There has been a lot of discussion in the news since the Grenfell tower that happened in 2017. Standards on fire safety should improve. These particularly relate to everything on a high-rise block. But also, other buildings. Whilst the initial focused on high rise the intention is now being turned to other properties. It is important that landlords are aware that changes are coming down the line if not already in place.
There has now been a ban on aluminium composite material of cladding since 2018. This required many high-rise buildings over 18 meters to strip cladding from the existing exterior. Obviously, finance was a concern and the government put in place a fund to help but this has not been enough. Lenders are now cautious about offering mortgages for properties that can be deemed unsafe. Further government guidance was issued early in 2020 which many lenders have been requesting the external wall system checks as part of the valuation. This is for all buildings with any cladding. These are checks that nobody seems to know how they take place and have now made selling properties more difficult.
The government announced a further 3.5 billion in grants and loans available to address unsafe cladding. This was then followed by an update by the Royal Institute Charters Surveyors on its guidance on valuing residential properties with cladding. This aimed to clarify what is known as the external walls system (EWS1) form which are required.
Unfortunately, many say this still does not go far enough. There are still variable difference when it comes to lenders. The developers or the government should have really removed all of the unsafe cladding. There are innocent leaseholders who may now have to bail the cost. It has also now come into play that further fire safety issues will need to be implemented. These are such things as compartmentation of buildings. This is where there are areas of the building which are compact so that in effect, they don’t allow fire to spread. If your building was built recently and is still under warranty ie NHBC it may be easier to make a claim against the developer during this period. If you or your freeholder believes this does not meet relevant building control standards.
What can we now expect?
The fire safety bill now recently received royal ascent and is now known as the fire safety act 2021.
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The act amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 by clarifying parts of this order specific to residential buildings. One of its purposes is to include external walls and anything attached thereon. This now has far reaching consequences for people who are responsible persons ie the duty holder who must ensure compliance with the law.
In order to summarize this complicated act we confirm as follows;
- Applies to all multiple occupied residential buildings (ie where there are two or more sets of domestic premises).
- Amends the fire order safety 2005. It requires all responsible persons to assess, manage and reduce the fire risks posed by the structure. This includes external walls, including cladding, balconies and windows and any common parts of the building. The latter includes all doors and domestic premises.
- Allows the fire service to take enforcement action against responsible persons who fail to comply with the requirements of this act. P
- Enables the government to issue risk-based guidance which can be referred to. This will be proof that a responsible person has either complied or failed to comply with requirements of the act.
Are these changes effective immediately?
No. Whilst the bill has received royal consent on the 29th April it is yet to come into force.
The government are unlikely to identify a date when the act will come into force until its risk-based guidance has been finalised. The public consultation for this process for the guidance was still open until the 20th May 2021.
The consultation will give recommendations and guidance on undertaking a risk assessment of the external wall construction of a multi occupied residential building. Its purpose is to help the responsible preferred person to assess the risk to occupants. This is mainly from fire spreading externally over or within walls of the building and decide whether remediation work is necessary. It will be applicable where a risk is known, or suspected, to arise from the present of combustible material within a construction of external walls.
The final guidance is not likely to be published until September 2021. So, it is unlikely that the fire safety act will be bought into force until the end of this year or beginning of 2022.
What are the risk of the responsible persons?
It is already clear that the eventual introduction of fire safety act will place additional duties on responsible persons. The remit must be considered as part of a fire risk assessment will be significantly extended. This will include the potential need for additional safety measures and remedial action to ensure compliance within the law.
It is imperative that responsible persons familiarise themselves with the government’s risk-based guidance. This will need to make sure that they fully understand what is required of them. Only then will they be able to properly assess what action is necessary. They may be asked by the fire service, and they then have to demonstrate their compliance with the law. Any responsible person who falls below the guidance will then have to face the very real prospect of enforcement action. Which in the worst-case scenario could include criminal prosecution and a fine.