The Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Act 2021

September 2, 2021

Fire SafetySince the horrifying fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, there has been increased government pressure and scrutiny on fire and building safety not just of high residential towers, but within the housing sector as a whole.

The Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Bill is a response to this terrible incident.

While the Fire Safety Act 2021 has already been passed into law and is likely to be put into effect by the end of 2021, the Building Safety Bill is still making its way through parliament.  If passed, it is likely to come into force by early 2022.

So what are these new laws and what changes will landlords face?

The Fire Safety Act 2021

The Fire Safety Act 2021 amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

This act follows on from the Fire Safety Order and so will be applied in both England & Wales.

Firstly, what did the Fire Safety Order contain?

  • The 2005 Order stated that a ‘Responsible Person’ such as the landlord or managing agent must assess and mitigate the fire safety risk associated to the structure of a building as well as to individual flats and communal parts of the building.
  • Failure to comply with obligations contained within the order could result in enforcement action being taken against the Responsible Person.
  • The 2005 Order provides that those in control of the property are the Responsible Person for fire safety.  They have a duty to undertake a risk assessment and mitigate any risks found. The Responsible Person is required to reduce, assess and manage the fire risks posed due to the structure of the property.

The new act clarifies who is responsible for fire safety as well as increasing the enforcement powers of both local authorities and fire safety officers.

The key changes are:

  • The Act provides clarification as to who is accountable for reducing the risk of fires.
  • The Act also adds that the external walls of a building as well as the fire doors to individual flats must be added as part of the fire risk assessment
  • It is hoped that these two will allow the Fire Service to take  greater enforcement action against responsible persons who fail to comply with the requirements of this Act as it will provide greater clarification.

These changes will likely see landlords or the Responsible Person become more engaged and active in regards to fire safety.

For example, they will now need to create a more detailed fire risk assessment as well as being personally responsible for the exterior of the house.

Landlords are already responsible for keeping in repair the structure and external walls of the property (as per the 1985 Landlord & Tenant Act s11),  this seems a sensible move.

In addition, the principle of the fire service being able to take enforcement action against landlords who fail to comply is significant in that landlords will face a fine or criminal prosecution.

This deterrent will hopefully encourage landlords to take responsibility and take any steps necessary as regards to fire safety.

The Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill is currently making its way through parliament.  So there may be amendments made before the bill comes into law.  However, it is helpful to discuss the aims of the bill and the key changes that will occur.

This bill applies to both England & Wales

The key changes (which may be subject to change) are:

      • The introduction of a new ‘building safety regulator’ who will be tasked with overseeing the new, more stringent, regime for high-risk buildings as well as ensuring that all residential buildings meet regulatory requirements during the planning, design, construction and occupancy phases of a building’s life.
      • It will give residents in high-risk buildings more routes to raise concerns about safety, and mechanisms to ensure their concerns will be heard and taken seriously.
      • It will ensure there are clearly identified people responsible for safety during the design, build and occupation of a high-rise residential building

This bill is mostly aimed at multi-premise high rise accommodation, which is understandable as the Grenfell inquiry found that this area of law to be inadequate.

Most of these policies seem sensible given the inquiries’ findings, with regulators making sure that buildings are compliant, as well as there now being people held directly responsible to tenants and occupants safety.

It is also important to have a channel for tenants within high rise accommodation to use to complain about safety issues within their building.  One of the issues with Grenfell was that tenants warnings about fire safety were ignored.

While the bill will give landlords more regulations to grapple with, it is a necessary step towards protecting the property as well as the occupiers who live there.

If your properties are well maintained and fire safe, you should have nothing to worry about.

And finally

There has been a lot of criticism of the current fire safety legislation since the Grenfell fire.  It is good to see that some attempt is being made to improve matters.

We shall have to wait and see whether the new measures are sufficient.  So watch this space.

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