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Fire safety legislation

The fire safety of houses and blocks of flats is governed by different regimes at different points in time:

Building regulations and fire safety are devolved matters. This briefing focuses on England; for further information about fire safety laws in the devolved administrations, see section 7 of this briefing.

Compliance and enforcement

It is the responsibility of those commissioning and carrying out design and building work to ensure their work complies with building regulations.

To build or carry out work on residential buildings over 18 metres high (or have seven or more storeys), developers need to obtain approval from the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), a new independent body the government created in response to the Grenfell Tower fire. For other buildings, developers need to obtain approval from the local authority or a registered private-sector building control approvers.

Local authorities and the BSR have enforcement powers to require developers to fix non-compliant work. They can also pursue prosecution against people who violate building regulations. Local fire and rescue services have powers to ensure responsible persons comply with their duties under the Fire Safety Order.

Changes following the Grenfell Tower fire

The Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017 resulted in the death of 72 people and injured more than 70 people. It drew attention to the regimes governing the fire safety of high-rise residential buildings in the UK.

Following the fire, and in line with recommendations made by a review of building regulations and fire safety (the ‘Hackitt review’) and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the government made changes to fire safety legislation:

  • The Building Safety Act 2022 established the BSR and gave local authorities and the BSR further powers to take enforcement action against violations of building regulations. It also introduced a new regime for high-rise residential buildings (see below).
  • The Fire Safety Act 2021 clarified that ‘responsible persons’ of blocks of flats must also consider a building’s structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in their fire risk assessments. The Act imposed additional duties on responsible persons, including to share fire safety information with residents and, in blocks that are 11 or more metres high, to regularly check fire doors.

A new regime for high-rise blocks of flats

In response to the Grenfell Tower fire, the government also introduced a new regime for ‘higher-risk’ buildings, overseen by the newly-created BSR. These are buildings that are 18 or more metres high (or have seven or more storeys) and have two or more residential units. Under the new regime:

Evacuation strategies

Most blocks of flats in England are designed and constructed to support a ‘stay put’ strategy in the event of a fire. The idea behind the strategy is that a fire will be contained in its flat of origin long enough for fire and rescue services to extinguish it before it spreads and that only residents in that flat need to evacuate.

To ensure a fire does not spread, blocks of flats should be designed and constructed to support ‘effective compartmentation’. This means all flats and escape routes are enclosed by fire-resisting materials.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said it supports the ‘stay put’ strategy in most blocks of flats because, if all residents leave a building at the same time, they might impede access for firefighters (PDF). Residents might also move from a safer flat to a communal area with smoke or fire.

Plans for residents who cannot self-evacuate

Of the 37 disabled residents living in Grenfell Tower at the time of the fire, 15 lost their lives. Of all those who died in the fire, 41% were disabled.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommended that responsible persons of high-rise residential buildings should be required to prepare ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’ (PEEPs) for residents who cannot self-evacuate or require assistance to leave a building (such as disabled people).

The government consulted on PEEPs in 2021. It concluded that “the evidence base for PEEPs is not sufficient to mandate their implementation”. In 2022, it consulted on alternative proposals.

Disabled rights groups have expressed concern that the government decided to not mandated PEEPS, stating that disabled people should not have to wait to be rescued.

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