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Majority of UK non-freehold residents “don’t feel totally safe” in their homes

04 March 2023

NEW RESEARCH conducted jointly by digital construction management solutions providers Zutec and Createmaster reveals that most UK non-freehold tenants do not feel 100% safe within the building in which they live.

Some 2,000 tenants were surveyed twice over an 18-month period (spanning 2021 through to 2023) in order to assess whether their perception and impression of building safety had changed. Only 39% confirmed that they feel ‘very safe’ in their properties.

This figure remained consistent, in fact, with no change occurring in the 18-month period between the two like-for-like polls being conducted, despite mounting pressure on asset owners and property managers being realised by new Government regulation including the Building Safety Act 2022.   

Almost half (ie 41%) of those residents questioned in 2023 also stated that they’ve either experienced or observed fire safety hazards in their building/home such as non-existent or faulty fire sprinkler systems, fire alarms or extinguishers. Other issues have included fire escapes being locked.

That statistic is actually an improvement on 18 months ago, when over two-thirds (ie 68%) of respondents had observed or experienced fire safety issues in their building. This demonstrates that some progress has been made when it comes to making changes that will improve fire safety in residential buildings.

The detailed research also finds that access to fire certificates and building information remains somewhat inconsistent. Despite an 11% increase in residents having access to fire safety certificates since 2021, four-in-ten who responded to the survey highlighted that they still hadn’t seen this crucial documentation in relation to their building.

Set against the backdrop of the new Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, which commenced on 23 January, these outcomes serve as a stark reminder to landlords and asset owners alike that more work needs to be done to provide access to legally required information that assuages fire safety concerns, while also ensuring that key fire safety-related issues are being addressed.

Work to be done

Commenting on the study findings, Emily Hopson-Hill (chief operating officer at Zutec) said: “Following on from the considerable work undertaken by Dame Judith Hackitt post-Grenfell, and given the massive legislative focus placed on resident safety since that tragic fire, these results mean one thing. As an industry, it’s abundantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do.”  

Hopson-Hill continued: “The findings show that there have been some clear improvements in available and accessible building information over the 18-month period. The collective effort already being made by developers, asset owners and property managers towards regaining trust with tenants is starting to show in our survey results.”

Further, Hopson-Hill noted: “Newly enforced regulation, the stipulation for a digital ‘golden thread’ of information across the asset lifecycle and the requirement for building owners and managers to register with the Building Safety Regulator by October 2023 will help to remediate the relationship with tenants as the emphasis is very much to ensure that all stakeholders, including those tenants, have access to key information and that issues are resolved quickly. The added bonus will be effective asset operation, with the driving up of quality standards, strengthened compliance and reduced risk.”

Lack of confidence

When residents were asked how safe they felt in their homes, just over one-third (ie 39%) suggested that they felt very safe. While encouraging to see that only 2% of respondents felt unsafe, the majority (46%) responded that they felt ‘somewhat safe’, implying a lack of confidence when it comes to them feeling totally insulated from risk.

In the post-Grenfell era, these are results which should be taken seriously if asset owners, residential developers and property managers alike are to rebuild meaningful consumer trust and confidence in their own ability to provide proper protection and safer dwellings for residents.  

Other findings highlight increasing tenant and leaseholder awareness around correct fire safety procedures, yet respondents also flagged a lack of consistency in the information provided by their landlord. For instance, four-in-ten (43%) residents say they have not seen any fire safety certificates in their building.

However, these figures are improving, with 22% more respondents in 2023 saying communication from their asset owner or property manager has been excellent when compared with 2021 levels. Further, 44% of respondents now indicate they have access to fire safety certificates.  

Additionally, while one-in-ten respondents were unaware of who was responsible for fire safety in their building, an impressive 90% knew who to approach with their concerns.

It’s clear that asset owners have responded to the new and upcoming regulations and there is a definite improvement, but crucial knowledge gaps still exist. These need to be plugged on an urgent basis as they not only create a massive compliance risk for the asset owner or building manager, who now needs evidenced proof that they have followed regulations to the letter, but more importantly put residents’ lives at risk.

Response times

Taking immediate action once a fire safety issue has been flagged is non-negotiable. Unfortunately, only one-fifth (ie 21%) of respondents said that the party responsible for maintenance in their building responded quickly when safety-related issues were raised.  

When asked about the extent to which they were satisfied that their voice was being heard concerning fire safety and maintenance issues, less than a quarter (22%) felt ‘very satisfied’ with the service received. This result would appear to indicate a worrying ‘disconnect’ between residents and ‘Responsible Persons’.

These figures suggest that asset owners and building managers should reappraise their customer service provision with a view towards better handling of these situations. A starting point would be the enhancement of their digital portfolio and a determination to offer more engagement points (such as resident portals) for tenants.

In other areas, the services provided by asset owners have improved over the last 18 months. This development is to be welcomed. 70% of tenants said that they either felt ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ satisfied with the overall service that they receive from their asset owners or landlords, representing an increase on those asked the same question in 2021. This indicates that improvements are being made, if not at the pace residents would like.

Emily Hopson-Hill concluded: “Ultimately, resident safety and security must move on from being a ‘box-ticking’ exercise to become baked into the whole building lifecycle, from planning through to construction and on again to handover and beyond. Asset owners are already taking steps in the right direction to digitise data such that it’s accessible to all relevant stakeholders for better auditing and decision-making. With the regulatory landscape changing, now is the time to up the ante in order to ensure that residents feel 100% safe in their properties. In the here and now, this is non-negotiable.”

*The study findings outlined form part of a wider research project being undertaken by Zutec and Createmaster focusing on the quality of fire safety provision and building maintenance for non-freehold residents