Fire safety (August 2021 Update)

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.

firetest1

Fire Safety Q&A (updated August 2021)

New Scottish Advice Note: Determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems in existing multistorey residential buildings – Q&A briefing

 

Q. Why has the Scottish Government published this new Advice Note?

A. The Scottish Government published this new Advice Note in August 2021 to assist landlords in determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems in existing multi-storey residential buildings. A fire safety risk assessment and, in some cases, an intrusive appraisal of the external wall system is required to ensure that people are not placed at undue risk of harm as a result of fire spread over or within the external wall system. This Advice Note is concerned with life safety.

 

Q. What does the Advice Note cover?

A. This Advice Note applies to existing multi-storey residential premises of two or more storeys (including residential premises contained within “mixed use” buildings), for example:

  • Blocks of domestic flats (including sheltered, extra-care and supported flats);
  • Student accommodation (including halls of residence);
  • Care homes.

It explains that a fire safety risk assessment must give consideration to risks to life from fire, including the potential for fire spread on external wall systems. It points out that fire could break out through a window or door opening and spread on external combustible cladding or other external wall system and that combustible external wall systems may also be at risk from an external fire close to the building.

The Note explains that a key principle of a fire safety risk assessment is to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of people from harm caused by fire. This principle applies whether or not the external wall system complies with current or previous requirements under Building Regulations. Annex 3 of the Note gives more information on the Scottish Building Standards system.

The Advice Note states that the fire risk assessor should consider all available evidence to inform their determination and explains that where doubts remain regarding the safety of an external wall system, more detailed, intrusive inspection and fire performance testing (referred to as “appraisals”) may be recommended. Such appraisals are a specialised field and beyond the capabilities of most fire risk assessors. An appraisal should ultimately inform the fire safety risk assessment, but the need for an appraisal (which may be as part of a Single Building Assessment), will depend upon the particular circumstances.

The Note sets out the circumstances when there is no need for an intrusive appraisal and when one would be required, as well the criteria for suitable competent professionals to carry these out. A range of risk factors and related issues must be considered to determine the risk, which are set out in the guidance in 3 sections covering:

  • All residential buildings regardless of height;
  • Buildings with any storey at a height more than 11m; and
  • Buildings with any storey at a height not more than 11m.

  

Q. Who is the Advice Note for?

A. This Advice Note, which is in two parts, is for all those involved in determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems in multi-storey residential buildings

  • Part 1 (General Advice) for all those with responsibility for fire safety, such as building owners (including individual flat owners in privately owned/mixed tenure blocks of domestic flats), employers, building managers and others.
  • Part 2 (Technical Advice) will be of particular interest to those who undertake fire safety risk assessments and appraisals. This advises that only suitably qualified professionals with the right skills, qualifications, experience, knowledge and behaviours should undertake such work.

 

Q. Where can I find more information?

A. The Scottish Government has published an overview of the law covering non-domestic fire safety in Scotland.

The technical handbooks for the Scottish Building standards explain how to achieve the requirements set out in the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004. The April 2021 Addendum covers the changes within Section 2 fire on the use of Category 3 MCM cladding and BS 8414 fire tests.  The summary of the changes made from 1 April 2021 provides further information.

In addition, there are specific publications covering:

These guides explain the fire safety risk assessment methodology in detail to ensure a holistic, risk-based approach to fire safety.

Building regulations apply to new building work but separate fire safety legislation applies to existing buildings. Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 ("the 2005 Act") and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 ("the 2006 Regulations") provide the legislative framework for fire safety in Scotland. The legislation consolidates and rationalises previous fire safety legislation for workplaces and incorporates a number of EU Directives. It applies mainly to non-domestic premises but Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 includes residential premises which provide sleeping accommodation, such as hostels, care homes, student accommodation. A fire safety risk assessment is a legal requirement for “relevant premises” and must “identify any risks to the safety of relevant persons in respect of harm caused by fire”, including those posed by external wall systems.

Although not a legal requirement in Scotland, a fire safety risk assessment can be carried out for blocks of flats and is recommended in Scottish Government guidance as good practice for high rise blocks and specialised housing. The guidance encourages building owners, or individual flat owners where no single building owner exists, to take on a wider responsibility for their building’s fire safety than is currently required under Scottish fire safety law.

Updated guidance on Fire Safety and Fire Risk Assessments with external cladding – Q&A briefing

 

Q. What has happened to the ‘Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats’ Guide?

A. The Home Office has published the existing ‘Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats’ Guide after the LGA announced they were no longer hosting this guide. To bring the Guide fully up to date, the Home Office has commissioned a revision to this Guide as part of its overhaul of existing Fire Safety Order guidance. It expects to be able to publish this later in 2021. It explains that the information relating to vulnerable persons in paragraphs 79.9 to 79.11 is being considered through the Personal Emergency Evacuations Plan Consultation and as a consequence have decided to grey out this text while this consultation takes place.

