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27 March 2020

Government introduces the Fire Safety Bill

Before Parliament’s early recess for Easter on 25 March 2020, the Government presented the Fire Safety Bill (the Bill). Although it may be some time before the Bill will be scrutinised at Parliament, the Bill will be of particular concern to building owners, leaseholders or managers of multi-occupied residential buildings.

The Bill amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) and provides a foundation for secondary legislation to implement recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – Phase 1 Report(Phase 1 Report).

The current FSO expressly excluded “domestic premises” from its regulatory regime.  Now, under the new proposed Article 6, the FSO would apply to the following elements of a multi-occupied residential building:

  • The building’s structure
  • External walls (to include cladding, balconies, doors and windows in those walls); and
  • The building’s common parts (including individual flat entrance doors)

As a consequence a ‘responsible person’ (or any other person to the extent they exercise control within a premises) must exercise certain duties relating to fire safety, as set out under articles 8-22 of the Fire Safety Order. This includes ensuring that:

  • a proper assessment has been carried out of all fire safety risks;
  • the risks from dangerous substances are either eliminated or reduced so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • adequate fire detection and warning systems are in place and properly maintained;
  • the premises are, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment;
  • routes to emergency exits from premises and the exits themselves are kept clear at all times; and
  • that competent persons have been appointed to assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures.

Under Article 3 of the current FSO where the premises are not a “workplace” the ‘responsible person’ is deemed to be:

“(i) the person who has control of the premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by him of a trade, business or other undertaking (for profit or not); or

(ii) the owner, where the person in control of the premises does not have control in connection with the carrying on by that person of a trade, business or other undertaking.”

From a residential perspective, the ‘responsible person’ under the order could therefore be the building owner, leaseholder or manager. Regardless of whether such persons are considered the ‘responsible person’ they may well be considered to exercise control over the premises and therefore be covered by the obligations under the FSO in any event.

The Bill gives the authorities powers to take action against all those who have failed to comply with their duties under the Fire Safety Order in relation to external walls and common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings.

The Bill also provides the Secretary of State with the power to change the premises to which the Fire Safety Order would apply, providing the Government with more power to ensure any new types of premises can be brought into the scope of the Fire Safety Order with a minimum of delay. This follows the announcement earlier in the year, on 20 January, that a new Building Safety Regulator would be established to provide oversight of the building safety regulatory regime.

Initially the Government planned to hold a public consultation over the course of spring 2020 to consider any additional changes that may be needed to the FSO, to include proposals for implementing the Phase 1 Report.  However, it is likely that consultation will be delayed due to Covid-19.

Comment

Once on the statute books, the FSO is likely to lead to further significant legislation focusing on various aspects of fire safety including evacuation plans, lift safety and improved instructions for residents on how to respond in the event of a fire.

The Fire Safety Bill was foreshadowed in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 together with the Building Safety Bill. The Building Safety Bill has not yet been published, however it is anticipated that the Building Safety Bill will seek to impose further regulation on companies, building owners and managers engaged in designing, constructing, owning and managing residential buildings.

It is clear that those “responsible” for multi-occupied residential premises are going to face greater scrutiny and regulation in the future for the safety of the buildings more generally and specifically the safety of their occupants. Although the full extent of the regulatory regime is not yet mapped out (and may not be for sometime), but the introduction of the FSO together with the recent announcement of the creation of the Building Safety Regulator are sign posts of what the industry can expect going forward.


This article was written by Michael O’Connor and Ben Wilkins. For more information, please contact Mike on +44 (0)20 7427 6441 or at michael.o'connor@crsblaw.com or Ben on +44 (0)20 7438 2216 or at ben.wilkins@crsblaw.com.

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