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What You Need To Know About Fire Safety Act 2021

What You Need To Know About Fire Safety Act 2021

The Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people, has resulted in a series of changes to fire and building safety regulations and guidelines.  The Fire Safety Act (FSA 2021) amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO 2005) which applies to all non-domestic premises, including communal areas of residential buildings with multiple homes, often in the form of high-rise tower blocks.

The FSA 2021 has received a good deal of criticism, not least because it does not contain any of the proposed amendments designed to protect leaseholders from the astronomical costs of actioning remediation works.

One important clarification made by the FSA 2021 is that it states unequivocally who is accountable for reducing the risk of fire – for multiple-occupation residence, it is the duty holder/building owner.  It is up to them to manage the risk of fire-related to the structure and external walls of the building and the entrance doors of each flat that open onto communal areas.

The history of the FSA 2021

In January 2020, Housing Secretary, Robert Jenkins MP stated that the “slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated”.  Along with the announcement of the creation of a Building Safety Regulator and a promise to name and shame building owners who had not started to remove unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from their buildings., Mr Jenkins said a new Fire Safety Bill would be introduced to Parliament.

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Roy Wilsher reacted positively to this announcement, saying:

“I am pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. We have been calling for additional powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes.

“We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.”

In September 2021, the Labour Party tabled amendments designed to implement the recommendations from Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s phase one Grenfell Inquiry Report into the Bill.  This was rejected by the House of Commons on the grounds it would hold up the enacting of the Bill.

A government spokesperson said at the time:

“We are doing everything in our power to implement the phase one recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry in the most practical, proportionate and effective way to ensure such a tragedy can never happen again. Our proposals go further than the inquiry’s recommendations in many ways, such as inspection requirements on equipment, on information for residents and on external walls. We are now seeking the views of those most affected by the inquiry before deciding on our final approach.”

The Bill received its Royal Assent on 29 April 2021.

The contents of the FSA 2021

Section 1 of the FSA 2021 provides that any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises, the RRO 2005 applies to the building's structure and external walls and any common parts, including the doors between domestic premises and common areas. It also clarifies that references to external walls in the RRO 2005 include "doors or windows in those walls" and "anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies)."

The scope of premises falling under the scope of the RRO 2005 can be changed by Ministers in England and Wales.

Section 3 amends article 50 of the RRO 2005 to encourage observance to risk-based guidance issued by the Secretary of State.  Applying only to buildings in England containing two or more sets of domestic premises, building owners who follow the guidance will normally be able to show that there has been no contravention of duties under the RRO 2005.  Not observing the guidance will tend to establish that there has been a contravention.

Section 4 provides that the FSA 2021 extends to England and Wales.  Section 1 will be brought into force by secondary legislation by the relevant ministers in England and Wales. Section 2 comes into force in June 2021.  Section 3 comes into force at the same time as section 1 comes fully into force concerning premises in England.

In summary

With the responsibility of fire safety for multiple-occupation residences now firmly on the building owner, it is imperative that they understand the extent of their risk-management responsibilities and put in place the necessary safety measures.  The risk of not doing so could result in heavy fines, destroyed reputations, and tragic loss of life.

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