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Government publishes response to public consultation on fire safety issues

25 April 2021

THE GOVERNMENT has published its 74-page response to the public Fire Safety Consultation process that ran from July to October last year, duly providing a summary of the responses received and setting out the next steps the Government will take to strengthen fire safety for all regulated buildings.

The Fire Safety Consultation contained 139 questions aimed at identifying what, if any, policy and legislative changes are needed to improve fire safety. The consultation document outlined proposals designed to strengthen the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and improve compliance in all regulated premises, implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations that require a change in the law and improve the effectiveness of consultation between building control bodies and Fire and Rescue Authorities on planning for building work and the arrangements for the handover of fire safety information.

Throughout the process, the overriding intention of Westminster has been to seek detailed views in order to take further steps towards delivering the Government's fire and building safety reform agenda and ensure that people resident in all buildings regulated by the Fire Safety Order feel safe – and are safe – from fire regardless of where they live, stay or work.

The Government’s commitment to implementing the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations “remains undimmed”, as does its commitment to ensure those most affected by the tragic events at Grenfell Tower – ie the bereaved and the survivors of what happened in June 2017 – continue to have a voice in their implementation. The Government has stated: “It’s important that we get this right and ensure the voice of residents and those likely to be affected by the proposals are heard. That is why we have decided to undertake a further consultation to seek additional views on the complex issue of personal emergency evacuation plans in relation to the proposals to implement the relevant Grenfell Tower recommendations relating to such personal emergency evacuation plans.”

Responses already provided to the proposals in the initial consultation will be considered alongside the responses to the forthcoming consultation. Further information on this process will shortly be available on GOV.UK

Summary of responses

When it comes to the strengthening of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and improving compliance, the Government reports that, in general, respondents have been broadly supportive of the proposals consulted on, while offering comments and suggestions as to where the proposals could be improved, extended or modified throughout. Respondents clearly agreed with the need to strengthen the Fire Safety Order and improve compliance. There’s also clear support for proposals to improve the quality of fire risk assessments, including a requirement that any individual engaged by the ‘Responsible Person’ to undertake all or any part of the fire risk assessment should be competent and support in relation to the requirement for all ‘Responsible Persons’ to record their completed fire risk assessments.

Proposals to facilitate the identification of ‘Responsible Persons’ and improve their co-operation and co-ordination with one another where they share or otherwise have duties in respect of the same premises have also met with support. The majority of respondents agreed with the proposal to enhance the provision of information between ‘Responsible Persons’ and residents, so too the Government’s proposal to ensure the preservation of fire safety information over a building’s lifetime.

There were mixed views regarding the maintenance of buildings under the Fire Safety Order and the role of residents, as well as in relation to charging for enforcement activity. There is support for charging for formal enforcement notifications such as Enforcement Notices and Prohibition Notices, but those views expressed in relation to charging for other enforcement activity were somewhat more varied. There was also some agreement on charging proposals, but thinking appears to be diverse as far as the circumstances in which this might be deemed appropriate.

A recurring theme throughout many of the responses is the perceived need to consider other risk factors in addition to a building’s height in order to determine the extent of fire safety measures necessary to mitigate them. This point was particularly emphasised in relation to higher risk workplaces.

It’s also clear that many respondents believe strengthened guidance would be required wherever changes are made to ensure an understanding of any new regulations or requirements and also to support compliance.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations

Respondents to this section are again largely supportive of many of the proposals. A few of the consultation areas have received mixed levels of agreement, with respondents again offering comments and suggestions on where proposals could be improved, extended or otherwise modified.

Proposals on the requirement for ‘Responsible Persons’ to provide specific fire safety information to residents – be it contact details or fire safety measures, advice or records of fire risk assessments – received high levels of agreement. There was also strong agreement for the proposal for building plans to be shared with Fire and Rescue Services, including floorplans and the location of key firefighting systems.

