This guide covers social landlords’ responsibilities for fire safety in residential premises, including individual homes, purpose-built blocks of flats and sheltered housing. It does not cover property protection or insurance requirements in the case of fire.
Fire Safety Q&A (updated December 2020)
Government proposals for Fire Safety and a new Building Safety Regulator – Q&A briefing
Q. What are the Government’s proposals for Fire Safety?
A. The Government published a Fire Safety Bill on 19 March 2020 that will amend the 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 and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows
- entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
This clarification will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.
The bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:
- regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services
- ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised
- ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand
- ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.
Q. What are the Government’s proposals for a Building Safety Regulator?
A. The Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill were published in response to the Grenfell Tower fire. When these Bills receive Royal Assent, they will establish a new Building Safety Regulator and a new regulatory regime for higher-risk residential buildings.
There is more information on the Building Safety Bill in a separate NHMF Q&A briefing.
Q. When will these new fire safety proposals come into force?
A. No date has been set yet but these proposals will come into force once the Fire Safety Bill, introduced in Parliament on 19 March 2020 has received Royal Assent.
Q. Will Building Regulations Part B be changed?
A. Yes and Amendments to Approved Document B (2019 edition), volumes 1 and 2 were published on 20 May 2020 and came into force in England on 26 November 2020. For new buildings they require sprinklers in every flat and wayfinding signage in blocks of flats with a storey 11 metres or more above ground level. The main change is a re-wording of paragraph 7.4 in Approved Document B, Volume 1, that replaces the 30m height with 11m. Table B4 for minimum periods of fire resistance has been updated in both volumes 1 and 2 to include the new category of ‘up to 11’ metres.
There are also new requirements for wayfinding signage in new buildings (B5: Access to buildings for firefighting personnel). Two types of sign that will be required floor identification signs and flat identification signs. The guidance provided within paragraphs 15.13 to 15.16 of Approved Document B, Volume 1 aims to improve the consistency of floor/flat identification signage in blocks of flats with a floor 11m or more above ground level.
There are also amendments for new buildings in both Volumes 1 and 2 relating to ‘Resisting fire spread from one building to another’ i.e. notional boundaries.
These amendments will be incorporated into both the online and paper versions of Approved
Document B Volume 1 and Volume 2 later when the changes take effect – users are advised to always check the online version for the most up to date version.
While these requirements apply to new buildings, landlords may want to consider whether any of these requirements might be appropriate for existing blocks of flats, such as wayfinding signage. The requirements can also be triggered by extensions or alterations that result in a storey 11 metres or more above ground level. Any building work in an existing building should never make the existing provision for fire safety worse.
Q. What should landlords be doing now?
A. Landlords should:
- Remedy any cladding that has been identified as presenting a significant fire hazard, particularly metal cladding with an unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) (see Q&A below).
- Ensure that future fire risk assessments of blocks of flats (required under the Fire Safety Order 2005) include an assessment of the risk of fire spread externally, as well as internally between flats, especially where external cladding has been installed or window replacements have taken place.
- Familiarise themselves with their responsibilities under the new Building Safety regime and the new Fire Safety requirements.
- Start to develop a safety case for each [higher-risk] residential building and consider appointing the building safety managers required by the new Building Safety regime.
- Assemble information required by the new Building Safety regime on the construction and subsequent modifications of each [higher-risk] residential building.
Q. How does the new fire safety regime fit with the Building Safety Bill?
A. Fire safety is an important factor for landlords developing a Building Safety case for each higher-risk building as set out in the Building Safety Bill. However, landlords will need to consider other factors, such as gas safety, asbestos, electrical safety, water hygiene and structural safety for each higher-risk building for each Building Safety case.
Q. What guidance has the Government published?
A. The Government published Building safety advice for building owners, including fire doors on 20 January 2020, to bring together all the Independent Expert Advisory Panel’s (the Expert Panel) previous advice notes for building owners on the measures they should take to ensure their buildings are safe. It makes clear that ACM cladding (and other metal composite material cladding) with an unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) presents a significant fire hazard on residential buildings at any height with any form of insulation.
Q. What does this guidance cover?
A. It covers the safety of external wall systems (including spandrel panels and balconies), smoke control systems, fire doors and what short-term measures should be put in place should a significant safety issue be identified.
This consolidated note also brings the Expert Panel’s advice together in a single document and supersedes existing Advice Notes 1 to 22. Some of the previous advice has been condensed to make it clearer.
The advice on the assessment of non-ACM external wall systems (previously Advice Note 14) has been updated and incorporated.
Q. What should building owners do about external wall systems?
A. Building owners should have an up to date fire risk assessment and understand the construction of external walls and their potential performance in the event of fire. The fire risk assessment should take into account height, materials, vulnerability of residents, location of escape routes, and the complexity of the building.
Existing residential buildings which have external walls that contain combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety and could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters. External walls of residential buildings should not assist the spread of fire, irrespective of height.
