What you need to know about The Fire Safety Act 2021.

The Fire Safety Act 2021 is an Act of Parliament that updates the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – the FSO. It brings some important changes to the responsibilities of landlords, property managers and other ‘responsible people’.

The amendments also make it easier for enforcement action to be taken against the Responsible Person. Therefore, it’s important to understand just what you, as a responsible person, are required to do for the safety of your tenants.

Click here to read about the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety)

The background of the Fire Safety Act 2021

In March 2020 a Bill was introduced to Parliament following the tragedy of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, amending the existing FSO. The amendments are intended to make it clear who is responsible for managing and improving fire safety in the different areas of houses in multiple occupancy (HMO).

The Bill received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021 and was named the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA). The law applies to England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate fire safety regulations.

The key provisions of The Fire Safety Act 2021

The amendments address two key areas of the concern. These are:
The structure of a building including external walls and any shared common areas. External walls include doors and windows, as well as anything attached to them such as balconies, insulation or cladding.
All doors that separate the individual flats from communal areas. These should be the appropriate fire doors.

The FSA applies to all houses in multiple occupancy, regardless of height. This means it affects a house converted to two flats as well as high rise apartment blocks.

Who is responsible for implementing the FSA?

The FSA identifies the ‘Responsible Person’ of a premises as the person who has control of it. That may include the building owner, landlords or property management agencies. The Responsible Person has a duty to undertake fire assessments and manage any risks in the property.

What do they need to do now?

In view of the changes brought by the FSA, the Responsible Person should review and update the fire safety processes accordingly. That means that, in addition to existing responsibilities, they are now required to assess fire risks posed by the structure and external walls of their premises, and the individual doors that separate domestic premises from common areas.

The Responsible Person will need to manage and reduce any fire risks in those areas. While remedial works are ongoing, the Responsible Person may need to introduce temporary safety measures.

To help with this process, Section 3 of the Act will include risk-based guidance to help the Responsible Person to comply with their duties. It will also provide a benchmark to identify where they have been non-compliant. This risk-based guidance has not yet been released by the government.

Who enforces the Act?

The FSA is enforced by fire and rescue authorities. Now, with the amendments and clarification provided by the FSA, they will be able to better identify the Responsible Person and take enforcement action against the Responsible Person for non-compliance. This may also lead to fines and/or prosecution.

Who is responsible for costs?

As a result of the changes to the FSA, it is likely that there will be remedial works required to many HMOs to bring them up to the required fire safety standards. However, The FSA does not address the issue of who will be paying for those costs.

A proposal was put forward to prevent the building owners from passing those costs on to the leaseholders. This was rejected by the government. Instead, they announced that leaseholders in buildings over 18 metres high would not bear the costs of replacing dangerous cladding and they are in the process of providing some funding. However, the expected funding is considered to be insufficient to the huge sums of money that will be required.

As it stands, leaseholders currently may face the brunt of costs to improve internal fire safety improvements. They are also likely to be affected by higher insurance and so on.

The future for fire safety regulations

There is currently a further Bill passing through Parliament – The Building Safety Bill. This is designed to clarify responsibilities for fire safety throughout the design and construction of buildings within its scope. However, this does not help leaseholders currently in buildings that fail to meet FSA standards, and who now face potentially huge costs to improve them.

The FSA also has a further impact by adding to the responsibilities of surveyors and fire risk assessors. However, there is already a lack of qualified surveyors to conduct fire safety surveys, and a lack of processional indemnity insurance to cover their new requirements.

What landlords, building owners and property managers should do now?

The Fire Safety Act 2021 has clearly placed additional responsibilities on the Responsible Person. While the date that the FSA will come into force has not yet been set, it is coming. It would therefore be best to get ahead and begin your risk assessments now.

If you are a landlord, building owner or property manager of an HMO, you should clearly establish who is the Responsible Person.
If you do not already know, find out what materials were used in the structure of your property.
Make sure the doors between individual premises and common areas are compliant and in good condition.
Review and update your fire safety processes.
If necessary, make sure you obtain advice and support from fire safety experts.

If you would like support in ensuring your risk assessments, fire safety equipment and maintenance is up to date, give us a call today.