£300k payout for residents forced out Belfast's Russell Court tower block
Residents who are being forced out of an “unsafe” city centre apartment block will be entitled to claim a total of more than £300,000 in compensation.
The main occupant in 53 of the 56 Russell Court apartments in Belfast will be eligible to claim up to £5,710 after being rendered homeless — which could cost Radius Housing as much as £302,630.
The confirmation comes after displaced resident Cecilia Van Helden (49) expressed concerns over a “vague” letter detailing the available compensation.
“It stopped short of making any promises and does not provide details of how the awards will be determined,” she said.
The letter stated that tenants “may be” eligible to apply for payments which they are in fact legally entitled to.
It made reference to a “maximum” Homeless Payment of £4,500 and Disturbance Payment of up to £1,210 but failed to set out clear criteria — although guidance on the Department for Communities website states that the statutory Homeless Payment must be £4,500.
The disturbance award however could be as little as £277.
Residents were informed they “should be” able to claim if “you have to leave your home permanently AND you have to leave as a result of certain circumstances AND you are entitled to claim AND you have lived in the property for at least one year”.
The letter was issued after Radius Housing announced it would have to permanently re-home all residents who live in Block B over serious concerns about its ability to meet modern fire safety standards. It was intended to allay concerns of residents who “may be anxious” about how the process will be managed, but Ms Van Helden said it failed to achieve its objective.
“I have moved out already, and still haven’t been able to apply,” she said.
“I have asked for a claim form but have been told I need a housing agent to help me. I am capable of completing it myself but have been unable to get one — the money is meant to assist with moving costs.”
The hotel receptionist, who has moved into temporary Housing Executive accommodation, received an additional letter from Radius Housing after she spoke to the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week.
It suggested that she had mistaken security guards with fire marshals when she accused the organisation of failing to keep its promise of providing 24/7 emergency assistance — a claim strongly rejected by Radius.
But Ms Van Helden branded the explanation as “ridiculous” and “offensive”.
“They have completely different uniforms, it’s not possible to confuse the two — I’m not colour blind,” she said.
Ms Van Helden remains adamant that fire marshals were completely invisible over the weekend. “I searched for them and their absence was the topic of much conversation,” she said.
“The security guards are only on-site during office hours so I knew that they weren’t here — the explanation makes no sense.”
A spokesperson for Radius Housing refused to comment on staff attire but confirmed that all 53 tenancies, including the occupant of a privately owned property, will be eligible for compensation. They said claim forms must be completed “at the time of, or after, the termination of tenancy” and payments will be paid once residents are rehoused.
Radius is in consultation to discuss buying out a private landlord who owns an apartment in the complex.
Belfast Telegraph Digital