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Alongside the Building Safety Bill published in July 2020, the Fire Safety Bill is a key step in the Government’s strategy to improve building and fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The changes introduced by the Fire Safety Bill will therefore have a direct impact on social housing providers.
The Fire Safety Bill (“the Bill”) had its second reading in the House of Lords on 1 October 2020 and amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“the Order”) to provide further clarity regarding the responsibilities of those involved in the ownership, management and maintenance of multi-occupancy buildings.
The Order applies to all non-domestic premises, including the communal areas of residential multi-occupancy homes and allocates responsibility for complying with the duties set out within it to certain individuals and organisations with ownership or management of a property (referred to as “the Responsible Person”) and other relevant duty holders such as those with maintenance responsibilities.
The scope of the Order, at present, does not clearly cover certain areas of the buildings that may pose a serious fire risk, for example, the structure of buildings and the externals walls. This is a source of confusion for both those involved in the ownership and management of buildings and enforcement authorities alike.
The Government has stated that “the Bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase One report which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:
- regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services;
- ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised;
- ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand; and
- ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards."
The key changes proposed in the Fire Safety Bill
The headline reforms introduced in the Bill include:
- Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the Order will apply to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts; and all doors between the domestic premises and common parts;
- A definition of “external walls”, including any doors or windows in those walls, and anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies);
- Allowing ministers to amend the scope of the Order (for example, by adding in new types of premises) – allowing the legislation surrounding fire safety to be more adaptable to the circumstances of the housing and building sectors.
A look to the future of fire safety
The Fire Safety Bill brings welcome clarity regarding the responsibilities of the Responsible Person and other relevant duty holders. With the building’s structure, external walls and certain doorsets now expressly included, the Responsible Person will be required to carry out a broader fire risk assessment covering these areas and to put relevant fire precautions in place.
There are however some practical issues with the Bill that will need to be addressed.
- As noted above, the Bill is part of a wider suite of building safety improvements, including the Building Safety Bill. It is not clear at present how the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill will interact with each other. For example, how the role of the “Responsible Person” will interact with the role of the “Accountable Person” under the Building Safety Bill.
- Some concern has been expressed that there is a shortage of individuals with the necessary competency and technical expertise to complete the wider risk assessments required under the Bill (and the amended Order). It is also questioned whether enforcing authorities (the local authorities and fire services) have access to the relevant expertise required to assess the risk of areas of buildings such as cladding for the purposes of enforcement.
- It is not clear at present whether there will be a requirement for building owners to review their current fire risk assessments in response to the Bill (once it becomes law), although it may well be prudent for building owners to do so.
- The Bill currently gives the Responsible Person (and other relevant duty holders) responsibility for front doorsets of leaseholders’ properties. We expect that guidance and/or clarification will be required by the Responsible Person and leaseholder alike to understand how this will work in practice.
For more information
Our fire safety experts are experienced in advising social housing providers on building safety issues. We also provide training for social housing providers regarding building safety issues. If you have any questions in relation to the Fire Safety Bill, or our bespoke training on the Building Safety Bill, please contact Lorna Kenyon or Kieran Binnie.
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