The Fire Safety Bill is part of a series of changes to fire safety and building safety that the Government are introducing following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Current Fire Safety Legislation
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 consolidated several different pieces of fire legislation. It applies to all non-domestic premises, including communal areas of residential buildings with multiple homes. The Order designates those in control of premises as the responsible person for fire safety and they have a duty to undertake assessments and manage risks. The Order is enforced by Fire and Rescue Authorities.
What the Bill does
The Bill clarifies that for any building containing two or more sets of domestic premises the Order applies to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts, including the front doors of residential parts. It also clarifies that external walls in the order include “doors or windows in those walls” and “anything attached to the exterior of those walls (including balconies).” These amendments are expected to provide for increased enforcement action in these areas, particularly where remediation of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding is not taking place.
This Bill extends and applies to England and Wales. Separate fire safety legislation is in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Fire Safety is devolved in Wales but the Bill amends the shared legislation, with the same delegated powers applying to English and Welsh Ministers.
The Bill also provides English and Welsh Ministers with a regulation making power to amend the type of buildings the order applies to in the future.
The Bill has been welcomed, with public and industry bodies noting the expected increase in enforcement action by Fire and Rescue Authorities as a result of the Bill’s clarifications, as well as an expectation that it will impose greater burdens on the responsible person in multi-occupancy residential buildings.
Progress of the Bill
The Bill passed House of Commons stages without amendment on 7 September 2020. House of Lords consideration of the Bill was completed on 24 November 2020 and the Bill was passed back to the Commons with five amendments. One of these amendments seeks to restrict the passing on of remediation costs to leaseholders. This relates to ongoing concern about the cost to leaseholders of cladding removal from high-rise residential buildings. Further amendments have been tabled in the Commons with a similar intention.
The progress of this Bill and the Building Safety Bill appear to be linked to the ongoing issue of cladding remediation costs; on 10 February 2021 the Secretary of State announced an increase in the funding available for high-rise leasehold residential buildings with unsafe cladding.
Lords Amendments are due to be considered by the Commons on Wednesday 24 February 2021.