New 2021 Fire Legislation Marks Another Positive Step Since Grenfell


By Skills for Health | 5 July 2021

2021 marks the development of the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Bill. The former has been approved by parliament as legislation, and the latter will come into effect later this year. These changes will strengthen the pre-existing Reform Fire Safety Order (2005) and hope to prevent events like Grenfell from ever happening again.

It’s been over 4 years since the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire took 74 lives. With it still fresh in our minds, some of us feel unsafe in our own homes. The UK government has experienced immense public pressure to improve fire safety across the country.

2021 marks the development of the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Bill. The former has been approved by parliament as legislation, and the latter will come into effect later this year. These changes will strengthen the pre-existing Reform Fire Safety Order (2005) and hope to prevent events like Grenfell from ever happening again.

These changes follow a parliamentary discussion, which is outlined in their “Fire Safety Consultation.” Here, their aim was to:

1. improve compliance of dangerous cladding and fire safety within the construction industry,

2. implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry Report. Which lead to new requirements for a building owner or manager of residential areas.

3. strengthen the way building control bodies consult with fire authorities and what documents they must share.

This legislation will play its part in preventing fires and saving lives. But how does it impact our duties and rights?

The story so far

Last year, we published a blog outlining how the Government reacted during the three years after the event.

In 2018, they ordered an independent review of UK fire safety management. Led by Dame Judith Hackitt and summarised in The Building a Safer Future report, it discovered existing fire programs were not “fit for purpose.” In a consultation reviewing their findings, the Royal Institute of British Architects urged the government to implement their recommendations.

The government’s initial response was seen as insufficient. But in April 2020, after public activism and resistance, the Government announced their planned response. These included:

1. Dedicating £1 billion between 2020 and 21 to removing unsafe cladding systems.

2. Updating their “Approved Document B” (the guidance on fire safety around a premises). Including an extension of the combustible materials ban and lower mandatory sprinkler limits.

4. Introducing The Fire Safety Bill, which outlines the duties of an accountable person when managing the risk of fire.

5. Publishing a draft “Building Safety Bill” in June 2020, to improve the safety of residential properties.

At the time, this was a positive move in the right direction. But the approval of these bills has proved difficult, with parliament rejecting the Fire Safety Bill five times. Fortunately, parts of both are coming into effect this year.

The Fire Safety Act is now law

As of April 2021, the Bill passed through the parliamentary process to become the Fire Safety Act (FSA) 2021. All organizations are legally required to follow it.

There have been reports of homeowners facing thousands in bills following fire safety concerns. This bill took a long time to pass because of an ongoing debate about whether costs should be passed onto the resident.

The Act implements some of the recommendations made during the Phase 1 report of the Grenfell tower inquiry. It’s secondary legislation that supplements the current Fire Safety Order (2005). It clarifies who is responsible for reducing fire risk on a premise. Within it, it states:

1. All “responsible persons” are required to assess and manage fire risks posed by the walls of a building and doors in common areas.

2. It applies to all multi-occupied residents and homes. It’s not dependent on the height of a building.

3. It gives more power to Fire and Rescue services. They can take action and enforce building regulations in relation to external walls and doors.

4. The Act does not address who should pay for the replacement of cladding.

With the government’s planned grant and loan schemes not yet in operation, the question of who should pay was drastically slowing down vital repairs. To prevent further debate and amendments, it was agreed that unresolved repair details and disputes would be addressed in the Building Safety Bill.

The role of the building safety manager: who is the accountable person?

As mentioned, the Fire Safety Act builds on Fire Safety Order. This outlines “the accountable (or responsible) person” as those who have reasonable control over a building. There can be more than one, but generally includes an employer or the owner of a property. They have a legal duty to keep their property safe.

The responsible person must assign a Building Safety Manager, who will help manage the building and meet new legislation through frequent risk assessments.

What is in the government’s Building Safety Bill?

This act is set to run alongside the FSA. It’s in its draft stage and was planned for 2023. During the 2021 Queen’s Speech, it was confirmed parts of this bill will take effect this year.

The bill focuses on building design and construction safety. It’s overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to enhance the structural safety of residential buildings. Once in full effect, it will apply to all higher-risk buildings. These being multi-occupied residential buildings (new and old) of six stories or more.

These regulations will be overseen by a Building Safety Regulator; who works on behalf of the HSE. Their job is to oversee all major designs made during the construction and maintenance of a building. They will be granted new “enforcement action” so can impose sanctions when new standards are not met. At their most severe, these include imprisonment and fines.

Key parts of this regulatory regime include:

– Construction being split into three “gateways,” with a person being assigned responsibility during each phase. They will work with the Building Safety Regulator to share their designs. If the legislation is not met, the BSR will step in.

– After the building is complete, accountability will be passed onto the responsible person and building safety manager.

– Changes to the law on Building Safety Insurance. Leaseholders will be required to pay any reasonable fire safety charges within 28 days.

Impact of this bill in 2021

This bill (and three gateways) were not expected to be enforced until 2023. However, the government has now announced that “gateway one” will come into force from the 1st of August 2021.

“Gateway one” is the stage that you apply for planning permission. Once in effect, all planning permission for “higher-risk buildings” will be reviewed by a Building Safety Regulator. To pass this stage, organizations must submit a fire statement. It must contain information about the local rescue service and water availability; the building’s fire strategy; the building’s external walls; and their evacuation strategy.

The wider details of the regime are not yet decided. According to building safety expert Katherine Metcalfe:

“Significant amendment to the draft published last year will be required to address the issues raised during pre-legislative scrutiny.”

So the final 2023 bill might be slightly different. But during 2021, you will have to pass the requirements of gateway one.

Who should pay? What are my rights?

These two bills take us a step closer to improving UK fire safety. But they don’t outline who should pay for unsafe cladding and infrastructure. In 2020, the government dedicated £1 billion to removing unsafe cladding; but that wasn’t enough to cover all properties. So in February, the housing secretary announced an initiative to protect leaseholders. As part of it:

– They invested £5 billion and announced the government will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding on all high-risk buildings.

– Lower-risk buildings will gain protection from costs through a new scheme where leaseholders will never pay more than £50 per month.

– They will implement an industry tax and levy to ensure developers play their part.

Overall, the government will be footing most of the bill to prevent building safety risks. If you do have to pay to meet safety legislation, you will be financially protected by this new scheme.

Preparing for these new safety standards

With these regulations coming into effect, your responsibilities are changing. For example, it increases the duties of responsible people, who must show greater competency when taking risk assessments.

This can be a steep learning curve. As Russ Timpson, Director at Tall Building Fire Safety has said:

“The new UK regulatory frameworks present an immediate challenge to fire safety specialists, social and private landlords, construction companies, managing agents and even residents, who must swiftly acquire the competency to navigate them.”

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