The Home Office advises that while this guide (produced in 2011) still has much relevant information, it is no longer comprehensive and so it should be read alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Consolidated Advice Note and the National Fire Chief Council’s guidance on simultaneous evacuation.

 

Q. What guidance should landlords use now?

A. The LGA announcement lists alternative sources of guidance.

BSI has also published ‘PAS 9980:2021 Fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats - Code of practice’ as a draft for public comment. While this is a draft for public comment, the PAS can be used since it gives recommendations and guidance on undertaking a fire risk appraisal and assessment (FRAA) of the external wall construction of a multistorey, multi‑occupied residential building. The purpose of the FRAA is to assess the risk to occupants from a fire spreading externally over or within the walls of the building, and to make a decision, whether in specific circumstances of the building, remediation is considered necessary. It is applicable where the risk is known, or suspected, to arise from the presence of combustible materials within the external wall build‑up.

 

Q. What should landlords do with Fire Risk Assessments based on LGA guide?

A. Existing Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) will still be relevant but would need to be reviewed in terms of evacuation plans for people with disabilities and in terms of the risk of external fire spread using PAS 9980:2021.

 

Q. What advice is available for landlords wanting to commission fire risk assessments?

A. Guidance on choosing a competent assessor is available at:

http://www.cfoa.org.uk/19532

https://www.ife.org.uk/Fire-Risk-Assessors-Register

https://www.bafe.org.uk/schemes/life-safety-fire-risk-assessment-sp205/.

BSI has published PAS 9980:2021 to provide guidance on FRAAs for external wall construction and cladding to existing blocks of flats.

 

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 the Fire Safety Act 2021 on 29 April 2021. This Act will amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 so that it applies to the building’s structure and external walls and any common parts, including all doors between domestic premises and common parts.

It will clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must, in addition to the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005, manage and reduce the risk of fire spread from:

  • The structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows
  • Entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.

Fire and rescue services will be empowered to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.

The Act 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.

This means that the Fire Safety Bill published on 19 March 2020 has received Royal Assent.

 

Q. What are the Government’s proposals for a Building Safety Regulator?

A. The Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Act were published in response to the Grenfell Tower fire. When the Building Safety Bill receives Royal Assent, it 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 for the new regulations but these proposals will be implemented by the Fire Safety Act 2021.

 

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. 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 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. How can I keep up to date?

A. By referring to the Government’s 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 and 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:

NHBC has published guidance on ban of combustible materials in its Technical Extra 26 on 2020 Amendments.

 

Q. What should landlords do who have a Primary Authority partnership for fire safety?

A. Landlords need to check with their Primary Authority partnership:

 

Q. What is a Primary Authority partnership?

A. The NHMF has published a case study on a Primary Authority fire safety 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 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.

In Scotland, Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 ("the 2005 Act") and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 ("the 2006 Regulations") provide the legislative framework for fire safety in Scotland. While it applies mainly to non-domestic premises, Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 includes residential premises which provide sleeping accommodation, such as hostels, care homes, student accommodation. In addition, Scottish Government guidance recommends a fire safety risk assessment should be carried out for blocks of flats and is good practice for high rise blocks and specialised housing. 

Enforcement

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) except, under the Building Safety Bill for high-risk buildings, where it is the new Building Safety Regulator.

 

Housing legislation

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.

 

Housing regulators

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

Previous guidance on Fire safety in purpose-built flats has been withdrawn by the LGA (see separate Q&A at top). The LGA announcement lists alternative sources of guidance.

Guidance is available on choosing a competent assessor at:

BSI has also published ‘PAS 9980:2021 Fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats - Code of practice’ as a draft for public comment. While this is a draft for public comment, the PAS can be used since it gives recommendations and guidance on undertaking a fire risk appraisal and assessment (FRAA) of the external wall construction of a multistorey, multi‑occupied residential building. The purpose of the FRAA is to assess the risk to occupants from a fire spreading externally over or within the walls of the building, and to make a decision, whether in specific circumstances of the building, remediation is considered necessary. It is applicable where the risk is known, or suspected, to arise from the presence of combustible materials within the external wall build‑up.

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.

 

Downloads

Case study - Fire-safety

Related articles

Our mission statement

The centre of excellence for improving property performance

The National Housing Maintenance Forum (NHMF) is an unincorporated trade body set up to represent organisations that are licensed users of the NHF Schedule of Rates (M3NHF Schedule of Rates) and related products