Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK Fire Safety Bill for residential buildings gets first reading

Out-Law News | 23 Mar 2020 | 6:53 pm | 2 min. read

The Fire Safety Bill, which requires owners and managers of multi-occupancy residential buildings in the UK to reduce the risk of fire through unsafe cladding and entrance doors, has received its first reading in the House of Commons.

The bill closes a legal loophole which left it unclear whether fire safety legislation applied to certain parts of multi-occupied residential buildings, such as the structure and external walls, including cladding, balconies and windows, and the entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.

The bill will bring these areas within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) to ensure that the responsible person assesses and mitigates the fire safety risk associated with these parts of the building.  Fire and rescue services will be able to take enforcement action and hold the responsible person to account if they are not compliant.

Meanwhile the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will gain powers to amend the FSO by way of secondary legislation, enabling the government to adapt legislation to align it with the proposed new building safety regulatory system, and to implement the recommendations of Phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry such as new requirements for signage and evacuation plans in residential buildings.

“The new Fire Safety Bill addresses much-criticised legal ambiguity which has hampered fire and rescue services trying to deal effectively with unsafe cladding and flat entrance doors. They will be expected to use these new powers, and landlords should prepare for that now,” said health and safety law expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.

The government also published a summary of responses (32 page / 302KB PDF) received to a call for evidence on the application of the FSO, which sought to identify any changes that might be needed and how they could be best achieved.

Respondents said there were some areas where the FSO could be amended to provide greater clarity, such as the identification of the ‘responsible person’ who must ensure the fire safety of the building during occupation; the qualifications and training needed to ensure a person providing fire safety advice was regarded as competent; and information sharing between duty holders and with fire and rescue services.

The bill follows the announcement earlier in March of a £1 billion building safety fund to remove and replace additional unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings in the private and social housing sectors.  This fund will focus on the removal of non-ACM cladding systems, such as unsafe high pressure laminate, wood and other class C/D cladding, and is in additional to the £600 million already made available for remediation of ACM cladding.  A further £20 million has been made available for Fire and Rescue Services to increase inspection and enforcement capability and build a strategic response to the Grenfell Public Inquiry’s findings.

The government said it would hold a consultation will be held later in the year on proposals and next steps. Health and safety law expert Laura White of Pinsent Masons said the new legislation and the FSO responses, were an insight into the future of fire safety legislation and enforcement.

“We expect further legislation to provide clarity on identifying the responsible persons and also a stronger sanctions and enforcement regime for those who breach it,” White said.