The Fire Safety Bill 2020 has now been introduced for the purpose of ensuring that owners and managers of multi-occupancy residential buildings in the UK are reducing the risk of fire through unsafe cladding and entrance doors. For many years, dutyholders and those worried about their personal safety as residents of buildings have been confused about who should be responsible for the fire safety of external walls and the entrance doors to individual flats. The Bill seeks to clarify this.
The Bill will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) to clarify requirements for the Responsible Person or Duty Holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings to manage and reduce the risk of fire for:
- the structure, external walls (including cladding, balconies, windows, insulation and fixings)
- common parts
- doors between domestic premises and common parts (entrance doors to individual flats) in all multi-occupied residential buildings of all heights
This should empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant with the requirements of the Bill.
This will be a welcome legislative change once the Bill becomes law, which could be as early as summer 2020. This will complement current Government actions to improve building and fire safety:
- the appointment of a new Building Safety Regulator (likely to be in 2021) to oversee the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings
- introduction of the Building Safety Bill, which will provide clearer accountability and stronger duties on those responsible for high rise buildings
- £1 billion of grant funding to tackle unsafe cladding systems on high rise residential buildings over 18 metres in both the private and social sectors
The Government has also given the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the powers to amend the list of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the RRO by way of secondary legislation, enabling the government to respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings. This will allow the government to adapt legislation to accord with the proposed new building safety regulatory system (following the "Building a Safer Future" consultation and summary of responses received for the call for evidence on the effectiveness of the RRO – link here. This may also be used as a tool to implement the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry, 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 service
- 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
- ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards
Dutyholders should now proactively review how they identify fire safety risks to walls, windows, external facades and balconies and decide how to access flat entrance doors, particularly if residents refuse to allow access to their flats. It is only a matter of time before there will be additional legislation and more robust enforcement action against dutyholders who are failing to appropriately manage fire safety in the UK.