However, only three-fifths of respondents feel that building plans should be provided for every floor of a building, while approximately two-fifths of respondents think that building plans should only be provided for those floors that are different in their layout.

A proposal requiring ‘Responsible Persons’ to provide Premises Information Boxes for high-rise residential buildings, which would include evacuation plans, and another requirement for wayfinding signage to be provided on all storeys both received strong support. The proposal to require ‘Responsible Persons’ to conduct monthly checks on lifts and other relevant equipment, including checking the adequacy of fire doors, received similar agreement.

While respondents generally agreed with the three proposals on personal emergency evacuation plans outlined in the consultation, many have commented on the need to consider and address the legal, financial and practical implications arising from this as the policy intention is developed further.

The requirement to consider other risk factors – in addition to a building’s height – when determining appropriate fire safety measures also appears to be a recurring theme throughout the second section of the consultation.

Further, there’s a clear call for guidance to underpin the proposals made in this section to support the understanding of – and compliance with – any new regulations or requirements.

Effectiveness of consultation

Section 3 is focused on improving the effectiveness of consultation between building control bodies and Fire and Rescue Authorities. On matters relating to the former and their consultation with the latter, the majority of respondents agree on the need for clear guidance and standardisation to ensure a smoother process and for clarity and improvements in information provision.

Most respondents also agree that additional consultation points could be specified in legislation or guidance and that there should be a statutory timeframe for responses by Fire and Rescue Authorities to consultation requests from building control bodies. There was also support for strengthening the requirements for handing over fire safety information to ‘Responsible Persons’ when building work is completed.

The consultation covered a wide range of proposals that require further exploration to enable the Government to better understand their application and any consequential issues. The responses received have informed – and will continue to inform – policy and legislative changes that will drive forward improvements in the fire safety of regulated buildings. Where possible, the Government will take immediate action to deliver these changes. Where further work is required, the Government will continue to take this forward as quickly as possible.

Specific steps forward

In light of the findings of the consultation, the Government will now take action to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order through the Building Safety Bill in order to strengthen the provision relating to statutory guidance issued under Article 50 of the Fire Safety Order.

Specifically, the Government will require that, where the ‘Responsible Person’ appoints an individual to conduct or review the fire risk assessment, they must be competent to do. The Government will also require that all ‘Responsible Persons’ must record their completed fire risk assessment, record (and, as necessary, update) their contact information and take reasonable steps to identify themselves to all other ‘Responsible Persons’ (and, where applicable, ‘Accountable Persons’ under the Building Safety Bill) where they share or have duties in respect of the same premises.

The Government will now require that, for all regulated premises in England and Wales, ‘Responsible Persons’ must record the name of the individual (and organisation) of those persons engaged by them to undertake any or all of the fire risk assessment procedures. Departing ‘Responsible Persons’ must first take reasonable steps to share all relevant fire safety information with incoming ‘Responsible Persons’.

It’s the Government’s intention to increase the level of fines from Level 3 (£1,000) to Level 5 (unlimited) for offences in relation to the impersonation of an inspector, any failure to comply with specific requirements imposed by an inspector and also any failure to comply with requirements relating to the installation of luminous tube signs.

The Government outlines that “more work is required” to further develop policy in relation to fees and charges, false fire alarms, maintenance, the provision of information to residents and higher-risk workplace buildings. As such, the Government will continue to consider the responses received to the initial consultation and engage with stakeholders with a view towards informing policy development in these areas.

Grenfell Tower proposals

The proposals included within Section 2 of the consultation focus specifically on recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report that require legislation. They address improvements to fire safety in high-rise residential buildings by placing requirements on building owners/managers (‘Responsible Persons’) in line with recommendations.

All of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report proposals included in this section generated overall support from the respondents, albeit with different levels of agreement (from 67% at the lower end of the scale to 95% at the higher end of the scale). The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations are detailed and, in some cases, build on existing provisions within the Fire Safety Order.

