Shadwell fire survivor Mohammed Ruben Ali, campaigner Hussain Ismail, survivor Shahed Ahmed outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall.
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Shadwell flat fire survivors face sleeping in community centre as Council withdraws support

Tower Hamlets Council has ended its support for the survivors of the Maddocks House flat fire, forcing them to move out of their hotel accommodation in Whitechapel. 

Survivors of a flat fire, in which a dad died, face sleeping in a community centre after an East London council stopped paying for their hotel. The men were kicked out of the Holiday Inn in Whitechapel today (April 28) after Tower Hamlets Council said it was ending its support to them. 

The survivors of the fire, all of Bangladeshi origin, have been living at the hotel since March 5, when a fire ripped through the two-bed flat where 18 men were said to be living in Maddocks House, Shadwell.

One of the tenants, dad-of-two Mizanur Rahman, 41, died in hospital after being rescued from the blaze by firefighters. 

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that 12 of the men, whose visa conditions mean they have no recourse to public funds, now face having to find another place to stay. No recourse to public funds means they can’t access much of the UK’s welfare system, including social housing and homelessness assistance. 

The other five men, who can access the welfare system, are being rehoused elsewhere by the council. Tower Hamlets Council said it had spent almost £100,000 on supporting all the men with accommodation and shop vouchers since the fire on March 5. 

The council said that while it didn’t have a legal obligation to offer support to 12 of the men it had done so until today (April 28) “under emergency powers to support those affected by the fire.” 

Around 30 protestors gathered outside Tower Hamlets town hall in Whitechapel on Thursday afternoon (April 27), calling on the council to continue housing the men.

Two of the survivors present at the demonstration, Mohammed Ruben Ali, 32, and Shahed Ahmed, 52, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service they had to check out of the hotel at midday on Friday (April 28).

Mr Ali said: “We have to leave midday. They [the council] gave me a piece of paper with information about housing.” 

Mr Ali had been living in the Shadwell flat for three months before the fire, which is believed to have been caused by an e-bike battery, tore through the property. Mr Ahmed had been living in the flat for six to seven months. 

Both men speak little English and have been taking advice from Tower Hamlets resident Hussain Ismail, 55, a Bengali speaker and activist who organised the protest outside the town hall on Thursday.

Speaking through Mr Ismail, who translated, Mr Ali added: “[We] won’t be on the streets when [we] leave the hotel. [We] might have to sleep in a community centre.”

Mr Ismail told supporters gathered outside he was disappointed with the support Tower Hamlets’s Aspire party mayor, Lutfur Rahman, had provided. 

He said: “It’s sad for me in one sense to be here with a council that’s controlled by a Bangladeshi mayor who should know better, considering he knows the struggles of our community regarding housing.”

Nathalie Bienfait, Green councillor for Bow West, was one of the people who had come along to the protest to support the survivors of the fire. She told the LDRS: “They should be supported to find long-term accommodation that they can afford. I wouldn’t think that staying in a hotel is conducive to getting your life back on track.” 

The LDRS understands that Tower Hamlets Council originally agreed to pay for the men’s hotel accommodation until the Islamic festival of Eid on April 21, which marks the end of Ramadan. 

The council extended their hotels for another week until today (April 28), after some survivors said they were at risk of sleeping on the streets because they hadn’t sorted alternative accommodation in time. 

Before the fire, most men paid their landlord £100 per week to sleep in the privately owned flat in a Tower Hamlets council block. Most of the men are believed to have been working as couriers or studying. 

Tower Hamlets Council said it recognised “the extremely difficult situation” survivors of the fire had been faced with and said it had done its “utmost” to ensure they had been supported since the blaze.

A council spokesperson said: “We have made sure that everyone has been informed ahead of time regarding the arrangements for the hotel. We have been in regular contact with the survivors and provided as much notice as possible, so they have time to find their own accommodation ahead of the hotel booking end date.

“We have also done what we can to help signpost tenants to find alternative accommodation, and have been assisting five survivors – who are entitled to recourse to public funds – in finding long-term solutions to their accommodation.”

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