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The Government Announces a New Fire Safety Bill

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By Chris Baranowski


Published 23 April 2020


The announcement of a Fire Safety Bill on 19 March 2020 is the first move in long-awaited legislative reforms to fire safety law. The Bill proposes limited changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), which is the principal piece of legislation dealing with the management of fire safety risks in buildings.

The changes only affect Article 6 RRO “Premises to which the Fire Safety Order Applies”, but will clarify that for residential buildings with multiple occupancy, the fire safety duties owed will apply to:

  • The external walls and any common parts of the building, including doors or windows in the walls and anything attached to the walls (including balconies); and
  • All doors between the domestic premises and common parts.

It is important to note that the Bill does not impose any new duties; it will simply extend the scope of existing duties, where it was not previously clear that they already applied to certain parts of buildings. “Responsible Persons” with duties in respect of multi-occupied residential buildings (such as residential landlords and Tenant Management Organisations) will need to consider whether their existing risk assessments and fire safety measures include the parts of buildings covered in the Bill.

Some will see this as a baby-step rather than a giant leap forward in fire safety law, but the Home Office has also published a summary of responses to the Call for Evidence on the RRO, which was launched last June. The report on the responses identifies a number of areas for “further consideration”, including:

  • The self-identification of the Responsible Person and the assurance that they understand and hold the competence to carry out their fire safety duties;
  • The need to update current guidance for Responsible Persons and enforcing authorities;
  • Overlaps between legislation (such as the Housing Act 2004 and RRO) that applies to multi-occupied residential buildings;
  • The effectiveness of current provisions for enforcement under the RRO; and
  • The sharing of fire safety information between individual Responsible Persons, and between the Responsible Persons and other relevant personnel involved in the fire safety of the building (for example fire authorities and local authorities).

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, respondents to the Call for Evidence indicated a preference for a single piece of fire safety legislation to cover multi-occupied buildings. The published responses also refer to the need for legal oversight of Responsible Persons’ activities. That would represent a significant shift in the way in which duties are currently enforced. Like most UK safety legislation, the RRO places the burden of assessing risk and managing safety on duty-holders, with little scope for oversight by a regulator or authority until and unless something goes wrong. Imposing periodic checks on Responsible Persons, or even requiring them to register themselves in that role, could be an expensive process which would also require a new legislative framework.

However, with changes to building safety also in the offing (possibly including the widening of CDM duties) there may be an appetite to impose a more closely regulated fire safety regime; all of which will doubtless be considered in a consultation on the RRO planned for later this this year.

If you have any concerns or questions about the extent of your own duties as a Responsible Person or the application of the RRO to premises you own/manage/occupy, one of our expert regulatory lawyers would be happy to discuss these with you.

Chris Baranowski is a Partner in the regulatory team at DAC Beachcroft.