Grenfell fire: small fraction of charity donations have made their way to survivors

Of the £18.9m donated to victims, £2.8m has been spent so far

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Thursday 10 August 2017 22:17
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A Charity Commission report has revealed the complexity of distributing funds raised for survivors of the fire
A Charity Commission report has revealed the complexity of distributing funds raised for survivors of the fire

Less than 15 per cent of the money raised for Grenfell Tower fire victims has been handed out to survivors two months after the deadly blaze, according to figures released by the Charity Commission.

The regulator said that of the £18.9m donated to survivors in the wake of the tragedy on 14 June, £2.8m – or 14.8 per cent of the total raised – has been spent so far.

The report from the Commission shows a complex web of charities and distributors managing the donated funds, with various grants available to specific members of the community, often with strict eligibility criteria. Many charities, including the British Red Cross (BRC), are not handling the distribution of donations directly, which are instead being funnelled through third parties before they are drip fed to survivors.

On the release of the figures, David Holdsworth, the regulator’s chief operating officer, said that the Commission had been working to help charities coordinate their response so that the community knew where to access funds.

He said: “It is unusual for us to be involved in this way as regulator, but because of the urgent need of the victims of this tragedy, and because of the great generosity of the public who have given millions to different charities, it was right that we stepped in and helped charities work together in the best interests of those affected.”

Of the £5.7m raised by the Red Cross, £2.4m has been passed on so far to those on the ground. The Kensington and Chelsea Foundation (KCF) has raised the same amount and £2.1m has been sent to distributing organisations.

The figures expose the laborious administrative process involved in allocating funds to the right people and at the right time.

The biggest fundraiser – The Evening Standard’s dispossessed fund – raised £6.7m for survivors who lived in Grenfell Tower. But its distribution is being managed by a separate entity – the London Community Foundation (LCF) – which said it had so far earmarked £2.7m of the funds for use.

Russell Delew, chief executive of the LCF, stressed the foundation was working with survivors to understand the best way of distributing the remaining funds and how that money should be spent.

So far, the LCF has paid out £1.5m to 158 households. But a further £1.2m has been passed to a separate distributor – the London Emergencies Trust (LET).

Certain payments from the LET, which also deals with money donated via the Red Cross and Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, have strict criteria and can only be distributed to the next of kin of those who died or presumed dead, and those who were hospitalised after the fire for a period of six hours or more.

LET, which has received £4.8m to distribute, told The Independent it had received 116 applications and had so far made payments to 59 people, totaling £664,500.

A spokesperson for LET said the process was both delicate and complex, and said many survivors were not yet in a stable enough position to receive the funds or even apply for the money.

“People who have faced this kind of serious trauma aren’t always ready to think about getting financial help right away,” a spokesperson said. “They may be awaiting news of a loved one. They may be in hospital with serious injuries - their family around them hoping they recover. They may not yet have made contact with anyone on the scene who can help or direct them to help.”

They added that other payments amounting to £100,000 would be paid “very soon” and that checking procedures such as verifying next of kin and hospital discharges must be undertaken before money is handed out.

The LCF, LET and Red Cross, along with the Rugby Portobello Trust (RPT) – which has acted as both fundraiser and distributor – emphasised that “every penny” of the funds will eventually be paid out.

RPT director Mark Simms said the process was quite simple – all donations paid into the trust would also be paid out. He added the trust had paid out fewer “fresh start” grants than they would have anticipated by this stage. The grants are designed to give families a step up when they move into new accommodation but so far, just 14 families left homeless in the blaze have been rehoused.

Initially these £10,000 fresh start grants were only made available once new temporary or permanent accommodation had been secured. However, the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation told The Independent it would making these payments to households who had not already received them next week, due to the process of rehousing taking much longer than expected.

A spokesperson for the KCF said: “The developing needs of ex-Grenfell Tower residents, the next of kin of those who lost their loved ones and the community will remain at the heart of next steps for the K&C Foundation. It is essential that we listen to and work with the affected groups and that is our absolute priority. As a result of this next stage, we expect to be able to announce further distributions and how the remaining funds will be spent in the next few weeks.”

Advice released by the Charity Commission alongside the spending figures, outlines the aid available to survivors, residents and their next of kin, including emergency grants given immediately after the fire, and funding for funeral expenses. Applicants are given various addresses where they can make a claim, as well as numerous emails and email addresses.

While the figures and advice reveal the complex process of getting donations from charities to those in need, members of the local community said there was growing concern over how the donations were being managed.

Verity Close resident Stewart Hall, who lives just yards from the tower, said the community wanted to know where the rest of the money is going.

“We’ve got no problem with money going to the LET, but we want to know where the rest of the money has gone,” he said.

“I’ve got friends struggling to feed their families in hotels, who have no kitchens who are having to buy takeaways every day. And it’s a wider issue as you’ve got people on the estate who aren't able to go back to work because they are too traumatised by what they saw.”

Moyra Samuels, campaign coordinator for Justice4Grenfell, said there was a feeling on the ground the fundraising process had been “hijacked” by “bureaucratic bodies”.

“There are a lot of assumptions being made, based on feelings of deep mistrust, that the funds are going to be used by authorities to fund operations rather than going to the survivors,” she said.

“Transparency is what people are worried about in a situation where the community is already feeling incredibly angry let down and frustrated and also there is a feeling that yet again the assumption is made that this community needs to be managed, because ‘we know better’.”

Melvyn Akins, a local resident who grew up on the Lancaster West estate and now lives just yards from the tower, said there was widespread confusion about what money is available, further fuelling mistrust of those managing the funds.

“People are getting confused and upset at the slow rate the money is coming through at,” he said. “On the ground it appears that organisations are getting money before the survivors."

The Charity Commission said it had had difficulty in contacting everyone and that it was aware there had been confusion about accessing funds, but that this was largely down to "the unique circumstances" of the tragedy, including identities of those who had died.

The figures were released after residents raised their concerns with council leader Elizabeth Campbell at a tense public meeting on Wednesday night.

Community members told the Government’s gold command that residents looking for work in the wake of the tragedy were being handed travel cards with no money on them and being turned away when they said they did not have a key worker.

The panel was made up of a number of senior figures involved in the government-led response on the ground, including site recovery manager Michael Lockwood, Kensington fire commander Spencer Sutcliffe and Dr Deborah Turbitt, deputy director for health protection at Public Health England (PHE), who tried to reassure residents over air quality.

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