The Home Office has introduced a new bill to improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales.
The proposed Fire Safety Bill builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again. The bill will amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for: the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows; and entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts. This clarification will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.
James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Security, said, “We remain committed to implementing the recommendations made following phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and the Government has already made major reforms to building safety. Today’s bill will help bring about meaningful change to improving building safety.”
Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said, “I am pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. We have been calling for additional powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes. We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.”
The bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including: regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services; ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised; ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand; and ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.
The bill will also give the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the powers to amend the list of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order by way of secondary legislation, enabling the Government to respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings.
Alongside the new bill, a number of actions are being taken across government to improve building and fire safety including: the announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on 20 January 2020 of a new Building Safety Regulator; introduction of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Building Safety Bill, which will provide clearer accountability and stronger duties on those responsible for high rise buildings; £1bn of grant funding to tackle unsafe cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres in both the private and social sectors; a new Building Safety Bill to bring about further changes to building safety; and the relaunch of the Government’s Fire Kills campaign.
To accompany the introduction of the bill, the Home Office also announced the publication of the summary of responses received to the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) call for evidence. The call for evidence invited views on the application of the FSO and sought to identify any changes that might be needed and how they could be best achieved.
While respondents identified some areas where the FSO could be amended to provide greater clarity, most respondents agreed that the scope and objectives of the FSO remain appropriate for all regulated premises, that it should retain its focus on protecting lives over property, and that it should continue to provide a framework for a risk-based and proportionate approach to regulating fire safety. A consultation will be held later in the year on proposals and next steps.