They should take action to address the risk of fire spread from unsafe external wall systems, as soon as possible to ensure the safety of residents and not await further advice or information to act.
For residential buildings of 18m and also buildings at any height with residents who need significant assistance to evacuate should check their external wall systems in line with the advice in this Advice Note (section 3).
Q. What should building owners do about removing unsafe external wall systems during the Covid-19 restrictions?
A. The Government published guidance: Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 16 April 2020 explaining that it is priority for building owners to make buildings safe, including remediating high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding. The Government has explained that building safety work should continue during the Covid-19 restrictions where it is safe to do so, in accordance with public health guidance and procedures put in place by the construction industry to protect the workforce and minimise the risk of spreading infection.
Q. What should building owners do about fire doors?
A. Flat entrance fire doors leading to a shared or communal area are required to provide fire and smoke protection and are part of layered approach to most fire strategies for residential buildings. It is important that all fire doors, including the closers, are routinely maintained by a suitably qualified professional.
Where it is suspected that existing flat entrance doorsets do not meet the fire or smoke resistance performance in 'Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats', they should be replaced. The urgency for replacement should be determined by a fire risk assessment.
Q. What should building owners do about composite doorsets?
A. Building owners should contact the relevant manufacturer directly. ACDM (Association of Composite Door Manufacturers) members have committed to work with building owners to review Fire-Resistant Composite Doorsets that have been supplied and to remediate any installed doorsets which failed MHCLG tests.
Q. What advice is available for landlords wanting to commission fire risk assessments?
Q. How can I keep up to date?
A. By subscribing to MCHLG Building Safety Programme.
Q. What good practice is available to social landlords for fire safety in multi-storey blocks of flats?
A. The NHMF Best Practice website provides best practice case studies. See NHMF 2020 Presentation: Joe Taylor, Hydrock: External Walls Fire Safety Review - EWS1, NHMF over cladding case study.
Government ban on combustible materials in the external walls of certain buildings over 18m in height – Q&A briefing
Q. Which buildings and ‘specified attachments’ does this ban apply to?
A. The restrictions apply to the external walls for new residential blocks of flats, student accommodation, care homes, sheltered housing, hospitals and dormitories in boarding schools with a storey above 18 m in height.
It has been confirmed that a ‘balcony attached to an external wall’ is defined as a ‘specified attachment’ and so the ban applies to the following (defined by BS 8579:2020 ‘Guide to the design of balconies and terraces’):
- Inset/internal/recessed balconies
- Projecting/external balcony
- Access Balcony
- Enclosed balconies (such as winter gardens) and inset terraces
The components of these balconies should be of A1 or A2-s1, d0 materials. Waterproofing materials would usually be classed as an exemption under Regulation 7(3); however, Requirement B4(2) still applies and Class BROOF(t4) membranes in accordance with BS EN 13501-5:2016
For new buildings, Regulations 7(2)-7(4) and the associated guidance with Section 10 of Approved Document B should be consulted.
Q. What materials does this ban apply to?
A. The amendments require that all materials which become part of an external wall or specified attachment achieve European Class A2-s1, d0 or Class A1.
Q. Does this ban apply to existing cladding of multi-storey flats?
A. No. This ban applies only to new buildings. However, it would be good practice to refer to these new requirements when planning any new cladding or replacement of existing cladding to multi-storey blocks of flats.
Q. Where can I find more information?
A. Where can I find more information
The Government has published these documents explaining the new requirements:
- 2020 amendments to Approved Document B: Fire safety, Volume 1 – Dwellings and Volume 2 – Buildings other than dwellings, 2019 edition
- Fire safety: Approved Document B - latest version
- 2018 amendment to Approved Document 7: material and workmanship
- Building regulations and fire safety procedural guidance: circular letter 15 July 2020
Q. What should landlords do who have a Primary Authority partnership for fire safety?
A. Landlords need to check with their Primary Authority partnership:
- That their partnership has been transitioned.
- What their fire safety partnership covers.
Q. What is a Primary Authority partnership?
Legislation and statutory requirements
Landlords are responsible for ensuring fire safety, with the main duty being to carry out and act on fire risk assessments.
The Housing Act 2004 covers England and Wales and applies to individual homes, including the licensing of houses in multiple-occupation (HMO) and other residential accommodation. The Act introduced the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) for use in England and Wales. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the FSO) applies to common parts of blocks of flats.
In England and Wales, fire risks to individual homes are assessed through the HHSRS. Both the Housing Act and the FSO apply to purpose-built blocks of flats, with the FSO bringing common parts of blocks of flats within the scope of mainstream fire safety legislation for the first time. The FSO requires fire risk assessments to be carried out and acted upon rather than meeting a set of prescribed measures. In addition to the FSO, other guidance such as the Government’s Fire safety risk assessment: sleeping accommodation can be useful. All new housing, including conversions and "material alterations" needs to comply with the fire safety requirements of the Building Regulations (Part B). Building Regulations do not apply retrospectively to existing properties but any major refurbishment and improvement work should not make the level of fire performance worse. While not mandatory, such major refurbishment and improvement work, when considered alongside the most recent Fire Risk Assessment, is an opportunity to consider the practicalities and economics of improving the fire performance of building.
