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Following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, the government introduced new fire safety rules, including new rules for high-rise blocks of flats that are at least 18 metres or seven storeys high. The government also created a new body, the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), to enforce these rules.

The new rules took effect between October 2023 and April 2024.

Building regulations and fire safety are devolved, and this article only applies to England. For further information about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, see section 7 of the Library briefing, Fire safety in houses and flats (May 2024).

Existing fire safety rules for all blocks of flats

Building or refurbishing blocks of flats

Building regulations require new buildings to be designed and built to limit the spread of fire and to help residents escape if there is a fire. The government publishes guidance to help developers comply with building regulations. It advises that:

  • All flats should have fire alarms, but “a communal fire alarm system is not normally needed”.
  • Walls, ceilings and floors between flats and around escape routes (such as corridors and staircases) should stop the spread of fire for a certain amount of time. This is called ‘compartmentation’.
  • Flat entrance doors and doors to escape routes should be ‘fire doors’. They should stop the spread of fire for at least 30 minutes and have smoke seals and self-closing devices.

Building regulations apply only when buildings are being constructed or refurbished. There’s no requirement to change existing blocks of flats to comply with updated regulations or new guidance.

Who’s responsible for compliance?

Developers, designers and builders must ensure their work complies with building regulations. Developers must get approval from a building control body. This approval can come from the local authority or a private building control approver (except if developers want to build or carry out work on high-rise blocks of flats, in which case they need approval from the BSR).

Occupied blocks of flats

All block of flats to have a ‘responsible person’ for fire safety under the Fire Safety Order. This is usually the building owner or manager.

Responsible persons are only responsible for fire safety in common areas (such as staircases and corridors), not for individual flats.

Responsible persons must carry out fire risk assessments and then put in place safety measures to mitigate the risks they have identified.

New rules for mid-rise blocks of flats (11+ metres)

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the government updated the guidance supporting the building regulations in 2020 to advise that new blocks of flats that are at least 11 metres should have sprinklers (PDF).

The government also gave responsible persons for blocks of flats that are at least 11 metres high more responsibilities to check flat entrance doors every year and fire doors in communal areas every three months. The new rules came into force in January 2023.

New rules for high-rise blocks of flats (18+ metres or 7+ storeys)

Building or refurbishing high-rise blocks of flats

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the government made changes to building regulations and supporting guidance for high-rise blocks of flats:

The government also changed the law to require developers to obtain approval from the BSR (rather than the local authority or a registered private building control approver) if they want to build or carry out work on high-rise blocks of flats. This requirement came into force in October 2023.

Occupied high-rise blocks of flats

The government gave  responsible persons for high-rise blocks of flats more responsibilities, including to regularly check firefighting equipment. The new rules came into force in January 2023.

The government also introduced a new role for high-rise blocks of flats: the ‘accountable person’. Although their duties and responsibilities overlap, the accountable person is formally responsible for ‘building safety’, while the responsible person is responsible for ‘fire safety’ (only in common areas).

The role of the accountable person can be fulfilled by the responsible person or someone else, in which case they must collaborate. If there are multiple accountable persons for one building, the person responsible for the building’s external walls and structure is the ‘principal accountable person’.

Accountable persons must assess and manage ‘building safety risks’. These are risks to people’s safety from the spread of fire or if a building were to collapse. Accountable persons must prepare a ‘safety case report’ for the BSR, setting out how they have assessed and manage building safety risks.

Who pays for safety case reports?

Leaseholders may have to pay for the cost of producing safety case reports. These costs are not covered by the leaseholder protections set out in the Building Safety Act 2022.

The government has said that building owners should already have “much of the information required for the safety case reports”. They should make sure that any costs are reasonable and transparent to leaseholders.

Fixing fire safety defects and unsafe cladding

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry (PDF) found that the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used on the tower was “the principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building”.

The government said building owners should check their buildings for unsafe cladding and fix (or ‘remediate’) defects. If building owners don’t fix defects or unsafe cladding, local fire and rescue services or local authorities can take enforcement action. They, the BSR and leaseholders can also apply to the First-tier Tribunal for a ‘remediation order’ to require building owners to fix certain defects on blocks of flats that are over 11 metres high.

Who pays for risk assessments and safety works?

The leaseholder protections set out in the Building Safety Act 2022 apply to buildings that are over 11 metres (or five storeys) high. For these buildings, building owners cannot pass onto qualifying leaseholders the costs of removing unsafe cladding systems, and there are legal protections for non-cladding costs.

Leaseholders may have to pay for risk assessments and other safety works which are not covered by the leaseholder protections set out the Building Safety Act 2022.

For further information, see government guidance on Leaseholder protections in England: Frequently asked questions and the Library article: Help with paying for historical fire safety work: High-rise blocks (England) (August 2023).

Leaseholders can also get free advice from the government-funded Leasehold Advisory Service.

Reporting concerns

Further information

About the author: Felicia Rankl is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in building regulations and fire safety.


The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.

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