The Fire Safety Bill: Greater clarity on the duties of the Responsible Person?

6 May 2020

Last week, on 29 April the Fire Safety Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons and was sent to a Public Bill Committee.  The Bill will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and provide greater clarity on the duties of the Responsible Person or duty-holder for multi- occupied, residential buildings.  

Currently, under the Fire Safety Order, fire and rescue services have enforcement powers over the common parts of blocks of flat, such as entrance halls and landings.  They do not have such enforcement powers beyond the front doors of flats into individual homes, nor do they have enforcement powers over the exterior of buildings. 

The Fire Safety Bill proposes changes to the scope of the Fire Safety Order 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.  The Bill proposes that duty-holders be responsible for fire doors, even if they are owned by leaseholders.
Security Minister James Brokenshire stated: "we have established that there are differing interpretations of the provisions in the order as to whether external walls and, to a lesser extent, individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are in scope of the order.  For that reason, we submit that the Bill is a clarification of the fire safety order.  It will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings regulated by the order.  The current ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice.  That is unhelpful at best and, at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which can put the lives of people at risk."  He went on to state: "I am aware that the provisions of the Bill will require potentially significant numbers of responsible persons to review and update their fire risk assessments.  For many, that will require specialist knowledge and the expertise of the fire risk assessor…. I would nonetheless encourage those with responsibilities to carry out a fire risk assessment under the Order as a matter of good practice and to consider flat entrance doors and external wall systems as part of their fire risk assessment for multi-occupied residential blocks as soon as possible if they have not already done so."

It is anticipated that the clarification proposed by the Bill will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.  

The Bill will also allow for secondary legislation, to capture the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report and will 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.  

The Bill falls alongside a number of other actions, including the announcement of a new Building Safety Regulator and the introduction of the Building Safety Bill.  Debate around the second reading highlighted some concern over the alignment of the Building Safety Bill with the amended Fire Safety Order to create a workable building safety system.  In particular, disparities were highlighted between the Fire Safety Order’s ‘Responsible Person’ and the ‘Accountable Person’ and ‘Building Safety Manager’ contained in the Government’s response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation.  Despite this, it is hoped that the historic confusion and ambiguity around who holds responsibility for parts of premises may finally be clarified as the Bill passes through Parliament.  

About the author

Hannah Eales is an experienced advocate and a regulatory, health and safety and criminal law specialist. Hannah has a particular expertise in Fire Safety law having prosecuted on behalf of Fire and Rescue Authorities in the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts and the Court of Appeal.  

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