The Fire Safety Act 2021

Following the devastation of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, there’s been much campaigning to clarify responsibility for fire safety in multi-occupied buildings and ensure appropriate laws are in place to prevent any similar tragedy ever happening.

On 29 April 2021, after two years of ‘ping-pong’ through the parliamentary process, the Fire Safety Bill finally received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament (law). The Fire Safety Act 2021, holds those in control of premises accountable for managing fire safety and mitigating risks. It likely means agents and owners of multi-occupied buildings will work in a very different way in light of the implications of the Act. While there’s still no firm date as to when the Act will fully come into force, building owners and responsible persons should act now and be ready for the changes.

Here, we outline what the Fire Safety Act 2021 is, how it came to be and what it means for building owners (and various industries) going forward.

How did the Fire Safety Act 2021 come to exist? 

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry was devised to thoroughly examine the circumstances leading up to, and surrounding, the fire at London’s Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. Initial findings stated the building’s exterior didn’t comply with regulations and resulted in the quick spread of the fire. Following on from the Inquiry and its recommendations, the Fire Safety Bill was created to prevent any similar tragedy from occurring in the future in England and Wales, by providing clarification on responsibility for reducing fire risk in multi-occupied, residential buildings.

Over the last two years, the Fire Safety Bill has been passed back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords – with the latter making several attempts to amend the Bill with a clause that prevents leaseholders paying for any required fire safety works. The House of Commons rejected the amendments and, earlier this year, passed the Fire Safety Bill into law to become the Fire Safety Act 2021.

Amending the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO), the Fire Safety Act 2021 is the government’s attempt to improve fire safety in multi-occupancy buildings. It clarifies who is responsible for reducing the risk of fires in such buildings and adds to the requirements already laid out in the RRFSO. The responsible person (the duty holder or building owner) must now also manage the risk of fire for:

  • The structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows
  • Entrance doors to individual flats that open up into communal areas

The government’s hope is that this clarification will ‘empower fire services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.’

The amended law will have an obvious impact on fire risk assessment. Responsible persons should review their fire risk assessments as soon as possible for peace of mind they’ve covered external walls and entrance doors in line with the new legislation – and implemented any action required before the Fire Safety Act 2021 fully comes into force.

 

What’s next for fire safety in buildings?

In a multi-pronged approach by the government to improve building and fire safety, the Fire Safety Act 2021 is just one change. Further responsible person reforms are in planning and various industries should be prepared, as the proposed changes will impact many.

When the Building Safety Bill (known as the Building Safety Act) comes into force, it will work alongside the Fire Safety Act 2021. This draft Bill was implemented following Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell independent review of building regulations and fire safety. It concluded the whole system needed overhauling and greater priority should be placed on residents’ safety throughout a building’s entire life cycle – that is, fire safety should be considered from the initial stages of a building’s design and construction.

The draft Bill proposes to introduce new roles to ensure people living in high-rise buildings (above 18 metres) are always safe. They include an ‘accountable person’, who will listen and respond to residents’ concerns, and a National Building Safety Regulator – a new regulatory body that will be run by the Health and Safety Executive and be responsible for the safety and standard of all buildings.

In the meantime, architects, construction workers and property developers would be wise to keep an eye on imminent changes to the regulatory framework and fire safety processes. The government is overturning vague terminology, prioritising the highest standards of competency and ensuring fire safety strategy is paramount right from the initial designs of a build. And as building designs continue to become more complex and innovative, perhaps fire safety engineering has never been more important.

The government has also made it mandatory that sprinklers are fitted in all new blocks of flats over 11 metres high and launched the Building Safety Fund to replace cladding on high-rise residential buildings.

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