Housing

Survivors of fatal fire in Shadwell flat spared homelessness for a week as council extends accommodation

The survivors have been living in hotels paid for by the council since the fire, but says they have been unable to find somewhere to live

Nazmush Shahadat and Ehsan Ahmed Chowdhury, two survivors of the Shadwell fire. The Big Issue has blurred the background of the photos to protect the survivors' locations. Image: Greg Barradale/Big Issue

Survivors of a fatal fire in an overcrowded flat in Shadwell, East London, have been temporarily spared homelessness as the council extends their hotel accommodation for four extra nights.

They have been living in hotels provided by the council since the fire on March 5, which revealed 18 men of Bangladeshi origin crowded into a three-room flat.

The fire, which is believed to have started from a charging e-bike battery, killed one inhabitant and is the subject of a criminal investigation by the council.

As he was packing up his belongings to move out before midday on Monday, one survivor received a letter extending his stay until Friday as a “goodwill gesture” to give him “a little more time to find alternative accommodation”.

However, he has been told that “no further extensions will be given and the absolute last night” in the hotel will be Thursday April 27.

Accommodation has been extended for all 16 survivors of the Shadwell fire who remain in the UK – regardless of their entitlement to public funds.

It gives them extra time to find somewhere to live, but their predicament – that they are facing homelessness – remains. Tower Hamlets council said it had been in dialogue with community groups who had indicated this “provides a feasible window” for the survivors to find accommodation.

One survivor told The Big Issue on Tuesday morning he was ‘fine’ but also a “little bit worried about my accommodation”.

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Survivors, who had come to the UK on student visas, previously told The Big Issue they had been unable to find anywhere to live for the same reasons they were living in the overcrowded flat in the first place.

Shadwell fire
One picture shows at least three bunk beds crammed into a single room. Image: Tarling West residents’ association

They said they had no reference or payslips, and so were unable to secure proper accommodation in the first place – a situation they say has not been remedied in the weeks since the council

“We didn’t have any family, or anyone to help us. That’s why we’re staying in this place in the first place” said law student Nazmush Shahadat last week.

“We are not asking for charity or anything, we are saying help us find some place. We are gonna pay the rent, we can pay the deposit and everything else, but they are not doing anything.”

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The council has no obligation to support those with no recourse to public funds, and said it had spent £107,470 supporting 17 survivors using emergency powers.

In the letter to one survivor on Monday, it said it had “limited funds in which it can use to provide emergency accommodation and financial assistance to those that are not eligible for homelessness assistance”, while enclosing a leaflet of support agencies who could provide advice and support.

A protest in support of the Shadwell survivors is planned for 4.30pm on Thursday April 27, outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “We have extended the hotel accommodation until Friday 28 April. This follows a dialogue with local community groups who – acting on behalf of survivors with no recourse to public funds – indicate that a five-day extension provides a feasible window for the remaining survivors to find their own accommodation.”

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