found that 64 per cent had a major concern that they had been asked to pay rent on their flats while living in temporary accommodation.
A total of 11 per cent also said items had been stolen from their property while they had been away.
Of the respondents from Fred Wigg, 47 per cent said they had problems with their smoke alarms, including concerns that some did not work.
Ms du Boulay added that anecdotal evidence of speaking to residents demonstrated widespread dissatisfaction with Ascham Homes (AH), the body in charge of Waltham Forest Council's housing stock.
She said: "Liaisons between residents and AH have been less than satisfactory, and residents feel that poor communications between them and AH has resulted in the same grievances almost one year on from the fire.
"They complain of rude staff, little or no help and damage caused to flats by repairs and electrics companies contracted by AH. In addition to this, other residents say serious complaints made to AH have simply been dismissed."
The fire was believed to have been started by an electrical fault.
A spokeswoman for Ascham Homes said: "We are well aware of the issues highlighted in this report, the vast majority were resolved following the incident and we are continuing to work closely with residents to resolve any outstanding concerns."
She added: "[regarding rent] in these circumstances the strict legal position would be that the displaced residents would have to pay for their own temporary accommodation as well as rent on their Fred Wigg Tower flat.
"Instead, the charges for the provision of temporary accommodation were picked by the London Borough of Waltham Forest.
"No residents should have been charged both their Fred Wigg Tower weekly rent, and temporary accommodation charges; nobody is therefore out of pocket as a result of the arrangements we made."
She added: "A comprehensive review and fire risk assessment was undertaken at the end of 2010 and all recommended works were completed and a revised inspection carried at the end of January 2011.
"The assessment and works were carried out in co-operation with the Fire Brigade.
"The last fire safety check prior to the incident was undertaken in January 2011 and this is checked on an annual basis."
The spokeswoman added that AH was satisfied with the way it has liaised with residents.
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