In Scotland, guidance is provided in relation to sleeping accommodation under Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, as amended. The Act applies to most non-domestic premises (premises which are not private dwellings) and to HMOs which require a licence. It requires those persons with responsibility for premises to ensure the safety of others by putting in place appropriate fire safety measures based on an assessment of risk.
In Northern Ireland, HMOs and flats and maisonettes are covered by the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 but the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 apply to other residential sleeping accommodation, such as hostels.
The HHSRS under the Housing Act is enforced by local authorities, for category 1 hazards an improvement notice will be served or, in more extreme cases, a prohibition order may be served. The Act gives local authorities powers of access for the purposes of inspecting to see if a category 1 or 2 hazard exists. The FSO is enforced by the local fire and rescue authority. Building Regulations are enforced by the Building Control Body (either local authority building control or a private-sector approved Inspector).
Social landlords also have to comply with specific legal requirements for housing and those relating to maintaining safe and healthy homes set out in each country’s regulatory framework (see Housing Regulators below). The relevant housing legislation for each country is set out below.
In England and Wales the Housing Act 2004 applies to individual homes, including the licensing of houses in multiple-occupation (HMO) and other residential accommodation. Risks are assessed through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
The relevant legislation in Scotland is the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 and for Northern Ireland main legislation is the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, with all relevant legislation listed by the Department for Social Development.
In England, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), requires registered providers to comply with its Regulatory Standards. On 1 October 2018 the RSH became a standalone public body, independent from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). On 11 January 2018, the HCA’s non-regulation arm adopted its new trading name Homes England. Managing fire safety is covered by the Home Standard that requires meeting all statutory requirements for the health and safety of occupants.
In Wales, all social landlords are required to meet and maintain the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) as soon as possible, with 2020 the absolute deadline. In relation to fire safety, landlords are to ensure easy escape routes and provide sufficient fire and smoke alarms.
In Scotland, social landlords are required to meet the minimum Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS). Meeting the SQHS includes compliance with Technical Guide for healthy, safe and secure homes. For fire safety landlords should provide at least one smoke detector in each property and maintain them. The Scottish Housing Regulator expects compliance with all statutory and regulatory obligations including fire safety.
In Northern Ireland the Department for Social Development regulates registered housing associations under the Regulatory Framework for Registered Housing Associations in Northern Ireland 2006. Regulatory Standard 3.3 states that housing associations must develop manage and maintain good-quality homes that seek to meet people’s needs and preferences now and in the future. This includes meeting the Decent Homes Standard and compliance with all statutory and regulatory obligations including fire safety.
Compliance – good and efficient practice
Comprehensive guidance is available on Fire safety in purpose-built flats. While this deals specifically with purpose-built flats, it also provides advice on all legislation and guidance relating to residential fire safety. In particular the guidance explains how to commission, carry out and act on fire risk assessments. To ensure that recommended work from fire risk assessments is carried out, one landlord requires assessors to produce a schedule of works for each scheme assessed so that the identified remedial works can be collated and used in any procurement exercise. Guidance is also provided on fire and smoke alarms, emergency lighting, wet and dry risers, firefighting equipment and extinguishers, sprinklers and sprinkler systems, smoke vents, fire doors, building compartmentation and bin chute fire dampers. The London Fire Brigade has published advice "Know the Plan" for those living in blocks of flats and for landlords.
Some landlords carry out weekly inspections of common areas to check that fire protection systems, including fire doors, are in good working order. Landlords have a management responsibility to ensure that residents do not compromise fire safety by, for example, replacing flat entrance self-closing fire doors with non-compliant ones. Landlords are responsible for providing advice to residents about fire escape routes and what they should do in the event of a fire. Based on a landlord’s fire risk assessments, policies may be needed in relation to the management of common parts and means of escape in blocks of flats i.e. to what extent they should be kept clear.
For landlords with stock in more than one local authority that would normally involve dealing with each local enforcing authority, the government set up the Primary Authority scheme to provide regulatory certainty and consistency. Fire safety has been included in the scheme, which applies to England and Wales. Some landlords have established a Primary Authority agreement with a fire and rescue authority, particularly in relation to older and vulnerable people’s housing for which fire safety is more complicated. Community Housing Cymru has been developing a coordinated partnership for welsh housing associations.
Guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing is available for landlords and fire safety enforcement officers in both local housing authorities and in fire and rescue authorities on how to ensure adequate fire safety in certain types of residential accommodation. This guidance covers a range of residential accommodation and includes case studies for single dwellings, shared houses, bedsits, flats and flats which are multi-occupied. However, many of the issues are addressed in the "Purpose-built flats" guidance.