The Home Office’s Fire Safety Bill, which provides much needed clarity on the scope of the Fire Safety Order in relation to external walls and flat entrance doors, is currently making its way through Parliament. Building on this, the Home Office will consider further the proposals contained within the Fire Safety Consultation in light of the consultation responses with the intention of delivering these proposals, where possible, through regulations introduced under Article 24 of the Fire Safety Order.

Subject to the Fire Safety Bill gaining Royal Assent, the Government intends to lay regulations in the Houses of Parliament before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report which will deliver on the Inquiry’s recommendations. These will include measures around checking fire doors and lifts.

Consultation responses have also highlighted that there’s a significant operational impact for both ‘Responsible Persons’ and Fire and Rescue Services. As such, it’s apparent that standardisation at a national level is required to achieve consistency across the relevant sectors and efficient and effective implementation. Home Office officials will now work with key stakeholders, in addition to other Government departments, in order to support operational implementation.

The Government comments: “Delivery of these recommendations also needs to take account of the provisions outlined in the draft Building Safety Bill to provide a coherent set of reforms. The Fire Safety Consultation noted that, where there may be overlap, it would be sensible to review the legislation arising from these recommendations on implementation of the relevant parts of the Building Safety Bill.”

It’s critical, observes the Government, that the legislative approach is supported by necessary guidance and that the operational implementation challenges have been considered and addressed to enable the necessary change on the ground.

Evacuation plans

In relation to the consultation proposal to implement the recommendation relating to personal emergency evacuation plans, the Home Office has committed to seeking further views. As stated, more details about this will be made available as soon as possible. The Government has said: “It is critical that, when we do legislate, we get it right, and we therefore want to ensure that we have fully considered the views of those most affected by these recommendations before we do so.”

Finally, in relation to the proposal relating to Premises Information Boxes, further work is being undertaken to develop the policy approach in existing buildings and to define the information that will be required to be stored in them. In the meantime, as part of ongoing policy development on Premises Information Boxes, the Government intends to introduce a new recommendation that these should be provided in all new blocks of flats with storeys above 11 metres in height. This recommendation will be delivered through amendments to Approved Document B.

Primary and secondary legislation

The proposals in Section 3 of the consultation focused on building control bodies and their consultation with Fire and Rescue Authorities will require implementation through changes to primary and secondary legislation and guidance. Where changes are deemed necessary in terms of primary legislation, the Government intends to take them forward through the Building Safety Bill.

The latter will include revoking Article 45 of the Fire Safety Order to enable consultation requirements to be consolidated in Building Regulations. That will bring legislation together in one place, making the legislative framework clearer and more adaptable to accommodate any future changes. The Government also proposes to make provision for mandating Plans Certificates for Fire Safety Order properties as supported in the consultation.

Further changes will require implementation either through secondary legislation or guidance and the Government will work closely with all stakeholders on these. This will include supporting the sector review of procedural guidance to improve the way in which information can be provided regarding building works, working with the sector to devise and adopt specific proposals for promoting timely consultation and a workable approach regarding response times with a view to both changes being made through secondary legislation in due course. Also, there will be a consideration about bringing forward any relevant changes to Regulation 38 following further work with the sector to fully understand the pros and cons of options to strengthen it with a view towards improving the process and robustness of the fire safety information handed over to the ‘Responsible Person’.

The Fire Safety Consultation included a commitment to overhaul the existing guidance under the Fire Safety Order. The Government established a Guidance Steering Group to provide direction and expertise on the overhaul of Fire Safety Order-centric guidance in recognition that new and revised guides will be needed to reflect changes coming out of the Fire Safety Bill and any other legislation affecting the Regulatory Reform Order.

The Government has split this work into three tranches to align with these potential amendments and will make sure that the guidance supports ‘Responsible Persons’, enforcing authorities, fire risk assessors and anyone else affected by the changes such that they can fully understand their new duties.

Responses from the Government’s consultation indicate that revised guidance will be an important element in delivering the outcomes of the process. The findings of the consultation will also be used to support this work.