The challenge of rehousing residents after a fire

  • Fires in residential properties can take a significant emotional toll on those affected
  • For social housing residents, the impact of a fire can be exacerbated if suitable alternative accommodation cannot be found quickly
  • We look at the challenge of rehousing residents after a fire and how social housing providers should prepare for emergencies

There were more than 29,000 residential fires in the UK in 2018/19. While the physical damage can vary significantly from incident to incident, the human cost of fire can sometimes be underestimated.

One of the biggest challenges facing social housing providers in the aftermath of a major fire is quickly finding alternative accommodation in order to limit distress and disruption for residents.

The challenge of rehoming residents

Residential fires can be traumatic for those affected, particularly if possessions are lost or if there is significant damage to the property.

For social housing providers, there is an obvious need to act quickly to rehome tenants in order to minimise disruption and prevent further distress.

However, says Paul Redington, Regional Major Loss Manager at Zurich: “Finding suitable alternative accommodation locally can be difficult. This is particularly true if the fire happens in a congested city or town location.

“We have accommodation suppliers who can assist, however securing long-term lets can be challenging, and even securing local hotel rooms at short notice may not always be possible.”

The challenge is even greater following large residential fires that affect more than one property – such as in a tower block – as many people will require rehousing at the same time.

Responding to public and media interest

Efforts to quickly rehome residents after a large fire can sometimes be complicated by the additional demands placed on staff. In the social media age, housing associations are likely to be deluged with enquiries, not just from concerned residents looking for guidance and support, but also questions from the media.

As part of their emergency planning, organisations should establish clear guidelines to identify which individuals are authorised to speak on their behalf and whether they may require media training.

Plan for worst-case scenarios

Emergency and business continuity plans should account for worst-case scenarios and include an evaluation of alternative accommodation options.

Paul says: “If a property is close to venues such as conference centres or sports stadia, that could periodically tie up hotel accommodation in the area. This is the kind of factor that emergency plans need to account for. Organisations should also complete workshops with all key stakeholders involved in planning for such eventualities.”

In addition to identifying specific issues such as those outlined above, the process of building emergency and continuity plans can help organisations to:

  • Identify and understand a broader range of potential threats
  • Improve incident response times and better understand the implications of delays
  • Reduce recovery periods and organisational disruption

The overall effect of such planning is to reduce the likelihood and severity of claims, which can have a positive impact on future premiums – but crucially also reduce the human impact of fire.

Paul says: “Following a residential fire, the trauma felt by those involved – who may have lost their homes and possessions – can be huge. An additional day, week, or month out of their homes could make a major difference.”

How Zurich can help

We have just published a new report, The human impact of fire, providing in-depth insight into how fires can affect the wellbeing of individuals and the smooth running of organisations, along with practical guidance on ways to mitigate the risks.

For more information on managing fire risk, please call us on 0800 232 1901 or email us at info@zurichmunicipal.com.