The Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA) received royal assent on 29 April 2021. It is an important step in a series of changes being made to fire safety responsibility in light of the government's commitment to deliver the Grenfell Tower Phase One Report recommendations. Following the recent New Providence Wharf fire, the push for greater fire safety responsibility remains a pressing issue.
What changes does the Act bring?
The FSA amends the Regulatory Reform (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, external walls and common parts of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows; and
- entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
The Act also paves the way for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make further changes through secondary legislation. For example:
- the scope of the Act can be amended to include other types of qualifying buildings as may be required by industry events or design and construction considerations; and
- recommendations from the Grenfell Inquiry Phase One can be introduced, which may include making building owners responsible for a wider number of issues such as lifts, evacuation plans and safety information for residents.
What is the impact of the Act?
The scope and scrutiny of fire responsibility obligations has increased significantly and building owners and managers will need to review and update their risk assessment processes accordingly. Once published, duty holders should apply the Risk-Based Guidance (referred to in Section 3 of the Act) in order to demonstrate compliance.
This should be a priority for building owners and managers as the FSA's clarification in relation to external and common parts provides Fire and Rescue Authorities with a much clearer identification of the duty holder (referred to as the Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) and is likely to lead to an increase in prosecutions of recalcitrant building owners.
Who will bear the cost?
While the duty will remain with the Responsible Person for the building or relevant part of the building, who bears the cost of any necessary works to achieve compliance will depend on the particular lease obligations.
The House of Commons rejected a proposed amendment to prevent costs being passed onto leaseholders as it considered the issue of remediation costs to be complex and wanted to avoid further delays to the legislation. However, it is likely that the issue of such costs will be revisited as part of the Building Safety Bill which will also introduce further fire safety obligations.
Osborne Clarke comment
Duties and obligations in the sphere of building safety are expanding so businesses and individuals along the building supply chain will need to quickly understand their responsibilities. Discharging these obligations starts with a comprehensive fire risk assessment. As well as having regard to the new provisions of the FSA, it will also be important to keep track in particular of the Building Safety Bill in order to future-proof building development designs and contracts as best as possible.
This article was produced with the assistance of Harriet Parratt, Trainee Solicitor.