The Fire Safety Act received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021 and became law after a controversial and lengthy passage through Parliament.
The Act clarifies who is responsible for inspecting the cladding, fire doors and other parts of multiple-occupancy residential buildings to ensure that they are fire safe. It makes amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) and is intended to be followed by further primary and secondary legislation, most notably the Building Safety Bill. The intention of the Act is to more readily allow fire and rescue services to enforce the Fire Safety Order against building owners who have not remedied unsafe building materials in their properties.
A difficult birth
The Act had a considerable number of amendments suggested both by MPs and the House of Lords throughout various stages of its passage. These largely concerned attempts to prohibit remediation costs of dangerous cladding being passed on to Leaseholders and Tenants in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. Several different versions of this amendment were suggested by the House of Lords and were rejected each time by MPs. The issue of unsafe cladding in buildings across the Country is becoming increasingly more urgent as Leaseholders and Tenants are currently living in buildings with unsafe building material and fear being left with the remediation costs. The Government’s decision not to include protections for leaseholders and tenants in this Act has led to fierce criticism from campaign groups such as End Our Cladding Scandal and Grenfell United.
The Government has said that this issue will be addressed in the Building Safety Bill. Critics have pointed out that the Building Safety Bill is very possibly over a year away from becoming law and so the Government must act now. It is also not yet clear whether leaseholders and tenants will be able to claim for the costs against the original developers of these buildings due to the limitation period under the Defective Premises Act currently being six years. In discussions on the Fire Safety Act, the Government mentioned that they would consider extending the limitation period for claims under the Act. However, this might not be retroactive and so may not apply to buildings that are over six years old.
Dissecting the Act
The Act as it now stands is made up of three clauses. The first clause clarifies that the Fire Safety Order will now cover a building containing two or more domestic premises, specifically to "the building's structure and external walls and any common parts" and "all doors between the domestic premises and common parts". External walls include "doors or windows in those walls" and "anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies)". The second clause allows the Government to amend the legislation to help them respond quicker to incidents or changes in the fire safety industry. The third clause states that the Act will apply to England and Wales.
Leaseholders and tenants will therefore have to wait to see what legislative protection will be given to them, most likely until the Building Safety Bill. In the meantime the Fire Safety Act offers clarity about the responsibilities of building owners and managers to minimise fire risks on the external parts of domestic premises.