The Fire Safety Act 2021: What are the practical implications?

08 October 2021

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in the summer of 2017 during which 72 people died and more than 70 were injured forced an overhaul of fire safety for buildings across the country.

The Fire Safety Bill was tabled in March 2020 following recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore Bick and Dame Judith Hackitt after completing phase one of the public inquiry into the circumstances that led to the fire. It was made law in April 2021.

The Act aims to ameliorate the deficiencies of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) and impose more stringent measures in multiple occupancy buildings. Whilst the communal areas of multiple occupancy buildings were always within the scope of the FSO, historically, the interpretation only extended to the internal parts of the building. 

The notable changes

An increase in the burden placed on ‘responsible persons’ is one of the key takeaways of the Act, largely due to the fact that:

  • it further defines multiple occupancy as any residential building with two or more sets of domestic premises, irrespective of building height
  • the external parts of the building such as the walls, windows, balconies and cladding will now be covered by the FSO and will need to be risk assessed by the responsible person who must also manage and where reasonably practicable, reduce the risk from fire
  • doors between premises that lead to common parts of the building will also fall under the remit of the FSO
  • the Act introduces ‘risk-based guidance’ to encourage an approach to assessing risk commensurate with the building’s features. In practice, this should mean that where a responsible person has complied with the guidance (to be issued by the Secretary of State), there will be a presumption that the FSO has been complied with. 

Although the 2021 Act is mercifully succinct, those that it applies to will need to be aware that different sections will come into force at different times and that it may therefore be sensible for building owners to review and update their fire risk assessments to incorporate the required changes simultaneously.

A question is often raised as to the definition of a responsible person and understandably so. Under the FSO, in a residential premises, the owner of the building, and/or those with control over it will be deemed to be the responsible person. In a workplace, the responsible person will be the person who has control of the premises in connection with the carrying on of a trade, business or other undertaking.

One of the most controversial issues covered in the Bill was the question over who would be liable to pick up the tab for remedial works to cladding. Proposed amendments to ensure that leaseholders would not have to cover the bill for what will inevitably be very expensive remediation failed however and the current position is that in circumstances where the lease provides that landlords can pass down these costs as part of a service charge, leaseholders will be liable.

To find out more about how the new FSO could impact you, please contact Francesca Reason or another member of the Corporate and Regulatory Defence Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2021.



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