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What You Need to Know About the Fire Safety Act 2021
By Hannah Cheshire
After fierce deliberation and heated dispute in regard to the suitability of fire safety legislation, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster back in 2017, the new Fire Safety Bill was given Royal accreditation at the end April 2021, and will henceforth be known as the Fire Safety Act 2021.
In March 2020, The Home Office made their first steps towards amending fire safety legislations, by introducing a new Fire Safety Bill in order to improve the fire safety practices of buildings throughout England and Wales. The Bill officially passed through parliament on April 29th, 2021.
This followed several attempts by Peers in the House of Lords to amend the Fire Safety Bill with a clause preventing costs for things like dangerous cladding, fire doors and insulation systems, from being passed on to residents – these amendments were rejected five times before approval.
What Will Change?
This approved Fire Safety Act amends the current Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, by outlining changes to specific portions of residential buildings, such as external walls and anything attached to them. These changes have considerable consequences for responsible persons, who must be fully aware of their expanded responsibilities under the amendments.
To summarise, the Fire Safety Act 2021 will:
- Apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings (where there is “two or more sets of domestic premises” for example).
- Amend the current Fire Safety Order 2005 that requires all responsible persons to understand, manage and reduce the fire risks associated with structure, external walls (including balconies, cladding and windows), and any other common parts of buildings. The latter of which will include any doors between domestic properties.
- Allow the Fire Service to enforce action against any responsible person who fails to comply with the requirements of this Act.
- Enable the government to issue guidance based on risk, which can be referred to in order to prove that a responsible person has complied or failed to adhere to the requirements of the Act.
When Will These Changes Roll Out?
Although the Bill was given Royal Assent on 29th April, it has not yet come into force and therefore it has no legal basis yet.
The government aren’t expected to reveal a start date for this Act until the aforementioned risk-based guidance has been published. The public consultation for this guidance, named PAS 9980: Fire Risk Appraisal and Assessment of External Wall Construction and Cladding of Existing Blocks of Flats – Code of Practice, closed on 20th May 2021.
This gives suggestions and recommendations on performing a risk assessment of the external wall construction of a multi-occupation residential property. The purpose of this is to offer guidance for a responsible person when assessing fire risk to their occupants to prevent the spread of a fire externally or within the internal structure of a wall and whether preventative maintenance work is necessary.
This process is crucial to understand where there is risk associated with the presence of combustible materials in the construction of external walls.
Now the consultation period is closed, the final guidance is expected to be published during September of 2021. This means it is unlikely we’ll see the start date for this new guidance come into force until late this year, or more likely, early in 2022.
What Responsible Persons Need to Know
We already know that the introduction of the updated Fire Safety Act will place further responsibility on the shoulders of the responsible person. This means the range of a fire risk assessment will be significantly increased, along with the possibility that remedial works may be required to comply with the legislation.
This means that any responsible person must make themselves with the new risk-based guidelines upon publication, to ensure they are fully abreast of what is expected of them. Only once this date comes will we know for sure exactly what will change.
Any responsible person that fails to undertake what is required of them by following the guidelines will face severe enforcement action which, in some cases, will include criminal prosecution and the very real prospect of an unlimited fine.
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